Hell Hath No Fury

“Miss Lillie Lanham was an old maid who was trying to win one of the town’s eligible bachelors (moneywise, not looks-wise) Frank Wright, brother of Charles. He was living at the Irving Hotel. He jilted Lillie for a Miss DeCell, a school teacher, and Lillie beat him over the head with an umbrella. Later after he married and moved into a big house on River Road she threatened to blow up the house and was finally put in jail. Big had not cared for Miss Lillie because she thought she was trying to get Uncle Roy when he and Big were courting, but in late years they had become pretty good friends.

“Miss Lillie would call her with all the latest news. She apparently had a hot line to the police station and other choice news spots. While I was working for the Commercial Appeal she would sometimes call me and say, ‘Sara. Lillie. There’s been a bad wreck,’ and she would have all the details. I never knew where she got her news, but she was a pretty good source.”

[ed. note: The following names have been changed to protect the outrageous, as there may be family still around. Old Greenwood hands will know who we’re talking about and the rest of you will just have to guess.]

“Mrs. Jane Doe was another town character. When we were just children we would hear the grownups talking about her being a kleptomaniac. They would tell about her going to Fountain’s big sale one morning and taking a tablecloth and going back that afternoon to get the napkins. Sometimes Mr. Doe, whom she called Doodle, would return things that were taken.

Fountain's Big Busy Store, victim of Greenwood's kleptomaniac. Postcard courtesy of Donny Whitehead, aboutgreenwoodms.com

She knew everybody and everybody knew her. She had two sons and a daughter, whose name was also [  ]. When we were in high school Mrs. Doe and her daughter would ride around looking for the baseball players. They went through a period of dressing in lavender or purple from head to toe and they would hang out around the Double Dip Ice Cream Store on Howard Street because that was where the boys came in.

“Some friends entered young [    ] Doe in a contest to become Miss Cosmopolitan, sponsored by the magazine, and she was selected to be on the front cover and given a trip to New York after being named ‘Miss Cosmopolitan.’

Cosmopolitan cover from the 1930s. A current Cosmo cover would be too X-rated for this PG blog.

All of the children were nice. The last time I saw Mrs. Doe before she was killed in an accident going to Jackson was at the City Hall when they were counting votes. She had gotten interested in city politics. She was very buxom and had on a low cut knit dress and was leaning over the table in the Council Room watching them count the votes for Mayor.”

When Rawa (Rena Stott Roach) died a few years ago, she left me a nice little desk that had belonged to Lillie Lanham. I had no idea until I read this memoir that Miss Lillie was such a volatile character, and I have no idea why Rawa chose me to have that particular piece of furniture, which must have been Big’s at one time. Yet another mystery.

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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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