Little Rascals and Rabbit

Jessie, Sara, Mamie, Rena Stott, Buddy Stott and Tiny, ca. 1925

“We had two bedrooms, a bath, a kitchen and a breakfast room. Bama [Sara’s grandmother] had one of the bedrooms, and Mama, Daddy, Tiny, Mary and I all slept in the other. Later, when Son arrived, he too slept in there. Mary and I always had to sleep together, and Tiny slept by herself. The rooms, which seemed big to us then but really were not so big, were terribly crowded with no playing room, so we did a lot of our playing in Bama’s room, where Mama had her sewing machine.

“In the kitchen we had a big black wood stove which you had to build a fire in to heat it up. I don’t know how they ever knew whether the temperature was right for baking, but some wonderful cakes, pies, and teacakes came out of that oven along with biscuits and cornbread. Bama helped with the cooking, especially with the breads and teacakes.

“There was a small back porch where we kept the ice box. You did not have refrigerators then, and the ice man would come every day in a mule drawn wagon to deliver big chunks of ice. You would put a card outside the front door or in a window telling him how many pounds of ice to leave. There was one ice man who had a mule named Rabbit who knew at which houses he was supposed to stop. This story was mentioned in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” one time. You had ice picks which were used to chip off pieces of ice for drinks. Ice trays came later with the electric refrigerator.

“We had a large open front porch and a side porch with a concrete floor. A brick wall came up a few feet from the floor, and sometimes when it was very hot Mama would let us turn the hose on the porch and pretend it was a swimming pool. It was on this porch that the ladies would sit in rockers and shell peas and beans or sew and visit with the neighbors. And we would play endlessly with paper dolls and dolls and card games and other toys Mama and Daddy provided for us. Sometimes in the summer months when we were bored Mama would order all kinds of games and books from Sears Roebuck to help entertain us.

“We had moved the little playhouse to our new home, and Daddy went right to work seeing that we had swings and a new sandpile. A sawhorse with a plank across it made a nifty seesaw. There were wide front steps and bannisters that you could sit on, and it was here that we played our games of ‘May I?’and ‘Who’s Got the Thimble?’ (or rock or whatever). The front walk made a fine place to draw off a hopscotch game with chalk or for jumping rope. We played jacks inside and on the porch. At night, when it was too hot to stay inside, we played out until bedtime. We played hide and go seek and tag and statues and caught lightning bugs in glass jars.”

Truly a vanished world that Sara describes. She longed for those childhood days all her life and gifted Cathy and me with the joy of those simple games. We cut paper dolls out of Butterick pattern books and the Sears catalogue.  Sara would chalk off hopscotch squares on our curving front sidewalk, between Daddy’s treasured boxwoods, and then demonstrate the proper etiquette for skipping from block to block. I remember her kneeling on the concrete floor of the back porch, patiently coaching me on jacks after the Toomey children moved in across East Adams. They arrived en masse, skilled in the fine art of that ancient sport, and I was being walloped in the neighborhood tournaments.  Sara tackled my deficiencies as if she were prepping me for Harvard rather than a backyard game.

My granddaughter will be able to instantly download a new game whenever boredom strikes, and jacks are unlikely to be part of her world. I would love to give her a day with Sara, Mamie and Tiny…..just a few hours on Strong Avenue, flooding the porch with the hose, hopping down the sidewalk like little bunnies, waiting for the ice man and his magic mule, nibbling teacakes warm from a wood stove. And I want to go with her. We may never come back.

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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