RHETA JOHNSON: ‘Life is so daily’

RHETA JOHNSON

RHETA JOHNSON

If there is a prettier town than this, I don’t know it, Katrina scars and all. It is no wonder that when, at age 79, renowned Mississippi folk artist Alice Moseley first crossed the long bridge over the Bay of St. Louis and saw the town with its melon-colored houses, she decided she wanted to live here.

And she did. For the last 14 years of her life. She didn’t just live here. You might say she did a Julius Caesar: She came, she saw, she conquered.

The occasion was an art show. Miss Alice, late-blooming artist, sorting through many invitations, had chosen almost at random to attend. She had never heard of the town.

She didn’t start painting till she was 60. She didn’t find her spiritual home till she was 79. Alice Moseley leaves more than a body of work. She leaves us with an example of how to live, loosening latent creativity, never giving up on happiness.

She left that momentous art show to go home to Enid just long enough to pack up her belongings from the house that she and her late husband, Mose Moseley, had moved, log by log, from Memphis. It once stood on the grounds of Graceland and was a gift to the couple from Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father.

She never looked back. Miss Alice moved into a little blue shotgun house across from the historic Bay St. Louis depot, a building so quaint and engaging it was used as the centerpiece in a 1966 movie with Natalie Wood and Robert Redford called “This Property Is Condemned.”

Her new hometown embraced the artist and her whimsical art, making for a perfect match.

It’s fitting that the Alice Moseley Folk Art and Antique Museum, which outgrew the little blue shotgun, is now housed upstairs in that old depot, where Geralyn “Geri” Bleau enthusiastically shares the paintings and story with the public.

“She died the year before Katrina, which might have been for the best,” Geri said. The thought left unsaid is the sight of her beloved Bay St. Louis leveled would have killed Miss Alice. The natural light upstairs in the depot gives the place a perpetually cheerful look, and Geri is the perfect host.

Despite her happy paintings with their funny titles – one is called “Three Sheets in the Wind” and features a weaving drunk with his moonshine jug as well as a literal three sheets hanging on a clothesline – Alice Moseley’s life wasn’t always petunias and picket fences.

Her father shot himself in the head during the Depression. A young Alice found him. Soon after she married Mose, he lost his job. Alice took in washing to help pay the bills. While teaching English in Memphis, she took care of her mother, who had Alzheimer’s.

Her last, artistically productive years in Bay St. Louis must have seemed almost carefree to Miss Alice. It must have been a gratifying period with pilgrims coming to meet her and to buy her work.

One painting’s title was inspired by a conversation Miss Alice had with the janitor at her Memphis high school. “You know, Miss Alice, life is just so daily,” he said. The painting depicts a sharecropper’s shack with a man picking cotton and a mule hitched to its wagon. The tracks of work never finished are evident. The title: “Life is so Daily.”

In Bay St. Louis, at least for Miss Alice, life surpassed “daily.” It slipped the bonds of the routine and became extraordinary.

To find out more about syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com. She lives near Iuka. Contact her by writing her at Iuka, MS 38852.