Happy Landing -
My grandparent's fishing camp on Melrose Plantation
Immediately after crossing the Cane River bridge my grandmother
would take a sharp left and we'd go down a rutted dirt road winding
between the pecan trees on the edge of the cotton fields and
the weeping willow trees on the banks of the river. A moment
later Happy Landing would appear.
The fishing camp was built on a piece of property leased for
$1.00 to my grandparents by Mrs. Cammie. It was a rustic affair,
a single long room built on the sloping bank of the river. One
end was at the top of the bank; the other end was on stilts right
at the edge of the water. It looked like a railroad boxcar going
over a precipice. Because the camp was built with the help of
plantation workers, it came out looking very much like their
houses -- "shotgun houses" as they were called, because
you could stand in the front door and shoot a shotgun right out
the back door. In later years, a side-room with bunk beds was
added and the natural wood was stained a soft cedar-red; but
other than that, Happy Landing is still standing nearly as it
was seventy years ago.
The edge of the cotton field was only a car's length away from
the front door of the camp, so when it was cotton time, you could
go over an pick your own. There was a sort of magic in being
able to do that. Freshly-pulled cotton has a warm, earthy smell
that one can't forget. Once you know it, you can make the smell
come alive just thinking about it. For a while, the Henrys of
Melrose experimented with varieties of cotton that produced cotton
in natural colors: a sort of yellowish orange and a pale lime
green. Unfortunately, the colors began to fade away after a while,
so the venture was commercially unsuccessful.
My grandfather, Dr. Paul King Rand, had a wonderful speedboat
in which he loved to take the ladies touring on Cane River. He
would dress up in a blue blazer and wear a Captain's hat and
load his passengers gallantly into the boat, holding their hands
as they stepped carefully off the dock into their seats. Two
passengers sat beside him, and three sat in the back. The boat
was made by a company called Steelcraft, and was, as the name
implies, made of solid steel. Nobody back then wore life preservers.
I would imagine that, had the boat sprung a leak or been swamped,
it would have plummeted to the bottom in an instant.
The boat was not terribly fast, but it created an enormous wake.
Because the river was not wide, the wake would reach the banks
with the force of a tsunami, washing turtles off their logs,
and sending fisherman scurrying up the banks for safety. On any
given Sunday, one might see various friends of my grandmothers',
and occasionally even Clementine herself, holding on to their
flowered hats as my grandfather steered the boat in a circle
through its own wake, plunging from one wave into the next. How
it never ended in disaster, I will never understand.
One Sunday my grandfather took me to a baptism held by the local
church. The baptismal "font" was a moss-covered pond
surrounded by willow trees. The church elders had marked off
the baptismal area with wooden poles driven into the bottom of
the pond. The "candidates" (as those who were to be
baptized were called) were dressed in white robes and were led
one by one into the water. As they entered the pond, the churchmen
swept back the scum-like moss on the surface with their hands,
revealing the sinister blackish-green water beneath. All I could
think of was a water moccasin the size of an elephant's trunk
coming out of the depths, but I guess the good Lord was watching
over all concerned. After a few words of blessing, the candidate
was held by the forehead and arms and unceremoniously dunked
backward into the water. Moments later the newly-baptized subject
emerged, often shouting in ecstasy, rolling on the ground, and
sometimes even fainting. In some cases their relatives fainted
right along with them.
My grandfather filmed the event with his old movie camera and
later showed the movies to the congregation on a screen set up
in the church (which charged a small entrance fee for the church
coffers). The reaction of the parishioners on seeing themselves
in the movie was an exuberance matched only by the baptism itself.
The films have been long lost to posterity, but I will never
forget that wonderful Sunday on Melrose Plantation.
The memories of Happy Landing were happy ones, with the exception
of the time my grandfather barbecued a goat. I watched horrified
as the carcass turned on a spit, and afterwards I refused to
sit at the table when it was served and spent the entire day
sulking. The incident remained in my mind for years, though it
was only recently that I think I discovered a sort of metaphysical
reason for my adverse reaction. I was in a restaurant in the
Caribbean, and upon noticing with distaste that barbecued goat
was on the menu, it occurred to me that my birth sign was Capricorn
-- the goat -- the very animal that had once pulled me around
in the old wooden wagon. Goats were my astrological kinfolk.
Eating a goat was cannibalism!
(I must advise any ladies and gentlemen who might be wanting
to try a goat steak that you ladies will grow a beard, and you
men will grow a tail.)
Happily, goats were stricken
from the menu at Happy Landing.
Francois Mignon refers to Happy Landing several times in his
writings: On page 179 of his book, "Plantation Memo",
he comments, "John (a goose) lived at Zelma's house on the
river, hard by a camp where I was wont to dine and sup on occasion."
And in his newspaper series, also titled "Plantation Memo",
he reminisces in a 1974 article, "The late Dr. King Rand
and his wife, Blythe White Rand, maintained a delightful camp
near Melrose on Cane River. Often they would bid me to come to
dine with them, often in company with their son-in-law, Whitfield
Jack of Shreveport, along with his wife, Frances Rand Jack, and