Defuniak Chautauqua offers entertainment

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2014

Peeping through my Venetian blind, I smiled at all the daffodils, coming up along my picket fence and waking up over in the beds of Covington Hall.

They added their beauty to that of the saucer magnolia, camellias, and Kiss-Me-at-the-Gate (Breath of Spring).

I think I could see in the fields, flanking the Hall, some purple patches of henbit. Henbit is a wild flower – some call it a weed – but I am reluctant to call any bloom of God’s creation a weed. It took me ten years to identify henbit by name, and I am glad to pass the knowledge on.

Seen at Larry’s for supper were Mr. and Mrs. Randy Cornelius and Mr. and Mrs. David Barton. Mrs. Barton is the former Karen Hudson. Mr. Barton is retired from the Coca-Cola Company. Mrs. Barton works as an assistant in the three libraries of Straughn schools.

About three weeks ago I spoke of attending the annual winter Chautauqua in DeFuniak Springs January 23 – 26. I wrote of the opening assembly at Walton High School during which Demond Wilson, the television star on Sanford and Son, had told his life story.

I shall continue my report now, starting that Friday morning at the end of Wilson’s speech.

I found myself sitting next to Dean DeBolt, a librarian at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. He and his wife Judy often lecture at Chautauqua. I have known them for years. Dean is known for wearing a straw “boater” in keeping with the old-fashioned air of Chautauqua.

Leaving the high-school auditorium, I ran into ol’ friends, Charles and Marie Hinson, who live in retirement in DeFuniak. At one time Charles taught the choral program for Andalusia City Schools.

The rest of Friday one had classes, one in the morning and two in the afternoon. Each time slot offered half a dozen choices.

I chose Dr. Terry Borton’s “The Magic Lantern: Before Silent Film.” Dr. Borton called this early side projector the first motion picture. (The theme of this year’s Chautauqua was motion pictures.)

Dr. Borton holds a degree from Harvard and produces and performs Magic-Lantern Theater, based in Connecticut. For l5 years he was editor-in-chief of the children’s newspaper, Weekly Reader, which at that time was the largest newspaper in the world with some eight million subscribers. Dr. Borton has written books, articles, radio scripts, TV shows, and has read poetry for two recordings.

This class and the next I attended in the old Walton High School, which stands next to the new Walton High School and is now used as a multi-purpose building.

Some students from the Key Club and the Anchor Club ushered us attendees to our classes. When I taught, the Key Club was just for boys and the Anchor Club was just for girls. These clubs have now been integrated by gender.

This is a trend in our society – to integrate social clubs by gender.

After lunch I attended a class on “Margaret Mitchell,” taught by Judy DeBolt, retired from the UWF and mentioned above. I learned much of the life of this author of Gone with the Wind.

My third and final class for the day was in the l885 Wallace Bruce Cottage on Circle Drive, his first residence there, built to house the Bruce family. Wallace Bruce, one of the founders of the Chautauqua in DeFuniak Springs, was also a poet.

At this class two great-granddaughters of Bruce read his poetry in his old home, a romantic notion if ever there were.

One, “Rusty” Bowman (for her red hair), impersonated in period clothing Bruce’s wife, Annie. The other, Cindy Holt, played Bruce’s daughter, Clara.

Last year was the first time that a Bruce had performed at Chautauqua since 1927. (I had enjoyed the poetry reading so much last year that I went again this year.)

Few can read poetry well; Mrs. Bowman is one of those rare persons.

“Rusty” Bowman recited her ancestor’s “Inasmuch,” which her father used to recite to her each Christmas Eve.

The program ended with Mrs. Bowman’s singing a beautiful duet with herself by means of a taped recording of her own voice. She has a lovely voice, which brought tears to my eyes.

In the parlor of the cottage I spotted Ellen Mayfield and her husband, whom I had met at past Chautauquas. Mrs. Mayfield is known for the Victorian teas she used to give at Chautauquas. Not even the Ritz of London could match her!

Before retiring for the night, I ate at McLain’s, enjoying the seafood buffet. There I saw the Portly Gentleman, downing one fried oyster after another. He said it was preparation for a role in Downton Abbey.

Many of the older members of Cedar Grove Church of Christ will recall their drives down to Crestview to eat seafood when McLain’s was located there.

Saturday began with a breakfast buffet in the dining room of Best Western.

The keynote address followed in the beautiful First United Methodist Church on Circle Drive, across the street from the grand Hall of Brotherhood, built years ago to house the winter Chautauqua.

All my classes Saturday were in the church.

At this opening session Susan Fernandez spoke on “Florida Themes in the Movies.”

I ran into Charles and Marie Hinson again.

My first class was on “Hollywood East: Florida’s Silent Film Legacy,” taught by Rita Reagan.

I learned that from 1907 – 1917 Jacksonville, Florida, had more filmmaking studios than Hollywood.

Mrs. Reagan has helped preserve Norman Studios in Jacksonville, once the producers of all-black films. The only Norman film that has survived is The Flying Ace, which was shown Saturday night at a banquet. The tickets were all sold out, so I was unable to attend.

For lunch I ate at the Busy Been, a “hole-in-the-wall” with good food. I took tomato soup and a chicken-salad sandwich.

