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Fabulous festivals with funny names.

Mississippi is a place of much creativity, and nowhere is this shown more than in the names of her many festivals. From the north where we embrace our neighbor state of Tennessee to the southernmost point in the Gulf of Mexico, from the Mississippi River to Alabama, these sometimes odd-sounding events celebrate the uniqueness of individual localities. Each one reveals its personality through its unique name. Each has a story to tell. Here are just a few of those tales--tales of kudzu, bodocks, and slugburgers.

The Slugburger Festival

What in the world is a slugburger? Betty and Jimmy Hathcock of Jimmy's Jewelry in Corinth have the surprising answer.

There were several people in the store when I arrived: 1995 Slugburger Queen Annette Porter, Jimmy Rogers Livingston (self-styled Elvis, but using the name "Elbert"), and other friends of the Hathcocks. Elbert was singing. He stopped and said, "Our 1999 Honorary Slugburger Queen was Amy Tuck, who was running for the office of Mississippi Lieutenant Governor. I even wrote a song about her, and she went all over the state humming it."

"Sing it now," Jimmy said. And Elbert did:

"Slugburgers, slugburgers everywhere; smell of onions in the air. The buns are stacked up so high. They made you eat, Amy Tuck, now don't you lie."

Then Elbert said, "She admitted to eating six, but she left the onions off four of them."

I still didn't know exactly what a slugburger was. Before I could find out, Jimmy and Betty told of the origin of the festival. They and others wanted to bring people back downtown to reacquaint them with the area. "At one of the downtown meetings I said, 'Well, let's have a Slugburger Festival,"' Jimmy said.

"We did it all within six weeks," Betty added. "Our first year was a success. We didn't have one penny of money to start that year, but Jimmy and I guaranteed the money. If none was made at the festival, we'd take care of the expenses. But the merchants and everybody helped."

By this time I had a pretty good idea what slugburgers were, but Betty revealed the true ingredients: soybean meal mixed with a small amount of beef. Back in the old days, scrap pork was also used, but federal rules now ban the use of pork, she said.

Livingston spoke up. "We were raised on slugburgers. In the 1940s, all of us ate down at Miss Rich's-a little hamburger place across from the old bus station cafe on Cruise Street. She cooked the burgers in lard in an iron skillet. Her hamburgers were really doughburgers or slugburgers. If you wanted a true hamburger, you asked for a beef burger.

"Slugburgers originated in the Corinth area during the Great Depression. We'd come from junior high school up here. We wouldn't eat in the lunchroom because we only had a quarter, and we could come to Miss Rich's and eat two slugburgers for a dime, and get a Pepsi and still have ten cents to spend with her."

He paused to explain where the name slugburger came from. "Sometimes, in those days, a round metal disc called a slug was substituted for a real nickel in a jukebox. Since Miss Rich's doughburgers were imitation hamburgers and cost a nickel, they became known as slugburgers."

Back to his original story, he continued, "A friend and helper, Miss Nora, sliced the onions, and Miss Rose Rich did the cooking, and she'd say, 'Miss Nora, you're slicing them onions pretty thick, hon. You'd better cut down on them.' And Miss Rich would tell the patrons that were eating there, 'Now, just one spoon of mustard is all you get. I saw you double dipping in there.'

"Miss Rich would let us kids charge. One boy owed her $25 for nickel slugburgers when he went into the army. I owed her about $20."

Jimmy Hathcock quipped, "Did you ever pay her?"

The dream of the festival's first year, 1988, was to eventually make the event bigger and better--like the World's Fair. Not quite there yet, the organizers have come a long way. In 1988 Jimmy and Betty were in charge of cooking the slugburgers, and they stocked up 500 pounds of slugburger mix. The tasty treat's popularity had not been expected, however; they ran out of mix very early. After two years, they were using 1,600 pounds of meat. By the fourteenth year, countless slugburgers have been sold.

There is more to the festival than just eating slugburgers. There are T-shirts designed through competition among local artists. Well-known entertainment groups are featured each year. Arts and crafts are displayed on the town square. Food vendors come in from all over the country and sell their specialties. But the main attraction is the slugburger. Proceeds from the festival go to the Main Street Association, under the umbrella of the Corinth Alliance, for use in revitalizing the downtown area.

"Our festival is sort of like a homecoming--a good get-together," said one resident. "It is exciting to talk with people you don't know who have heard of the festival and come by to see what it's all about."

Just around the corner from Jimmy's Jewelry is Borroum's Drugstore, an official slugburger-cooking site. Now owned by pharmacist Camille Borroum Mitchell, the drug store is the oldest in Mississippi in continuous operation, with the lowest tax number. It is also the oldest business in Corinth. The store's soda fountain, dating to 1939, still works. Showcases of tiger-eye or wildcat oak are original. And occasionally, couples still return to visit the room at the back of the store where they got married.

This is a fun place to visit. The store is famous for its slugburgers. Mrs. Mitchell's son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren also work in the store, making sodas at the old-fashioned soda fountain and serving slugburgers.

