MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - Food, family, and friends, both old and new, are all trademarks of a Labor Day tradition at the Mann House in Moss Point. They cook up mounds of fried fish, barbeque chicken and ribs. And nobody leaves hungry - not even strangers.
"We always learned to try to treat everybody right," said Zettie Mann, who hosted this year's event. "And regardless of who they are, where they come from, if they come here for a meal, they're welcome for it."
The event started years ago as a cookout for Moss Point's senior citizens. Mann said people in the community started dropping in, and they never turned anyone away. Their Labor Day get-together quickly became a community-wide event, where everyone is welcome. They have fed up to 500 people in the past.
"So many old people that do not have people that cook for them, they come and get their dinner," explained Jean Franklin, a family member who travels from Pensacola every year to attend. "There are young people, children and all, and they come and they just enjoy."
But this year, something is missing. For the first time, the event's founder, Robert Junior Mann, isn't attending. Mr. Mann died of a heart attack while cooking for last year's event, which had been postponed due to Hurricane Gustav. His wife Zettie and family decided to carry on the generous tradition in his memory.
"I don't think there's anyone here who can do the barbeque that he did," Zettie Mann said. "I tried, I really did, I tried!"
Everyone this year seemed more than satisfied with Zettie's cooking, but Robert Mann was far from forgotten. His picture sat beside the revelers as many of them shared stories of their lost loved one.
"He was a giving, caring man," said Cortez Keeton, pastor of Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church where Mr. Mann worshiped. "He was gifted. Gifted to cook. He could have made a fine living that way. He wasn't worried about selling it. He just wanted to fix it, and watch people enjoy it."
"Black, white or whatever color, whatever you were, you were welcome," said nephew Malcolm Stewart. "He didn't turn anyone around. They were all treated the same."
Friends said continuing this Labor Day open invitation is the perfect way to remember Mr. Mann.
"I think it's a great thing, in memory of him," Keeton said. "Because that's what he loved to do."
For his wife Zettie, serving the crowd brings comfort that her husband's legacy will live on.
"That's what really kind of lifts me up," she said about seeing the happy crowd. "I think he'd be very pleased today."
This year's event was named in memory of Robert Mann. Zettie Mann said she hopes to continue cooking for her community on Labor Day as long as she can.