“She was interesting, because she was interested.”
That’s the purloined phrase that my sister used to describe our mother, Sara Evans Criss, to the grandchildren soon after Sara’s death on September 11, 2009. For the past nineteen months, crates and boxes full of Sara’s memorabilia have crowded my study, begging for attention and an organizing hand before they journey to Ole Miss’ journalism archives. The creased albums of fading Kodak snapshots…towers of yellowing scrapbook pages… Rubbermaid bins jammed with recipes, wedding invitations, childhood scribbles (hers and ours), report cards from schools that burned oh-so-long ago….Eyewitness accounts of days in our little town that captured the attention of all of America and much of the world. They greet me in the early morning quiet as I log on to my computer, follow me along the pre-dawn streets of Greenwood as I walk, stare at me through the eyes of my old dogs who loved Sara and who she loved in return, call to me as I procrastinate and confabulate and waste yet another precious day, and scream to me in exasperated desperation whenever I look at my own granddaughter, whose impending birth was one of the last happy facts that Sara knew. Charlotte’s tiny genes are 1/8th Sara and if she grows to be even 12 1/2 % of the character that her great-grandmother was, all of our lives will be a rollicking roller coaster of a ride.
So, among millions on blogs and jillions of words, why yet another one? Because, like my mother and my sister, I am a writer. And the mid-1950s incarnation of a largely anonymous but determined line of women whose lives have been woven, through multiple generations, with the convoluted and tumultuous story of this strange corner of the world, the Mississippi Delta. My mother stood squarely astride that line, her earliest memories stretching to include her great-grandmother and her last thoughts of her three great- granddaughters. She was held by a woman born in 1845 and greeted her first great-grandchildren in 2008. A 163-year span, looking backward and forward, practically the whole sweep of Mississippi’s long history imbued in this one inimitable lady.
Sara Evans, the newspaper correspondent, was not a procrastinating writer. Her Underwood clattered away every afternoon in our kitchen, followed by the teletype version before the 5 p.m. deadline, carrying the Delta off to the wider world. She would be horrified, absolutely horrified, that I have let her carefully preserved history hover in the corner of my visual field for this year-and-a-half, not ignored but gently pushed down the list of each day’s tasks. Hers is a story that must be told, and it is my hope that a daily blog of her memories and escapades will focus my thoughts and perhaps bring a smile or a longing to have known her to you, an old friend or a perfect stranger.
There’s yet another walloping Delta storm moving into view through the west window of my study, and the dogs need that quick zip around the block before it hits, so the journey through Sara’s life must begin tomorrow. I promise.