Sessums Community House

Monthly potlucks fuel the spirit of a decades-old gathering in Oktibbeha County

Story Shannon Bardwell | Photographs Luisa Porter

On the third Tuesday of every month folks in the Sessums community continue a tradition started some 80 years ago.

Early in the 1900s Oktibbeha County’s Sessums community took an abandoned dwelling and made it into a one-room schoolhouse. Back then the community consisted of a railroad depot, two stores and a post office. The last person anyone remembers attending the school was the late Isabelle Kean, known by her friends as “Ib.”

When the school was abandoned, Ib’s father, J.C. (John Curry) Kean, turned the building into a “smokers’” club where gentlemen gathered to talk of farming, politics and current events. Soon the women and children were coming with them, bringing goods harvested from their gardens and livestock — dishes of black-eyed peas, butter beans, fried chicken, deviled eggs and peach and blueberry pies, along with jugs of sweet tea. The old schoolhouse became the neighborhood’s meeting and greeting place.

John Robert Arnold shares, “In 1934 I was a sixth-grader. There was one table at the end of the room that held all the food. Everyone sat in chairs and balanced plates on their laps. It was the first place I tried square dancing; we danced to ‘Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in your pocket.’”

“The first president of the club was Harry Peters, Nelson Jones’ grandfather, followed by my father, M. Hunter Arnold,” says John Robert. “’Round about 1950 I was elected president … and we haven’t had an election since.”

Sessums neighbors still head to the old schoolhouse every third Tuesday. Sometimes there’s a program but most times there’s not. Traditionally the meal starts by singing the “Doxology.”

Once the eating’s over, everyone takes turns telling what’s been going on in the lives of their family — a tractor broke down, a child’s arm was broken, some cows got loose, a grandchild won an award, a family went on vacation, someone’s in the hospital.

Brenda Gorski says, “This is the only opportunity I have to see my neighbors and find out what’s going on in their lives and they in mine. When I sit down at the table it’s like sitting down with family.”

In 2002 Mary Cheek Davis and her husband Mikell started coming to the suppers. Though they moved to the community in 1983 their lives were occupied by teenage girls. When daughter Sara married and built a house in Sessums, she encouraged her parents to come. Mary Cheek agrees with Brenda, “If it weren’t for the monthly supper I’d never see or know anything about my neighbors.”

Architect Bill Mann is as busy as anybody but adds, “I hate to miss the suppers. The older people are remarkably literary; they are genteel, Southern people, old-fashioned if you will, and close-knit. I learn a lot.”

For the Christmas meeting Santa makes an early appearance. Adults swap gifts while Santa invites the children to sit on his lap and recite their Christmas lists.

Nell and Charles Sciple guess they’ve been coming for about 30 years.

“The Christmas season is my favorite,” says Nell. “We cut a cedar tree and decorate with old-fashioned lights. There are presents for everyone. For a couple years when the community had a bunch of little ones we entered the Starkville Christmas parade. Everyone from the youngest to the oldest dressed up like angels. At the last minute Glenn Heath found some baby-sized angel wings; he was determined to ride the float with his grandkids. I think we came in third for the judging.”

Beverly and Nelson Jones have attended the event since 1975. More often than not Beverly leads the singing of Christmas carols for the December gathering and cues Santa’s entrance by singing “Jingle Bells.” On more than a few occasions she has had to repeat the carol a half-dozen times with no loss of enthusiasm.

“I love to come to the community dinner. It’s like stepping back in time. I can’t think of any other place quite like it,” says Beverly.

Once a foreign missionary family attended the Christmas dinner. When Santa asked their child, “What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?”

The child shyly answered, “Some toys from America.”

Santa, whose voice sounded remarkably similar to John Robert Arnold’s, responded, “That’s interesting … American children want toys from China.”   

In a world of dining out and disconnected lives, the residents of the Sessums Community are holding fast to the art of being neighborly.


BEVERLY JONES’ HAYSTACKS

1 bag milk chocolate morsels
1 bag of butterscotch morsels
1 cup shelled peanuts
1 small bag chow mein noodles

• Combine morsels in microwavable bowl, melt slowly at low temperature.
• Fold in peanuts and noodles until coated.
• Drop by teaspoon full onto ungreased cookie sheet.
• Refrigerate 20 minutes to set.
• Remove from refrigerator and “bump” on counter. Haystacks will pop off sheet.


MARY CHEEK DAVIS’ CONGEALED LIME SALAD

1 6-ounce package lime Jell-O
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained
2 cups boiling water
1 can condensed milk
1 cup cold water or pineapple juice
1 container cottage cheese
1 cup chopped pecans
⅔ cup mayonnaise

• Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water. Add water/juice and let cool.
• Combine cottage cheese and mayonnaise in mixing bowl.
• Add Jell-O mixture to bowl, combine.
• Add pineapple, condensed milk and pecans to bowl, combine.
• Pour mixture into a 9-by-13-inch dish.
• Refrigerate to congeal.


MARY ANN ARNOLD’S BLUEBERRY PIE

4 cups fresh blueberries
¾ to 1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
Dash salt
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
Pillsbury fold-over pie crust

• Preheat oven to 400°F.
• Place half pie crust pastry in pie pan.
• Combine first five ingredients. Pour filling into pastry.
• Drizzle lemon juice over ingredients, dot with butter.
• Cover with remaining pie crust pastry, cut slits in crust to let steam escape. Sprinkle crust with sugar. (optional)
• Bake 35 to 40 minutes.

(Source: Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg cookbook, 1985)


BRENDA GORSKI’S LAZY DAY CASSEROLE

1 pound potatoes, peeled, cubed
½ pound carrots, peeled, chopped bite-sized
½ bell pepper, sliced
1 large onion, peeled, sliced into wedges
1 fennel bulb, destemmed, destalked, sliced into wedges
2 cloves of garlic, peeled, grated
1½ teaspoons Italian herbs
2 tablespoons oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 sausages (beef or pork)
½ cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

• Preheat oven to 450°F.
• Place first five ingredients in large roasting tray.
• Combine garlic, oil, Italian herbs and chicken broth, pour over vegetables.
• Season with salt and pepper, cover with aluminum foil.
• Bake 45 minutes or until vegetables are fork tender.
• Lightly brown sausages, slice in half and add to vegetables.
• Pour balsamic vinegar over mixture.
• Return tray to oven, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes more (turning sausages and basting mixture after 15 minutes).

(Source: Kayotic Kitchen blog)