The dates for the 2002 Slughurger Festival are July 11-13.

The Bodoek Festival

The Bodock Festival, held in Pontotoc County, was launched in 1994 as a means of bringing the community together. The idea began at a committee meeting when George Stegall heard Sheila Winters mention that the state's largest bodock tree was located in Pontotoc at Lochinvar, the home of Dr. Forrest T. Tutor. Stegall said he jumped up and exclaimed, "That's it! We'll have a bodock festival!"

The bodock tree's history can be traced to its "roots" in the Red River Valley of Oklahoma and Texas. Osage Indians roaming the Valley made their bows of wood from the tree, and these bows were said to be far superior to those of the Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw. Soon, members of these tribes brought seeds of the bodock tree to Mississippi from Oklahoma to make their own strong bows.

Before the invention of barbed wire, bodock trees were planted to form living fences. The trees' thorns kept livestock confined. If planted properly, not even a chicken could get through the bodock fence. According to Stegall, a man in Kansas makes furniture from bodock fence posts that had been in the ground for 150 years.

"A bodock post will outlast the hole it was put into," said Harry Patterson, chairman of a recent Bodock Festival.

Stegall tells a story about when he was fifteen years old and had a job logging for his uncle's sawmill.

"There was one mare that learned if she broke her singletree, she wouldn't have to work, so she would jerk every log she was hooked to until it broke," Stegall said. "She even broke a steel singletree. A man standing nearby said that he had a singletree that was made of bodock that he had used for about fifty years. He said, 'It'll hold her. If it breaks, you owe me nothing. If it holds, I'll take ten dollars.' The bodock bent, then straightened, and the mare sat down on the log. The singletree was never broken."

There are at least six names for this industrious tree. The U.S. Forest Service and the Indians of Oklahoma call it the Osage orange; in Kansas and Nebraska, it is known as the hedge apple. Others refer to it as the bow-wood or horse-apple tree. The French call it bois d'arc (wood of the bow). In fact, the word "bodock" is derived from bois d'arc.

The bodock wood is red with orange overtones and much harder than oak. Local artisan Ray Reese uses it to make spoons, spatulas, paddles, jewelry, and other objects. Master craftsman Gregg Harkins of Canton renders rocking chairs and other furniture from the tree; at a recent Bodock Festival, one of these chairs, valued at $1,800, was raffled off. Even the bodock ball, or horse apple, is sliced, cured, and used.

The Bodock Festival is not a run-of-the-mill community event. It is all about Indians and history and family time and working together and sharing. The festival's true spirit shone brightly when the town's Historical Society held the official grand opening for the Town Square Museum in the basement of the Town Square Post Office, the only combination post office/museum in the United States. The opening featured speakers including the Governor of the Chickasaw Indian Nation in Oklahoma, along with Pontotoc native and U.S. Congressman Roger Wicker.

Live piano music was performed in the museum by Pontotoc native Walter Gene Bates, whose great-great-grandmother was a Chickasaw Indian.

Others from Pontotoc County brougth the past to life, portraying noted historical figures. Col. James Mogridge and his wife, Judy, dressed as James Allen and Allen's wife, Bessie. Bessie was a very popular hostess at the inn called Allen's Tavern on the Natchez Trace, where she was known as the best cook on the Trace. Her main menu consisted of pinto beans with ham and cornbread. A replica of Allen's Tavern was set up at the Bodock Festival, and free plates of her specialty were distributed as long as they lasted.

Also portrayed was William Colbert, one of the last great chiefs of the Chickasaws. Colbert worked with Rev. Thomas C. Stuart, who started the Monroe Mission and other schools among the Chickasaws. Stuart himself was also brought to life, along with Andrew Jackson, Emeline Holden Richmond, Thomas McMackin, Davy Crockett, and Robert Gordon, a signer of the Pontotoc Treaty who was also present when the sale of Chickasaw lands was finalized. Gordon bought a vast track of land and built a grand mansion, which he called Lochinvar. Dr. Forrest T. Tutor, present owner of Lochinvar, fittingly played the part of Gordon.

The Flag Drop, one of the festival's most impressive events, took place at the festival grand opening. A forty- by sixty-foot U.S. flag, large enough to cover the front of the courthouse, was attached to the top of the building and unfurled to strains of the "Star Spangled Banner." Christy May of Pontotoc, Miss Mississippi, was present. Governor Musgrove read a proclamation, and the bands from all three Pontotoc County high schools played.

Other festival activities included a 5K Twilight Run, antique car show, petting zoo, continuous live entertainment, magic show, pancake breakfasts, shuttle train rides, golf scramble, "Band Blast" with high school musicians, food vendors, and the World Championship Bodock Fence Post Throwing Contest.

And what would a festival be without arts and crafts? The Bodock Festival can perhaps claim the youngest vendor in any festival in the state. Zach Fields has been selling sculpted animals, birds, and jewelry at the Bodock Festival since he was seven. He fashions animals from polymer clay, paints them, and bakes them in a toaster oven.

Area businesses work together to make the festival special to all who participate.

