Come see how Spring Pilgrimage began

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Winter blew down river, coating my yard with its nasty drizzle. Relief that global warming might be a myth after all clashed in my mind with wishes for some unseasonable Mississippi heat. I tried not to take the foul weather too seriously, but there was no denying it when the chilly air settled in and turned my little Victorian house into a Nordic cave. Even as the rains abated and the sunlight warmed my cat’s place on the porch swing, it was still too cold to sit and sway with her.

So I waited and thought about spring.

Pilgrimage would be in full swing. Tourists would arrive by the bus load, stroll the sidewalks, and line up to buy tickets for house tours and The Historic Natchez Pageant. The weight of a set of hoops around my waist would mean that Natchez had “livened-up.”

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Most look forward to the coming of spring for the joy of rebirth in nature. They find fulfillment in knowing that each year they will see butterflies flitting among sweetly scented bright yellow daffodils — but not I. As a life long veteran of the Natchez Spring Pilgrimage, my earliest memories of spring are of taking brightly colored tickets from strangers on the porch of my aunt’s house in the morning and skipping around a maypole at night. For me, and for many Natchezeans, the feel of starched organdy against tender skin, the odd flavor of lipstick mixed with pralines, the sound of a Strauss waltz played on two pianos and a violin, and the smell of hairspray brings a warm cozy feeling.

My first Pilgrimage dress was a cloud of starched light aqua organdy ruffles that I distinctly remember fluffing out over other children in the little maypole when we sat on the steps of the auditorium stage to watch the older children dance the “Big Maypole.” When I danced the “Big Maypole” in starched lavender organdy, I sported Dippity-do ringlets, and held a boy’s sweaty hand. “Placard Barer” was white eyelet and the privilege of staying up to watch the entire pageant night after night. Then, for six years I dressed in glorious jewel toned velvet stylized tuxedos as a boy in Audubon and made mad dashes in various years to change from the Audubon costume to my Polka dress or the Royal ballet costume.

My senior year, I danced the lead in Audubon in lovely cinnamon velvet, grateful for the honor and the thrill of those theatrical dance moves. In my swan song, I served as queen of the Pilgrimage Garden Club in hand-beaded Aloncon lace and silk satin with my dear cousin Jeff as my king and two younger cousins as pages.

When I danced the lead in Audubon, my pants split in front of a packed house, but I smiled through the rest of the dance. That same year, while waltzing beautifully as the sweetheart in the Soiree, my classmate Liza’s hoops fell out from under her dress. She laughed and kicked them aside.

A bit later in life, when I went through rush, the president of Kappa Delta sorority at Millsaps College commented that the girls from Natchez always seem so poised. I thought to myself, if she only knew.

Years later, when I appeared on the Today Show to promote my first cook book, the publicist for Crown Publishing, a tough New Yorker, asked with astonishment why I didn’t seem the least bit nervous … if she only knew.

Spending one’s formative years greeting and entertaining crowds of tourists has a lasting effect. It’s like being raised in a political family or in a family of tight rope walkers.

With diligence and creativity, those responsible for The Natchez Spring Pilgrimage have not only produced a successful event for over 75 years, but they have also produced generations of graciousness. I hope that my children and the generations to follow will work just as hard to promote our city and to welcome visitors with the same civility and charm.

If not for the founding members of the Natchez Spring Pilgrimage and the traditions that they set forth, tourism would not exist in this city as a viable industry.

On Thursday at the Carriage House Restaurant, Dr. Jim Coy will present his lecture and Power Point slide show on the history of the Natchez Spring Pilgrimage.

Come see how it all began, how it has evolved and why we still endeavor to present it. Tickets are $20.

There will be a cash bar and hors d’oeuvre. The door will open at 6:45; the lecture will begin at 7:30. Tickets are available at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours and the Visitor Center.

Courtney Taylor is a Natchez resident.