“Mama drove a little when we first moved to Jackson but soon decided she should not be driving since she had only driven in a small town and knew nothing about city traffic, so she never drove again. Daddy had a black man named Amos Hankins working at the oil mill, and he assigned him to be our driver too. He would take us to town or wherever we needed to go and drove us to and from school every day. He was a jovial person and felt very important that Daddy had assigned him the task of driving for us, so he promptly bought himself a chauffeur’s cap so that everyone would know what his job was.
“Amos loved Son and would throw him up in the air and then down, saying ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen!’ Son would beg him to do it again and again, and we would fall out laughing. One time our car was in the shop, and Daddy borrowed a funny looking little car called a Whippet from Mr. Woodyard, who worked at the mill. We were embarrassed to be seen in it and made Amos let us out before we got to Whitfield School.
“For many years after we moved back to Greenwood Mama would hear from Amos right before Christmas and she would send him money or some Son’s clothes after Son was grown. He had gone blind and for many years sold peanuts at the Jackson State ballgames.
One time when they played Mississippi Valley he came by to see us. He died not too many years ago.”
I wish there was just one photograph of Amos Hankins. And a video of this kind black man, throwing chubby blonde Son up in the air, all the while chanting a baptismal rite. No wonder the girls collapsed in gales of laughter. And the chauffeur’s cap? There in the darkest days of the Depression, this fellow had found more than steady employment, he had found a family that trusted and valued his skills, so why not celebrate with a bit of sartorial excess? And that bond endured for decades, even though time and life’s challenges took the Evanses back to the Delta. If we were to record the history of the extended Evans family over many generations, these ties would pop up again and again, from Aunt Brown and Henry Pittman and Amos Hankins to Georgia Edwards, who worked for Sara for so many years on East Adams. After Georgia retired, she would come back to the house just to chat and watch “As the World Turns,” and she never missed one of our family Christmas Eve parties. My father made sure she had a roof over her head and medical care and even got her married, at the very last minute, to her dying common-law companion, James. Mississippi is, and always has been, a complicated corner of the world, but our relationships are based on one simple premise: You always take care of those who’ve taken care of you and the ones you love. And if you can’t understand that in Seattle or Syracuse, more’s the pity. Amos would never tip his hat to you.
Ed. note: The Whippet was a short-lived (1926-1931) smaller version of the Willys-Overlander automobiles. The one that Sara and her sisters found so humiliating would probably be worth a fortune today.