A Letter Home: Judy Bryan Mello

Hello from the West Coast

By Judy Bryan Mello

People_JudyNFrankMelloWhen people used to ask where I was from, the answer was always, “a small town in Northeast Mississippi.” Little did I know I would end up, late in life, living in the “tiny hippie hamlet” of Point Arena in Northern California.

I was born and raised on the outskirts of West Point, which in those days was along a dirt road and considered “out in the country.” These days, there are subdivisions and a world-class golf course along the same road, now paved. I still have a scar on my knee from a bike accident on the day they black-topped the road. Guess I was used to the gravel.

Point Arena has only two blocks of Main Street, but what a street it is — the famous Pacific Coast Highway 1. The town has a working pier at one end of town and a historic lighthouse at the other. There’s not much else in between, which isn’t so bad.

Life is not drastically different in my new town. Maybe the clothes are a little more retro, and some of the food is a little too “fruits and nuts” for the daughter of a meat-packing family, but it’s still a small town where we look forward to the weekly paper and get the latest news at the post office. The best thing about the post office is it’s where I pick up the box of Martha White Cornmeal mom sends for my Thanksgiving dressing.

(It really irritates me when my guests call it stuffing.)

My husband, Frank, is from California and came to Mississippi with the Sara Lee Corporation. On the weekends, we started taking care of the exotic animals at the Mossy Oak Outlet Mall and loved it so much, we got our own African antelope and started raising them on my grandfather’s farm. When the Bryan plant closed, Frank chose retirement, and I took a position with Sara Lee on the West Coast. We owned vacation property on the Mendocino County coast, so we picked Point Arena as our new home. In 2005, we moved 11 of our animals and today we have about 80. They look a little different from the cattle I grew up with on dad’s farm. Around here they call our property a ranch. Nothing is called a farm. I always thought a ranch was like Southfork on “Dallas.”

I travel three weeks out of the month from California to Seattle to Utah and all points in between, so I treasure the small town life when I return. Frank keeps busy caring for our endangered zebra, antelope and giraffe and building barns and cottages for guests who visit the B Bryan Preserve — our conservation and breeding facility. Living in California has instilled in me the need to protect our planet. We use solar energy, we recycle and, of course, we’re involved with animal preservation.

What do I miss? Definitely family and friends and those delicious meat-and-three plate lunches. I now have a grandnephew who I would like to see more often, but it takes me nearly 10 hours to travel from my house to my parents’ home in West Point. (Did I mention it takes me three and a half hours just to get to the closest airport?) For now, it’s Facebook and Skype.

Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” It’s not that cold, but I sure do love calling my parents in July and talking about the weather.

If you get out to Northern California, come visit, but bring a jacket, Martha White Cornmeal and some Jim Dandy Grits.