Stone Angels and Water Wings

Mamie, Tiny and Sara with flowers

“We went to Odd Fellow Cemetery a lot with Bama and Mama, who took flowers out of the yard to put on Mama’s brother T.C.’s grave. T. C. had drowned in Moon Lake near Clarksdale when he was only nineteen and on a Sunday School outing before I was born. We were told never to mention his name since it would upset Bama so much. It seems she had almost lost her mind when he drowned and would get upset even going across the bridge.

“We would put the flowers on his grave and empty the water (which smelled awful) from the ones previously brought. We were told to walk carefully and not to dare step on a grave. I was just sure someone would come up out of the grave if I carelessly stepped on one so we very carefully tipped around them. Mama and Bama were always telling us sad stories about little children dying, and they would point out their little graves with the little stone angels adorning them. Close by T.C.’s grave were those of little Elizabeth Stigler, Jesse’s little sister, who lived a few doors down from us and who had died when she was five or six, and then there was one of Mary’s little classmates, a Lary twin, who had died just before Easter and who had an Easter basket on her grave. I still don’t like to go to cemeteries and I sometimes find myself looking around to see where those little graves were.

“After T.C. had drowned Mama was terribly afraid of water and just knew that we would all drown if we went into water deep enough to learn to swim. We didn’t have many pools at that time. There was one at the Country Club, and we went out there several times and waded. Then they opened up a ‘beach’ down on the Tallahatchie River bank at the end of what is now Riverside Drive and roped it off so that we could wade in it. I am sure the water was contaminated and that there were dangerous holes in it, but we spent most of our time on the bank. They finally closed off the swimming hole after a boy stepped in a hole and drowned. For a brief time someone operated some type of little pool near an old brick plant on Old Highway 7 past the Planters Oil Mill, and I recall us going out there a few times. That was our only exposure to water when we were little except for our trip to the coast when we were allowed to wade out a few feet, holding Daddy’s hand tightly. Tiny, Mary and I never learned to swim, one of the things I have regretted in my life.”

Sara stayed true to her cemetery aversion for the rest of her life, unless it was a historic trek through the Old Greenwood Cemetery or a trip deep into Holmes County. Various Wests and Sproles burial grounds were scattered out near Castalian Springs and I recall a few treks to find some tombstone or another, always involving  mumbling on my father’s part as we got loster and loster on those twisting gravel roads. Don’t die in rural Holmes County if you want to be remembered. And don’t count on the Saras of the world to come place flowers on your grave.

Ed. note: This is the only reference I have ever found to a beach off Riverside Drive. Knowing the treacherous currents of the Tallahatchie and the Yazoo, that seems like one of the all-time bad ideas, but I suppose this was a different time. In 1928, the Old Jail (ca. 1876), just across Cotton Street from Greenwood Utilities, was demolished and plans laid for a municipal swimming pool. The debris from the jail was used to fill in low spots around town. The pool scheme fell through and was not realized until the Depression, when FERA money was used to build a very large concrete pool, complete with bathhouse and tennis courts, just south of the old Greenwood High School. The pool was packed with kids every summer until the late 1960s, when it was filled in for a parking lot. The bathhouse still stands, now used for municipal storage.

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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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