Custard, Cussing and Convicts

Snapshot from 1939 Deltonian, captioned "Hen Party." I'm almost sure that's Sara on the right side of the scrum. Maybe they had had too much custard.

“There were always a lot of people walking past the house and stopping to chat with any of us who happened to be on the porch or in the front yard. Most everyone who worked up town walked to work, including all of the men, and since all of the offices were downtown we were right in the center of everything. There was a service station up on the next corner where a lot of the boys hung out, and when we first moved back to Greenwood there was a frozen custard stand (these had sprung up everywhere in the early ’30s) on the corner where the Presbyterian Education Building now stands. Later, that too was a service station.

This custard stand was in Wichita, not downtown Greenwood, but you get the idea.

“Mrs. Julie Cobbs and her boy James Terrell, who was my age, lived next door to the Blumenthal house in a long ugly old house with a front porch. Miss Julie usually had relatives or other boarders staying there, and sometimes there was loud talking over there. Mama and Big and Bama like Miss Julie but did not approve of her ‘cursing,’ which usually amounted to something like ‘Good God Amighty.’ They said only common or ordinary folks talked like that. Despite their attitudes, Miss Julie’s boy James Terrell turned out very well and had many friends.

“In later years Mrs. Avent lived across the street from us, and she rented rooms. She was a very nice lady, but some of the roomers were a bit unsavory.

Tricia, Spot Pettey, and Sara, with the Coburn house visible in the background, probably around 1939. The Avent's house was just to the rear of the Coburn's, facing Washington.

Big was always taking up with folks who were down on their luck and trying to help them and in the process made some strange acquaintances. She would get up sometimes at three o’clock in the morning and go outside to work in the yard since the corner was pretty brightly lit. Mrs. Avent was renting a room to a fellow who was known only as ‘Hogjaw.’ Since he was often up and out early, too, he and Big struck up a friendship. So when Big and Uncle Roy took a trip to Tennessee to see Uncle Roy’s relatives, Big asked Hogjaw to look after the house since only Mama would be there while they were gone. The police chief, Curtis Lary, told me that his men were keeping an eye on the house while they were gone, and I told him that Big had asked Hogjaw to look out for things. Curtis was horrified, saying that Hogjaw had not long before been released from Parchman, the state penitentiary, where he had been sent for burglary charges. When Big and Uncle Roy returned and I told her about Hogjaw’s background, she immediately began checking the garage to see if anything was missing.”

Big's friend Hogjaw Mullen

Ed. note: See Stokes McMillan’s One Night of Madness for the full story of Hogjaw Mullen, Big’s housesitter.


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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