Cotton, Water, and Beauty

by Sally Parks


I was born in October 1945, a war baby, in Memphis, Tennessee. My father, Haskell Rightor,
fought in both world wars.

My family was from the Old South and cotton was still king. When my father came back from World War II he moved us to Walls, Mississippi and we grew some cotton, among other things.

So I have always loved cotton. And I have always loved water. The Mighty Mississippi might as well flow in my veins.

After my father died we moved back to Memphis to the house my great-grandfather built after the war, the Civil War that is, in which he fought as a colonel. It was a lovely Italianate Victorian, filled with love, good food, beauty, family, friends, and sometimes even strangers.

When I was old enough to go to school I was sent to The Memphis Academy of Arts on Saturdays. The school was housed in another old Victorian Italianate house. I was in heaven. The stairs were definitely not safe but I eagerly climbed them, dodging the rotten wood. The place was filled with artists mixing paints, stretching cotton, and sketching, and I wanted to be one.

About the same time my older sister eloped. It was a disgrace so there was no wedding. I didn't get to be a flower girl and there was no party. But there was an announcement followed by lots of gifts that were sent to our house since my sister and new husband had fled to California. Every night after dinner I would sit next to my Grandfather as he wrote to my sister in his exquisite florid handwriting. In the margins drew pictures of the gifts; next to his description would be a line drawing of an alarm clock that looked exactly like the alarm clock in front of us, a silver bowl, a flower vase, and so on. I marvelled at his skill; it was wondrous.

So, cotton, water, and beauty = watercolour artist.