"We're proud of Pontotoc and proud of its heritage," said Lajuana Kitchen of Classy Baskets gift shop. "One of the special things is that the whole town gets involved. The Bodock Festival is a big deal to us. Not only does it represent our heritage, but it brings people from out of town, and we like the comments they make."

This year's Bodock Festival will take place August 23-24 in Pontotoc. As part of the festival, the Pontotoc Community Theater and local residents will offer a "living history" featuring portrayals of entertainers like Bob Hope, Loretta Lynn, and others who worked with the U.S.O. to entertain American troops. Net proceeds from the festival will go to participating. organizations to be used for special community needs.

The Kudzu Festival

The Kudzu Festival in Holly Springs got its start in 1987 when Lois Swaney, curator of the Marshall County Museum, first suggested at a Chamber of Commerce meeting that the town needed some new community activities. There had been no fair or carnival in Holly Springs for some 30 or 40 years. Dr. Al Hale, Chamber president, appointed Nancy McClure, Dr. David Childers, Lois Swaney, and John Robert Greer to develop a new event. He told them, "We're financially broke, and the event will have to be a fundraiser."

John Robert Greer came up with the idea of the Kudzu Festival because, as he said, it was a name for everyone. The rationale was that kudzu bothers everybody everywhere. Everyone could relate to it.

In order to understand the name, you must know something about kudzu. It is a large-leafed vine that some say grows a foot a night. Others more conservatively say a foot a week. Everyone agrees it is an all-enveloping plant that covers anything in sight, from trees to barns and houses, and if you stand still long enough, they say it will get you too. The vine is beautiful, with purple flowers that smell like grapes. In Holly Springs and Marshall County, it is the most abundant commodity available--a blessing and a curse, since it reduces erosion but there is no certain way of controlling it.

The first ceremony of the first Kudzu Festival was to begin at 5 p.m. At 4 p.m. no one had come up with an idea for the opening. Finally, Childers jumped in his truck, drove away, and came back with a load of kudzu from a nearby tree, he said. Back at the ceremony, volunteers strung the vines across the stage for a ribbon-cutting, but scissors wouldn't cut the vine. Childers finally had to use some pruning loppers to cut through the tough vine. When he saw all the area residents coming together to attend that first festival, Childers recalled saying, "This was brought about by the vine that binds."

T-shirts have been a popular part of the Kudzu Festival, but those of the first year seemed disastrous. "The company that printed them misspelled Holly Springs three times," one man said. "It was too late to have them redone. Everybody in north Mississippi would think we didn't even know how to spell the name of our town." The officials were mortified. But those T-shirts went on to become collector's items.

That first year was a learning experience for everyone involved. Marking off arts and crafts vendor spaces posed a unique challenge for Sarah Powers and Childers. "We had promised each vendor 10 square feet, but we had brought nothing to mark off the corners," Childers said. "Well, I wear terrible tennis shoes all the time, and as I ran around and marked off the squares, I would drop one of my shoes, then go to the next point. Sarah would come along and put up the stake. I'd run back to get my other rotten tennis shoe and move on. I'm still reminded not to forget my tennis shoes."

The festival has even sparked the creation of new area businesses. Audrey Peterson was working with the festival and looking for something to do after she retired. She decided on candle-making. Now, one of her most sought-after creations is a kudzu candle in shades of purple and green, grape-scented like the sweet-smelling blossoms of the vine, and distributed by Hedge Farms. Kudzu candles are often given to guests of the Rotary Club as symbols of the festival.

The kudzu vine's uses extend beyond the ordinary. While some craftspeople use the stripped vine to make wreaths and baskets, one enterprising Holly Springs woman is trying to figure how to process the fibers of the kudzu vine to steam them for weaving. Another firm makes kudzu jelly. In an article in the local newspaper, The South Reporter, Lois Swaney wrote of the Japanese drinking kudzu tea each morning and believing it cures all sorts of ailments, including arthritis. In our own country, one man reportedly tried kudzu as a heating fuel by processing the vine and leaves into a gas that would bum. It worked, but the cost outweighed the benefits.

This fabulous festival has already brought a community together, been the reason for research into uses for the vine, and brought new life to a town that had not had so much excitement in years until the all-encompassing kudzu vine became a symbol of the city. Twelve years after that first festival, the fervor still lasts. This year's festival was held June 6-8.

Enough money has been made to give the Chamber of Commerce financial stability and to share with charitable organizations. And according to Childers, "Now we can afford to buy string to measure for booths instead of using old tennis shoes. How wonderful!"

These aren't the only fabulous festivals with funny names in our state. The Watermelon Festival in Water Valley, like the Slugburger Festival, is a type of homecoming for past and present residents and visitors alike. Vardaman's Sweet Potato Festival features the many uses of sweet potatoes grown in the area. And don't forget the Okeelala Festival in Baldwyn, the Cross-Tie Festival in Algoma, and the Hog Wild Festival (a barbecue event) in Corinth, among countless others that cause us to celebrate each year.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Downhome Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Autry, Lola M.
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Geographic Code:1U6MS
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:2967
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