By Robert Hitt Neil, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
LELAND, Miss. —
My home town of record is Leland, a pretty little settlement in the Delta on the banks of Deer Creek, which the Garden Club ladies back in the 1920s or 30s decided was too attractive a stream to just let set, at least the mile or two winding through town. They got help from their menfolks when demanded, and over a period of years did away with (and this was before chain saws) the undesirable trees and bushes along the banks, replacing them with growth more attractive to the eye. During spring, summer, and fall, there is no more beautiful stream winding through any little town anywhere. A lowhead dam toward the south end holds water during the dry seasons, the City Crews keep the banks mown and landscaped, although Leland Ladies still do some of their own beautifying, and we occasionally have Creek Clean-Up Days during the summer, sponsored by some worthy organization, often accompanied by tee-shirts, caps, and hamburgers for lunch. It’s a Town Point of Pride.
To share that beauty with the rest of the world, about 50 years ago the City Fathers encouraged the placement of tall lighted Christmas Trees in the Creek, then began encouraging local companies, churches, and entities to place lighted Floats on the Creek during the Christmas season, some depicting Biblical scenes, some with secular themes. On the first Saturday evening of December, there’s a special celebration to mark the lighting of some two dozen Floats, and as many Trees: Santa comes riding up the Creek on his waterborne sleigh, and hundreds, nay, sometimes over a thousand, parents and children gather at the Broad Street Bridge midway the town. It has been named one of the Top Christmas Events in the South, and it is Leland’s Gift to the Earth: Christmas on Deer Creek. Come see!
However, Deer Creek and Christmas thereon are not the only noteworthy attractions in our city limits: we also boast the Highway 61 Blues Museum which gives us a legitimate claim to being one of the “Birthplaces of the Blues.” A very famous native son of the town was Jim Henson, who lived here when young and named his frog character Kermit after one of playmates, the son of a future Mayor. We are currently collecting items for a first-of-its-kind Wildlife Heritage Museum, for Mississippi is the leading state east of the River in the percentage of population who hunt and fish or engage in outdoor, nature-oriented recreation. And that ain’t golf, Bubba! Got some old outdoor gear to donate for posterity? 662-686-2687.
What I wanted to tell you about was a Festival we celebrated a couple of years ago on the anniversary of Jim Henson’s 75th Birthday, which we dubbed the FrogFest, and the City agreed to rename the Broad Street Bridge in Henson’s honor as the Rainbow Connection Bridge. The Henson Delta Boyhood Exhibit is located downstream from the aforesaid Bridge, just past the aforesaid dam. Ashley, the Lady In Charge of the FrogFest, had the bright idea of talking one our worldwide-known companies, World Class Athletic Surfaces (think middle of the field logos on most college & pro football games, as well as — just come visit them) into making a stencil of giant Frog Footprints, then using their special paint to make Green FrogPrints on the street the mile from the Henson Exhibit to the re-named Bridge in time for the FrogFest in September 2011. They were a hit, and they are still very visible today, though a little faded.
At our 2012 Christmas on Deer Creek, we had set out the barricades to block the Bridge, set up the heavy stages for the Choirs to sing from and dignitaries (we do have one) to speak from, then unloaded the huge speakers for the sound system. The Firemen were ready with their WWII searchlight to spot Santa. I was resting, sitting on the stage, as the early crowds began arriving in the dusk. Then a big-eyed girl, trembling asked me: “Mister, what kind of creature comes out of Deer Creek at night and leaves those Great Big Green Footprints on the bridge?”
No, I didn’t. I calmed her and introduced her to Kermit, and later, Santa!