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Sunday, July 17, 2016


It woke me up out of a sound sleep. What did Billy Joe Macallister really throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge? It’s been nearly 50 years since Bobbie Gentry produced the enigmatic ballad that had a whole generation wondering. Someone must have worked it out by now! 

Thanks to the miracle of internet, many of the mysteries of my youth have been revealed. One no longer has to sit next to the record player, transposing lyrics, repeating them over and over trying to glean the secrets of the words; one can find them on the web,and even play the song through the computer or phone as well. It’s a new age. I knew the answer would be there. 

But it wasn’t. Though speculation ran from flowers to a baby, no one had ever gotten Gentry to commit. In 1976, a film was made based on the song, it’s interpretation including a homosexual theme. Herman Raucher, the screenplay writer, asked  Bobbie Gentry about the song: 

“I said, ‘You don’t know why he jumped off the bridge?’
She said, ‘I have no idea.’”

The web wasn’t a total loss, however. As I surfed on, I discovered something even more intriguing: the real meaning of the song itself. 

Recently a handwritten page of Gentry’s original lyrics had been found. It began with a verse that she never recorded with the first line crossed out.  

Sally Jane Ellison's been missing since the first week in June.

People don't see Sally Jane in town any more.

There's a lot o' speculatin', she's not actin' like she did before.

Some say she knows more than she's willin' to tell.

But she stays quiet and a few think it's just as well.

No one really knows what went on up on Choctaw Ridge

the day that Billy Jo McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

—University of Mississippi's Archives and Special Collections 

In the published lyrics, Sally Jane became the unnamed female narrator who was only present with Billy Joe throwing something off the bridge. What this means has more to do with the nature of the ballad than the story. The story, itself, has so many stark dramatic elements – Billy Joe’s apparent suicide and the bridge-tossing mystery, that the true meaning was lost on the youth of the mid-sixties, and has been lost ever since. Blogger Jon Pennington writes: 

“The song is nominally about Billie Joe McAllister's suicide, but no informative details of the suicide ever emerge.  Instead, we only learn about the suicide indirectly from a narrator who hears bits and pieces emerge in between mundane dinner table conversation between Mama and Papa.  But the whole point is that Mama and Papa's dinner table conservation will never help you solve the mystery, because Mama and Papa not only don't know enough about Billy Joe McAllister to answer that question, they simply don't care.” — Jon Pennington 

So here is the real deal:

It doesn’t matter what they threw off the bridge. More ominous than Billy Joe’s suicide, more menacing than the couple throwing something off the bridge, more heartbreaking than the lonely narrator picking flowers up on Choctaw Ridge is the blatant apathy of the family to the tragedies going on around them. The true theme of the song is indifference. 

“The song is a first-person narrative that reveals a Southern Gothic tale in its verses by including the dialog of the narrator's family at dinnertime on the day that "Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge." Throughout the song, the suicide and other tragedies are contrasted against the banality of everyday routine and polite conversation.” —Wikipedia 

Published Lyrics

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day

I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay

And at dinner time we stopped and we walked back to the house to eat

And mama hollered at the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet"

And then she said she got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge

Today Billie Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

Papa said to mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas

"Well, Billie Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please"

"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow"

Mama said it was shame about Billie Joe, anyhow

Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge

And now Billie Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe

Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show

And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?

"I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know it just don't seem right"

"I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge"

"And now you tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite?"

"I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite"

"That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today"

"Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way"

"He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge"

"And she and Billie Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billie Joe

Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo

There was a virus going 'round, papa caught it and he died last Spring

And now mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything

And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge

And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

*Photo credit: November 10, 1967 issue of Life magazine. Bobbie Gentry strolls across the Tallahatchie Bridge in Money, Mississippi. The bridge collapsed in June 1972.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Day at the Beach

Today I am going to share with you some of my pictures taken at the beach, since that is where I have been recently and where I prefer to be rather than writing a blog post.

