Reptiles and Relatives

Mamie, Tiny and Sara (The Snake Patrol) with Bigma, Jessie and Bama on porch of Strong Avenue bungalow. Sara keeps a sharp eye out for creepers.

“One of our favorite stories was about the time we were eating our breakfast in the breakfast room when I was very small and I very nonchalantly looked at Mary and said, ‘Mamie, I see a nake.’ There in the window right by us was a small snake. They killed it and then tried to determine where in the world it had come from. They finally decided it had either come in the coal which was delivered in a big truck which went down the driveway past the breakfast room window or it had been brought into the house with the coal, which was used in the fireplaces.Bama, Snake Nemesis

I guess Bama was not too afraid of snakes because whenever she found one in her garden she would kill it by pouring scalding water on it.

“One time our Grandpa Evans [Howard’s father] came to visit us and while he was here, he preached a sermon at the First Methodist Church. Daddy took him to town one afternoon to get a new shirt, and Mama asked him to take Tiny and Mary and me to the barber shop to get our hair cut. There were no beauty parlors then, and everyone got their hair cut at the barber shop. The barber asked Daddy how short he should cut our hair (all of us wearing straight hair with bangs), and he told him just to cut until he got back. It took a little longer than he expected to find Grandpa Evans a shirt, and when he got back our hair was  halfway above our ears and our bangs almost non-existent. All three of us were in tears, and Mama was fit to be tied because she wasn’t too happy about Grandpa Evans being here anyway. That was really the only time I can remember being around my grandfather, but as I recall he was a nice old man.

Reverend Robert Manson Evans

“I think Mama resented Grandpa Evans because she said he tried to make a Methodist out of her and that when she and Daddy would go to see him when they first got married, she would have to get down on her knees every night for a prayer service. Daddy’s mother had died when he was five or six years old. His Daddy later married twice more and outlived both of them too. Daddy had two sisters, Bonnie and Willie, and a brother, Dewitt. Willie died young and left two young children, Eugenia and John Sidney Eason. Aunt Bonnie had five daughters.”

Howard, Willie, Bonnie and Dewitt Evans, circa 1898

I don’t ever recall hearing the “nake” story, but I know Sara loathed anything that creeped or hopped (except bunnies, which were Eastery and therefore acceptable). Frogs and lizards would send her scooting, which of course compelled us to round up herds of amphibians and reptiles and slip them into the East Adams house, just to see her lose her composure. She was always a good sport about it. Not long after I moved back to Greenwood, I got a frantic phone call from her, late on a summer afternoon. “There’s a snake on the back porch and I don’t care how busy you are, get over here. It’s a big one.” Jimmy and I headed over and found her standing on the back stoop, clutching a broom, ready to swat the intruder into oblivion. Jimmy took the broom and went looking for the snake while I calmed Sara down. He actually found two, maybe a foot in length if you laid them end-to-end, and just as desperate to escape as she was for them to vanish. He shooed them out the door, found the gap in the mortar where they had slipped in and plugged it with a towel. I thought the whole episode was pretty funny until he told me that they were water moccasins. Not nice nakes.

Grandpa Evans. He looks more like a Hollywood gunslinger or maybe the sheriff-with-a-heart-of-gold than a preacher to me. Odd that Sara only remembered seeing him that one time, and then he seems to have just drifted out of their lives. Maybe Jessie was too much of an obstacle to overcome; if she didn’t like you, you were toast and there was really no way to undo that. And if he piously had her down on her knees praying, non-genuflecting hardshell Baptist that she was, that probably sealed the deal. Thank you for your son but please close the door on the way out.

I wonder where Howard took Reverend Evans to shop. The most likely spot was Kantor’s, “Outfitter to Mankind,” on Howard Street for so many years. Or perhaps Fountain’s Big Busy Store. And the barbershop where the triple massacre occurred? Maybe the one just off the lobby of the Irving Hotel.

Howard Street, with Irving Hotel on left and J.Kantor's on right. Courtesy of Donny Whitehead,

Wherever it was, I’ll bet that barber made a wide detour around Strong Avenue for a long, long time. I have this mental picture of Howard, already in dutch for hosting his father, driving home very slowly to face Jessie. Dealing with a scalded snake would have been easier than the reception he probably got that day.

Ed. note: Kantor’s opened on Market Street in the early 1900s, owned by the Kantrovich brothers. They legally shortened their name soon after and built the store that was synonymous with fine men’s clothing in the 300 block of Howard Street in 1917. Ten-year-old Adeline Kantor laid the first brick and the building still bears the name, “The Adeline.”

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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