Gliding Through the Depression

Uncle Roy and Big in front of their home, 115 East Washington. The much-loved porch is on the right side of the house. Note Big's lovely yard and the brick streets.

“In the summer we would all sit around in slips and housecoats on the front porch trying to stay cool. Big always had vines covering the porch, and no one could see in, although we could always see out. Bama always got up early, powdered her face, dressed properly in her Nelly Don dresses from Fountain’s, and headed to the porch where she sat in a rocker right near the door, ready to greet anyone who happened to stop by. One day, as she sat in her usual spot, Mr. Burford, the director of Campy Ki-Y, dropped by to see us. The porch was full of half-dressed females, and we all made a mad dash through the French doors leading into the living room and on back to the kitchen. There Bama sat with the glider swinging and every rocker moving. She was terribly embarrassed and let us know about it after he left.

John Stott on the famous front porch, with the phantom glider and rocking chairs, 1944

“No one had a lot of clothes during those Depression years. Mama hired a seamstress to make some of our dresses, and we bought our Sunday dresses at the Fashion Shop on Howard Street, with the top price we paid being six or seven dollars. We had saddle oxfords from Arenson’s Shoe Store for school and then we would have one pair of dress shoes.

“The Depression did not affect us like it did a lot of people because Mama had a set income from Daddy’s insurance and actually fared better than she would have if prices had been inflated. We would hear the grownups talking about the families who were having such a hard time and some were having to get help from the Red Cross. There were some suicides. I remember how excited Lena White was when her Daddy got a job as chief of police after being unemployed for some time.”

The Stott front porch, now enclosed and vine-free, was a miracle of one-way vision. You simply could not see through that dark mesh screen, but the ladies of 115 East Washington could certainly see out. Over the next few blogs, all of 1930s and 1940s Greenwood will parade by, under the watchful eyes of Bama, Jessie, Big, Rawa, Tiny, Mamie, Sara and Tricia. The old photos show that this was a neighborhood, not just a sterile corner, and everyone who lived further east had to walk by to reach downtown. And they did walk, for business and entertainment and church and school. Some stopped by to visit with the Stotts and the Evanses, and some of my first memories are of scooting around on the cool floor of that porch with toy cars and little soldiers, barely aware of the lively conversations going on between the adults in all those rockers and the one wonderful glider at the far end. It was a magic room, like a front row seat for our family looking out on the everyday stageshow that was Greenwood. Sara was a nut for screen porches and had Daddy add the best one in North Greenwood on the north side of 409 East Adams. But it was never the same as the Stott porch, with its always-changing diorama of life in the old neighborhood.

Ed. note: “Nelly Don” dresses were the creation of Ellen Quinlan Donnelly Reed, who started a small seamstress business in Missouri that grew into a huge industry. From 1916 to 1978, Nelly Don produced 75 million dresses, including World War II uniforms for military women and those who stayed behind to work in the factories.

Nelly Don herself

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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