On the date of January 23 Two Thousand Three in the year of our Lord, Miss Michelle and I moved into a larger home. We moved because my two teenaged boys and one bathroom could no longer co-exist. The larger home was forty years old and in need of MUCH repair. We worked like dogs fixing here and there. We ripped out overgrown shrubby and added a screen porch with a southern exposure so we would get the cooling breezes in the evening.
One night on the porch we were talking about new landscaping that we installed that day, and I said, “What we need is a bottle tree.” Miss Michelle being a Yankee by birth – no Southern woman would put the word hell in a child’s name – did not know what I was talking about. After much lying, I mean storytelling, she reluctantly agreed as long as I kept it in the back where the neighbors could not see. To the best of my recollection (we were sipping out the jar that night) this is what I told her.
Anyway, there were these bottle trees away from the house usually past the outhouse near the edge of the woods or field. The trees usually had blue Milk of Magnesia bottles and milk bottles along with a wide assortment of liquor bottles. The colors ranged from blue, clear, to brown. Most of the trees were not thickly populated with bottles. The bottles were upside down with the neck facing the trunk. Maum Nanny Nora Bell wouldn’t let me go near them until the sunshine was directly shining on the bottles.
Being a child, I wanted to know about plateyes. I knew about haints and furies because Governor Bath (not really a governor, just a term of respect) was a seer. He had been born with a veil over his face, and people would have him over to see if they had these sprits about them. I remember my seeing. I was scared to death. I think it took several switchings to keep me in the house. (Maum Nanny Nora Bell was a large woman, but when I ran she could catch my little cracker butt and switch me back to the house.) My seeing went well – no haints or furies about me. I was quickly shuffled out of the big room to the back of the house to the kitchen and given sugar bread to pacify me.
Nora Bell said, “Plateyes are wicked spooks dat roams the earth achanging shape for wicked purposes.” She told me “whened you seed a plateye he’d scare de breff plum outa mortal folkses.” Plateyes had no enemies and would stop at nothing to terrorize or until proper “funeralization” took place. (I could never figure out if it were the plateye’s funeral or someone else’s.) Granddaddy did not have a bottle tree on his property, but Maum Nanny Nora Bell and Granddaddy would mix gun powder and sulphur and sprinkle it around the house. She said, “Dem plateyes caint stand the smell.”
Having convinced Miss Michelle, I drove to my mother’s old home site. There was an old squarish post about four by four in really great shape. Well, it wouldn’t come out of the ground for hell or high water. I had to drive back to my house (one hour trip) to get shovels and two teenage boys to help. Finally we dug it up, and it was in fantastic condition.
I found the center of the backyard and planted the post. I combed antique shops for old “Milk of Magnesia” bottles. I also found an old milk bottle from a local dairy and poultry cooperative which had Columbia, South Carolina, in raised letters. I also picked up old Sprite, Coke, Pepsi, and ginger ale bottles. I continued to search for colored bottles. Finally after spending about one hundred dollars I had enough bottles for a start. I drilled holes at about forty five degree angles, and used rebar for the branches.
After about a week or so, Miss Michelle woke me up in the middle of the night and said, “Go look at the tree.” Well, I wasn’t about to get out of bed. I asked, “What's wrong?” She said, “That tree is flashing so bright it looks like some UFO landing in the back yard.”
We continue to work on the tree and plan to fill it to the ground. Heck, complete strangers bring friends to see the tree both day and dusk. Now when Miss Michelle calls Yankee friends they complain that she sounds so southern. I guess one of them haints missed the tree and fixed her up to be a true Southern belle.
MP writes: “I live with the beautiful Miss Michelle Marie and our two strapping sons. Miss Michelle’s mother (“Grandmother”) visits often. There are also three ruint cats – Miss Dixie Lee, Miss Possum Le’Fay and Miss Silla Wheezy. Another cat, Miss Eula Mae (named after an aunt), ran off (just like my aunt) to my neighbor’s house and visits on special occasions.”
Read more great stories about BOTTLE TREES on our site.
Bottle Trees ~ Mississippi Delta
Don Drane's Bottle Tree
Charlotte Conner's Bottle Tree
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