In came Dr. Borton and his assistant, Nancy Stewart, and asked me to sit with them, which I did.

Mrs. Stewart is director of the Chinese Chorus at Yale University and has recently returned from a concert in China.

As we ate, over came Diane Pickett, founder of the revived Chautauqua in DeFuniak, and spoke. She has written a novel, her first, Never Isn’t Long Enough, which I bought and which she inscribed to me.

Back at the Methodist church I attended two more classes.

The first was Judy DeBolt’s “The Movies of 1939.” She reviewed movies that came out that year and ended with her favorite, Gone with the Wind.

My last class was in the beautiful chapel, “Motion Pictures Through the Lens of Poetry.” It was taught by Todi (todd-e) Carnes, who read and led discussion on poetry inspired by films and stars. She is an attorney, retired to Washington, D.C.

Her parents were present.

This was the most stimulating class I attended.

Miss Carnes gave each of us poetry handouts, a book of poetry written about movies and movie stars, and a toy called an athaumatrope, which spins and thereby yields an optical illusion.

The sun, coming through the stained glass of the chapel was enchanting.

Before supper I circled the lake once more, taking in the inspiring architecture.

There is a chic restaurant next to the Hotel DeFuniak, called Bogey’s, named for Humphrey Bogart, the actor. Here I ate. The table was appointed with cloth, two forks, a breadbasket, candlelight, and bread plate. I ordered veal with ham, tomatoes, and cheese, mixed vegetables, and Dutch apple pie with ice cream.

I dined in “high cotton.”

Sunday, before returning to Andalusia, I attended worship at the Methodist Church.

Diane Pickett was present, and we spoke.

“Rusty” Bowman sang twice for the special music and thrilled us all.

There was so much to do at the Chautauqua, about 40 more classes available to attend, plus a camp, representing the War Between the States, a frontiersmen settlement camp by the lake, an antique car show, an Indian encampment, an exhibit on the history of the Florida Chautauqua, art displays, and china displays.

There was even a class on how to avoid falling, which would have helped several people I know.

There wasn’t time to do but a tenth of what was available to do.

I hated to leave DeFuniak and for the Chautauqua to be over. The Circle Drive is like a storybook world that I wanted to go on and on, forever.

Carol Couch celebrated her 82nd birthday on Friday, February 21, with her family at Tabby D’s Restaurant. Her son, David, and daughter, Jan White, along with Jan’s husband, Greg, joined in the birthday supper. Carol’s granddaughter, Kelley White, and her friend, Chase Nolen, were also there. Carol’s pastor, Joel Calhoun, of West Highland Assembly of God, was invited and worded the blessing before the meal. A good time was had by all. Carol said that age is just a number. She received some beautiful birthday cards and gifts.

The Andalusia High School production of The Music Man opens tonight at 7:00 p.m.. It also plays March 2 at 2:00 p.m. and March 3 at 7:00 p.m.. Tickets are $8.

The celebration of the War of 1812 (1812 – 1815) continues.

Again, I ask that citizens of Andalusia join the Covington Historical Society and pay its annual dues of $25 to help preserve the history of our county, whether you attend meetings or not. Mail to CHS, P.O. Box 1582, Andalusia, Alabama 36420. Include your e-mail address if you wish to be reminded of upcoming meetings.

To commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, let us return to this week 150 years ago.

President Jefferson Davis of the South appointed Gen. Braxton Bragg his military chief of staff, an unpopular move, because Bragg was considered inept by many. At Dalton, Georgia, the South defeated the advancements of the North.

Federal prisoners were herded into Camp Sumter at Andersonville, Georgia, a prison camp that became infamous.

The Federals, under General Kilpatrick and Colonel Dahlgren, raided Richmond, Virginia, unsuccessfully. (The Federals thought they were so smart.)

That surprise attack aimed at Richmond was authorized by President Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton. Papers found later on Dahlgren’s body contained instructions to destroy and burn Richmond and kill President Davis and his cabinet.

For those who collect stamps, consider those associated with the War of 1812 and the Sesquicentennial of “the War.”

The mysterian is a bald-headed man who was struck over the head with a walking stick (his own, I think) in our public square by a man who was angry at the victim. The wound became infected, and the man died. Who was he?

Birthdays last week were those of Charles Lamb, an English essayist; Thomas Edison, the American inventor who said that genius was “1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”; Jack Benny, an American comedian, known for his love of money and the way he could say, “well”; John Barrymore, an American actor, the grandfather of Drew Barrymore, known as the “Great Profile”; David Garrick, an English actor; George Washington, our first president, one who could not tell a lie, unlike some who followed in his office; James Russell Lowell, an American poet; and Frederic Chopin, a Polish pianist and composer.

February 15 was the anniversary of “Remember the Maine,” recalling an American ship sunk in Cuba.

February 18 Jefferson Davis, first and only president of the Confederate States of America, was inaugurated. One can stand on the spot at the Capitol in Montgomery.

Washington was eulogized by Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, the father  of Gen. Robert E. Lee, as “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Now, gentle reader, allow me to join Buffalo Bob Smith in encouraging each of us to be in his place of worship this weekend, Lord willing.

Fare thee well.