The large Victorian house where my mother, grandmother ("Nannie," aka "Freddie Bailey") and I lived near downtown was anchored by our family business: the Tot, Teen & Mom clothing boutique. And there, Nannie's homemade jellies and preserves would have pride of place -- especially once the word "Famous" was added to her "Aunt Freddie's Pantry" product line after such celebrities as Bob Hope and Lucille Ball began ordering cases of it for holiday gift-giving.
Above our small living space adjacent to the store, we rented apartments to a cast of characters who ambled in and out with the customers – from the town's leading garden club maven to the town's, well, chief madam. Needless to say, our corner of Commerce and Orleans Streets was always buzzing — especially 'round sunset on our front wrap-around porch, where a meandering mix of Natchezians and tourists could always be found, drink in hand, nibble or two within reach. (I, too, was there, but practicing the art of not being seen – a skill allowing me to stealthily absorb every brayed remark or whispered bit
Deciding early on to be a writer, my first chance to help document Natchez's rich flavor and culture came as a teen, when Nannie nervously needed my assistance. She'd been talked into producing a major canning-focused cookbook by her biggest fan
— renowned designer Lee Bailey (aka her nephew, and my cousin). Ultimately Loyd Lee (his given name – which to my ears sounded like "Lord Lee") became so smitten with Natchez that he produced the James Beard Award-winning Lee Bailey's Southern Food & Plantation Houses.
Lee's “don't gild the lily” style became not only a design-for-living compass for me, but also for a generation of others, including the late writer-extraordinaire Nora Ephron (read her touching tribute to him here ) and Southern raconteuse Julia Reed (who toasts Lee's influence here).
Fast forward a few decades and the record will show I've built a career focused on living the good life, both inside and out — from highlighting great home and party style for Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Living and Coastal Living to helping Southern Methodist University's public relations team turn the spotlight on an a generation of young (and driven) "World Changers."
Along the way, my journalism training has been buoyed by my study of human & civil rights and early Southern history. The goal? To avoid saying what one friend calls "the most dangerous phrase in the English language": "I didn't know ..."
These days I'm cooking up more entertaining-themed books with my husband, photographer Robert M. Peacock (also a Natchez native) after having helped write the memoir of the founder of Peacock Alley Luxury Linens (no relation, darn it); and completing the internationally award-winning book, No Resting Place: Holocaust Poland, for SMU's unique human rights program.
At the end of each day, my husband and I tend to be found somewhere in our historic Winnetka Heights neighborhood (with its welcoming front porches) ... drink in hand, nibble or two within reach. Our friends' spirited banter almost almost always includes at least one "I didn't know ..." -- and a warm feeling of connectedness ... to each other and the world around us.
Cheers to that!