Photo of me with some of my first playmates in a goat-drawn wagon. The photograph was taken by my grandfather in 1936 with a large-format view camera -- one of the old-fashioned "bellows" cameras on a tripod. The original print was enlarged to a substantial twenty-inches wide by fifteen-inches tall and still maintained its razor-sharp focus and perfect exposure.

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.

Happy Landing

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.

Editor's note: 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 their children".