Local on the 8s

Sara, Mable Petty, Tiny and Mamie

“Mrs. Petty from across the street was deathly afraid of storms. Every time a cloud turned a little dark she came running over to our house with Mable because our house was brick and theirs was frame, and she figured ours could withstand a strong wind better than theirs. Of course, she did not get much consolation at our house because Mama and Bama were almost as afraid as she was.

Bama with Sara and unidentified child at Greenwood Leflore Library

“Bama always told us to get away from the windows and made us huddle in a hallway. Every time there was a streak of lightning or a loud clap of thunder she would let out a blood curdling scream. To top it all off, Mama had received a shock one time while talking to Big on the phone during a storm with the result that we were never allowed to pick up a phone if it even looked like it was going to storm. I am sure living through those episodes warped us all, and I am still a great respecter of storms.

“One day when Mrs. Petty and Mable had sought shelter from a storm, we were all crowded into the bedroom away from the windows. Mrs. Petty was terrified, but there was something else she was afraid of and that was cats, of which we usually had many. On that occasion, between the claps of thunder and Bama’s screams, we heard strange sounds coming from the closet, and Mama knew the old mama cat was getting ready to have kittens. She was afraid Mrs. Petty would hear the loud meows and get even more upset so she kept hoping the thunder would continue and drown out the sounds in the closet. Sure enough, the kittens were born in the closet, and I presume the storm subsided enough for Mama to get Mrs. Petty and Mable out of the house and across the street before she realized what had happened. ”

There are no pictures of the infamous Evans cats. Here's Jessie with Tiny and an unidentified dog on West Washington Street, ca. 1919.

There were apparently always cats around the Evans households, of the kind allowed to have kittens in the closet and the kind that just hung out at the back door, waiting for a handout and a rub. Jessie would later cohabitate with the notorious ‘Miss Kitty,’ Tricia and Gray’s cat who lived for about a hundred years. Miss Kitty lived to grab Jessie’s sneaker-clad feet under the bed, much to the delight of all the grandchildren. We gave her a wide berth (the cat, that is, not the grandmother).

Storms fascinated Sara and she was a healthy observer of Mother Nature’s potential, but she really wasn’t frightened of them. Inclement weather brought out the newshound in her, even at an advanced age, and she was prone to calling at 3 or 4 a.m. with warnings of impending doom by tornado. These calls were always followed by a stern warning to the recipient to stay off the phone, because “You know, Mama got shocked once talking to Big during a storm. Just blew the phone right off the wall!” That particular phone call was the most famous in Evans lore, and I never could quite figure out why she wasn’t in any danger when she called to tell us to stay off the telephone. Logic wasn’t her strong suit.

One of Sara's photos and article from 1958

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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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4 Responses to Local on the 8s

  1. Melanie Liles says:

    The last time I saw my Dad before he died we all hunkered down in the bathtub. Sara had called about a tornado coming. Bart was four and Mary Emrey was eight months old. The three of us got in the tub, and Mamie and Dad sat on the bathroom floor. Sara called back with the all clear.

    My family has just started reading the blog, and we all love it.

    • sec040121 says:

      I can just picture that. She was a catastrophist before anyone knew what that meant. There was one episode in Tupelo where she wound up in our never-used, dank basement bathroom with one of my kids (can’t remember which) and a 140-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback. I think that might have cured her of the need to panic over every black cloud. She’d be watching this Mississippi River business with hourly updates to all of us.

  2. Jimmy says:

    I well remember that hail storm. We lived on East Park Avenue at the time, next door to the Bibus Nursery. I watched out the bedroom window as the hail pounded the nursery, glass shattering everywhere…and the visqueen/plastic ripping into shreds.

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