Seacliff State Beach, Aptos

This beach is known for its fishing pier and concrete freighter, The Palo Alto.
In 1910 a Norwegian civil engineer named Fougner thought of using concrete to build ships. It wasn't until 1917, when wartime steel shortages required the use of cement for construction that Fougner's idea was used. Three concrete ships were built. Two, the Peralta and the Palo Alto, were built at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Oakland, California while the third, the Faith, was built in a shipyard in Redwood City, California. The Peralta and the Palo Alto were built for wartime use as tankers, however World War One ended before ship construction was finished -- so they were never used. 

The Palo Alto remained docked in Oakland until 1929, when the Cal-Nevada Company bought the ship with the idea of making her into an amusement and fishing ship. Her maiden voyage was made under tow to Seacliff State Beach. Once positioned at the beach, the sea cocks were opened and the Palo Alto settled to the ocean bottom. By the summer of 1930 a pier had been built leading to the ship, the ship was remodeled. A dance floor on the main deck was added, also a cafe in the superstructure was built, as was a fifty-four foot heated swimming pool, and a series of carnival type concessions were placed on the afterdeck. The Cal-Nevada Company went broke after two seasons -- then the Palo Alto was stripped, leaving the ship and the pier to be used only for fishing.

Unfortunately, the ship is unsafe and closed to the public. The pier is also closed for fishing until needed repairs can be made.

Monterey Bay

The first European to discover Monterey Bay was Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo on November 16, 1542 while sailing northward along the coast on a Spanish naval expedition. He named the bay Bahía de los Pinos, probably because of the forest of pine trees first encountered while rounding the peninsula at the southern end of the bay. Cabrillo's name for the bay was lost, but the westernmost point of the peninsula is still known as Point Pinos.

The present name for the bay was documented in 1602 by Sebastián Vizcaíno, who had been tasked by the Spanish government to complete a detailed chart of the coast. He anchored in what is now the Monterey harbor on December 16, and named it Puerto de Monterrey, in honor of the Conde de Monterrey, then viceroy of New Spain. Monterrey is an alternate spelling of Monterrei, a municipality in the Galicia region of Spain from which the viceroy and his father (the Fourth Count of Monterrei) originated.

Shell Beach

Shell Beach from the top of the cliffs 
Shell Beach is located just south of Pismo Beach. Pismo Beach is a city in San Luis Obispo County, in the Central Coast area of California, United States.

Pelican Rock seen from cliffs above Shell Beach
 Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Kitten of the Apocalypse

Some people collect stamps or coins, my family collects cats. It's not an intentional thing, it just is. We used to call it "The Cat of the Year Club" because another cat cat would show up every year, usually in June or July. Even our vet says that we have an invisible sign in our yard telling cats to come to us for a good home. My family "blames" me. Apparently, my super power is attracting cats. However, our newest family member comes courtesy of my husband.

Dear readers, meet Kota.

Several weeks ago, my husband went outside to do a few things before we left for work and heard something yelling from the far side of our back yard. Being the good man that he is, he donned gloves and went in search of the source. A brief search and chase later, he came in carrying a small gray kitten. At some point during the ensuing conversation, I said something along the lines of "It's just a kitten; it's not even one of the four kittens of the apocalypse." And thus, the name Kota (Kitten Of The Apocalypse) was born.

Our original plan was to find a home for Kota, but one thing lead to another and, as so often happens, Kota's furever home is with us. However, no many how many strays we take in, there are always more that need homes and help. 

My love for animals makes its way into my stories which all feature animals and animal rescue. Like my fellow Fire Star Press author Mollie Hunt, I am working to change the world one book at a time. In addition to hoping to raise awareness through my stories, I also donate a portion of the proceeds of all of my books to animals in need. 

My newest mewse is already hard at work walking across my keyboard in an effort to put her own spin on my stories. My brain is also busily chasing plot bunnies (or maybe they are plot kittens) while it tries to work out the details of a story about the kittens of the a-purr-calyse.

Please, share a picture of your fur-baby in the comments. Furry faces make every day better!

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