It was early in the morning on a beautiful May 9, 1996 that I arrived on the left side of busy North Jackson Street where Josey Franklin’s old gray clapboard home used to stand. Her home was torn down a year or so ago. It is just a vacant lot now. I dearly loved Josey. She was a tall, stately wonderful lady, and next to her home there is still a white home on a tall hill with a pretty entrance way. I was inspired to set up my outside art studio to paint all morning a landscape I had spotted the day before of sweet, fragile pink buttercups.
Buttercups sprout up everywhere in early May, and these wildflowers were growing profusely there in the concrete curb of this street winding their way up an old post. It was as if they were growing into the street itself. I wondered where there was any soil or dirt, how the seeds blew there, and how they germinated into lovely buttercups? Did those seeds blow into unseen dirt?
Buttercups are some of Mississippi’s loveliest wildflowers, and when we as children used to see them, we knew it was almost time for summer vacation to begin. When we spotted the tall orange spider lilies sprouting up in the autumn of each year, we knew it was time for school to begin.
Have you ever picked a buttercup bouquet and taken a sniff of this flower? Suddenly your nose is completely covered with yellow butter. You have to wipe the end of your nose to get the yellow center of the flower off. The petals look like a saucer, and the yellow part could be a tiny cup. What a perfect name — buttercups.
As I was unpacking my supplies and popping up my colorful umbrella for the day ahead, I looked again and thought the buttercups are surviving in a crevice. There has to be a crack somewhere and inside this crack there must have been a bit of dirt for these seeds to grow. I was excited to find such a gorgeous scene to capture. I asked God to help me create a painting.
Flower by flower, leaf by leaf, I began my sketch, seeing the shades of pink, blues, yellows, purples and white in each petal as the shadows danced across each flower as a breeze blew. The leaves were many shades of green. Then I realized how dainty the flowers looked next to the roughness of the gray, dark purples, lime greens, silvers and browns of the concrete curb. Then I spotted three yellow colors of the sunbeams. This made a nice contrast of softness and hardness on my palette.
Being there painting brought back memories of my only sibling, Johnny, who is now 66 years old, as a boy picking his own bouquet on the roadside of Wood Street to bring home to Mama. I can hear the old screen door slamming, his loud excited voice saying, “Mama, I just picked you some buttercups!” The tip of his nose looked like yellow butter. You would think they might smell sweet, but they are odorless.
I wanted to share my story of how I was inspired to climb the steps in my family home, 501 Louisville Street, that led to my upstairs studio and find this painting. It is my honor to dedicate this painting and story to a special friend of mine. I have never seen him in person, but we met on the Internet on Sunday morning when I saw in my inbox that I had mail from Rick Hardy. It said, “I am looking for my family roots in Oktibbeha County. I enjoyed your story about Aunt May in the Starkville Daily News.” He gave me his address in Cincinnati, Ohio and his phone number.” With that, Rick entered my world.
I printed his email and waited for an appropriate time to phone some stranger in a far off city of Cincinnati, Ohio. Rick answered. We immediately became friends after visiting for an hour.
I wanted to help Rick find his roots. I had a contact in the Muldrow Church, which was built by Rick’s great-grandfather, Miss Lula Dell Hampton. She is the caretaker of the church and school dating back to the 1800s near Osborn. Rick’s mother, Gloria, grew up next door to her cousin, Charles “LaLa” Evans. Gloria worked as a nurse at Eckford’s Clinic.
Rick is a graduate of Howard University, graduated from a law university in Washington, D.C, and later attended Harvard. He served as an intern with Sen. Edward Kennedy. Rick is now a lawyer in the mayor’s office in Cincinnati.
Rick’s wife, Tiffany, also works for the mayor of Cincinnati, and they have an 11-year-old son, James. I would email Rick every week keeping up our new friendship, and he would return notes to me. Suddenly I did not hear from Rick for several weeks and was worried about him. I phoned him, and we had a delightful visit. He said he had begun kidney dialysis and had had surgery, but had since realized that he had met me as a child with his mother when they ran into me at the old Food Max. He remembered by “CartArt” paintings. He remembered Etta Few’s piano-playing as well.
We talked about our lives, and I suddenly realized my painting of the buttercups would help me share Rick’s story.
Five pink Buttercups are surviving in a concrete crevice as if each existed by faith alone on the edge of North Jackson. There is a clump of dirt somewhere that is invisible to us, so I can’t paint the crevice or the dirt. Every day we survive in a concrete world that often difficult and hard. Rick told me his deep beliefs. I jotted down what he was saying on a scrap piece of paper. I don’t remember meeting Rick in Food Max, because there were so many people shopping and visiting with. I vaguely remember a gentleman introducing himself to me, but truthfully I can’t recall what he looked like. I remember a nice man visiting with me for a while.
My quick notes that I wrote as he talked say, “Carole, we walk by faith and not by sight. God transforms opportunity, I trust now in the power of a God above; when God is with you, this is the greatest success that we can have. We are born and we die. I am rooted in Godly soil. When I tell my Mama how much I love her, she says she loves me too but that God loves me more.”
We do not know where these buttercups came from or how they grew. Could it just be the wind that blew them there? In a way they grew up by faith, which was their source of life. The soil is out of our sight in this painting. The unseen dirt is somewhere in the crevice of the hard, dirty concrete street corner where their beauty bloomed. They are living for us to see. They grew by faith alone, and we as well as the flowers depend on something deep inside of us to fight for every breath we take.
Rick said, “Carole, we’ll always have some kind of ‘ism’ such as racism in this world. Have you ever heard of a great Mississippian from Ruleville, Miss., named Fannie Lou Hamer?” I answered, “Yes, and I saw her once at Mississippi State University’s Mitchell Memorial Library. Her book ‘This Little Light Of Mine’ is among my book collection. What a great Civil Rights leader she was as well as a race reconciliation leader, and she contributed much to our state and nation. At the front of her book is Proverbs 4:18 — “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
The buttercups are symbols of all of us living life. Four of the Buttercups are bunched together, but the one buttercup to the left is Rick. There are also three bright yellow palette knife strokes. Two are at the top of the painting, and one is at the bottom of the painting on the street. These colors are the sunshine streaming on the concrete side of the curb and the pavement. Find the three shadows of the flowers on the pavement of the street. Could these be the shadow of God above taking care of you and me right now with every breath we take?
We must remember that we don’t tell God how big our problems are but tell our problems how big God is. Rick’s great-grandfather was a freed slave in Oktibbeha County, and he gave $20 by hand to the elected county official, Mr. Gay, for acres of land for the Muldrow Church and School to be built for children to learn and worship near a church in the 1800s.
God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know that God’s eye is on you, too, as He holds you gently yet securely. If you take a final look at this painting you shall find a cross. The tall, dark purple square wooden pole is the middle of a cross, and these five buttercups are the two sides of the cross.
God is with each one of us of until we die. We shall forever dwell in the Church Triumphant. Mr. Hardy, I love you, but God loves you more, and you are surviving in a crevice.
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .