By CAROLE DAVIS
It was a sunny, windy, chilly morning on March 9, 1977 that my fully packed little car filled to the brim with all of my art supplies suddenly came to a dead stop at Beattie Feed Mill. You really want to know what inspired me the most? It was the true red Beattie Feed Mill, and this shade of red is my favorite color in the whole world! I had been cruising around town looking for something to paint the day before, and there near the corner of Slaughter Chevrolet used car lot near the George Sherman shopping center where Bank First is today was calling out to me, “Carole, paint me, paint me!” So this first early March morning was pleasant enough to get all bundled up to have that special date with Beattie Feed Mill which closed in 1975 or 1976.
I unpacked all my art stuff, climbed up in my tall red canvas director's chair and placed the canvas on the ledge of my red easel, bowed my head and prayed. I remember pulling my ear muffs down and closer to my ears to keep me warmer, and thinking why in Mississippi we always get a hint of springtime (in early March) coming while it is really still very nippy outside as if the weather is flirting with the idea of warm and sunny which is so nice, yet we know that some of our our cold winter is still left to endure.
Left to right read the whole painting starting at the top down to the bottom. The cobalt, darker and lighter blue to the left hand side draw you right into this scene. I am an artist, not an architect, so I look at shapes, colors and contrasts while I am painting. See all of the intricate and interesting roof lines with several extensions of roofs and bits and pieces of another building or two as if it is a hodgepodge of structures all tied to one big main building. The aged and weathered visible little roofs of the browns and rust colors. The under part of the wood and beams on the far left hand side. The one dark doorway and the blown upwards piece of tin that the past March winds had probably blown all day long to loosen its hold and turned and bent it so beautifully and naturally. The one lonesome looking tree limbs just waiting for their new green leaves to bud and come out for an early spring time just around the corner. Look carefully at all the old tin that has mellowed and had the character of patina of pinks, purples, oranges, browns, blues, browns, silver and white.
Spot the old golden/yellow piece of machinery. What is it, and what was it used for? Perhaps it hauled around feed sacks, and for some reason it has found a cozy comfortable spot near the front part of the building. It looks like it's on its last leg with maybe only one wheel left on it. Now, look at the autumn dark reddish colors of the leftover sage from the summertime growing close to the building almost framing our scene. The same colors Indian red and burnt umber are out in the front yard part as well as those early grass sprigs of the first lime green grass just peeping up to the outside world wondering, “Do you think I should keep growing? Is wintertime over yet?”
Back to the top of the roof. What is the little tower? What in the world is the little raised platform area? Again look at the entire painting as a finished piece, and don't you feel drawn into the very building itself? I did and I still do wonder about this now abandoned building which has almost a ghostly feeling as I became fascinated by all of it shapes and nooks and crannies.
What is the real story about inside the heart and soul of Beatie Feed Mill, and who can tell me about all of Beattie Feed Mill having magical memories? I phoned Jim Beattie, the youngest child of Henry Beattie II and Mary Ruth Beattie. Henry Beattie served as Starkville's Mayor, and his son, Henry served as an alderman. Mary Ruth is one of the sweetest ladies in town, and she was from Knoxville, Tenn. She was a good friend of the famous movie actress, Patricia Neal. Mary Ruth still lives in the pretty family home at 507 South Washington Street.
I also phoned my wonderful cousin, John Thomas McReynolds, who is the last dairyman left in Oktibbeha County with his dairy farm out at the Sessums community, to ask him about his memories of Beattie Feed Mill. He would bring in his corn, soybeans and cotton seed to be ground up for his dairy cows to eat. He also said molasses was always added to make his jersey cows happier and enjoy as they munched on their meals. Johnny said, “Every morning all the men who were farming or dairying would go first down to the Borden Creamery about 7:30 or 8 a.m. and then we would drop by Beattie Feed Mill to sit, gab and just shoot the breeze together. It was our gathering hub place in town to loaf.”
Suddenly I looked back at my painting, and I could just hear them laughing and going on very morning early after many of them had just made their first stop down at Bordens and then to Beattie's to tell tall tales and relax together for hours on end until they headed back to their agricultural endeavors.
Johnny told me this Beattie Feed Mill was located in a perfect spot near a stock yard behind the train track where cattle was brought to be put inside the train cars and shipped off to feed lots to be sold for slaughter. Think of our great agricultural land, farmers, and especially our dairymen who have vanished and disappeared. This county and northeastern part of Mississippi once was considered “The Dairy Center Of The South.” Time rolls on, and changes are made in this thing we call living life. In the end of my conversation with Johnny he said, “Henry Beattie was one of the nicest, and finest gentlemen in all of Starkville. Everyone just loved him and his wife.
Jim Beattie dropped by our home late one afternoon on Aug. 23, 2012 because I wanted to give him as a special gift of my signed print of this painting so that he could always cherish the memories of his daddy by enjoying seeing a painting of his own family's business. His daddy came back from World War II in 1945 and stepped right back in to the feed mill. His daddy and sister Carolyn managed it while he was away at war in Europe.
Jim grew up playing on top and all around feed sacks everywhere. They sold Purina dog food which boasted of it's food as “Full Of Pep!” Henry was also an avid sportsman. He loved to hunt for turkeys. He had a beautiful camp house about 300 yards north of Bluff Lake on the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge. He told Jim once, “When I die I want to be buried at my beautiful camp house because I love it so very much." When he was in World War II he was a radio technician in London, England and all over Europe. He worked the radios flying in war times on the airplanes. He was stationed in England. He continued to finish building his beloved camp house after his daddy started building it. He also loved to fish too with his fishing friends.
Henry drove a white jeep, and he also was on the Board of Security State Bank. He later went into selling real estate and was a real estate appraiser too. He was a loyal member of First Baptist Church and a Starkville alderman. Jim told me his grandmother, Beattie, used to leave a mark on the side of the feed mill and her home for the hobos catching the train. This special mark told them they could drop by her home for a hot meal or two before catching the next train coming through Starkville and heading off to another town during the Great Depression. Since Beattie Feed Mill was near the old train depot, a hobo could easily jump off and hunt up a home or place for his hot meal and catch the next train out of here rolling along the tracks to the next town and the next hot meal. His Starkville meal was served with great hospitality by Henry's mother, Mrs. Beattie.
Jim lived at home until he was 32 years old. When he came home one night he saw an ambulance at his home and knew that something bad had happened. His daddy was taken to the Oktibbeha County Hospital where he died at 3:30 a.m. on March 5, 1992. He had died of emphysema. I as well as my family knew and loved Henry and his whole family very much. They lived right around the corner from our family home. Henry was a contributing and great citizen of Starkville and the United States of America. He was a proud veteran of World War II and we are honored to have each and every soldier who fought then and who are fighting now to protect and give us all our great freedoms. Mary Ruth was so kind and thoughtful to our daughter and her family. She was always such a wonderful and thoughtful neighbor to them. Thanks, Mary Ruth, and thanks to Jim Beattie, too. I appreciate your helping me write this story with your own sweet memories of the life of your daddy, mama and their feed mill very much.
My painting is all we have left of what it looked like outside of the Beattie Feed Mill, but the stories and what happened inside are just priceless! The days of our past are gone forever, but my brushes dipped into my paints on my artist palette, my hand reached on toward my canvas and I recorded forever what had first inspired me — the true red sign on the building — to take my time to create for myself a beautiful landscape in my native hometown.
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .