“We had a lot of good restaurants then. Of course, there were no fast food places. We had Carnaggio’s, two Giardina’s, the Alice Cafe, Crystal Grill, Hamburger Cafe, Serio’s, the Midway Hotel Blue Room, Post Office Cafe, Smith’s Cafe and probably some others that I have forgotten.
“It was fun being at the Chamber of Commerce during those years. When we would have our annual banquet I was always seated at the table with some of the officers from the Air Base and from Camp McCain who were our invited guests. One night I was at the table with two or three generals from Camp McCain, as well as a few colonels, and I was very impressed. They would always have me stand when they introduced the Chamber officers and staff. Several years later at a Chamber banquet the night before we married, they had the pianist play the wedding march and announced that I was getting married the next day. They then presented me with two silver compotes from the Chamber.
“As the war dragged on and the news of more boys being killed came in, we began to think it would last forever. Russell was right in the thick of it most of the time, and when his letters did not come in for a few days we worried that something might have happened. He sent a lot of ‘loot’ home, including German uniforms, a camera, binoculars, silver, linens, and anything else he could find. When they would run over an area, the people living there would have to leave, and their possessions were at the mercy of either the Americans or the Germans. One time he sent home two colorful shawls which he said came from a house where there were two little dead children upstairs. The folks at the City Hall, where the Chamber of Commerce office was located, always looked forward to the arrival of the boxes to see what Russell had sent.
“I had a lot of good friends at the City Hall, including Mr. Saffold, the mayor, his secretary, Mrs. Dyer, Mr. Gregory, the tax assessor and Mr. Abbott, the city engineer. There were all old enough to be a parent, but they were very good to me.”
I can still feel Sara’s presence when I go to City Hall, even today. It’s such a delightful Art Deco stalwart, plunked right down there in the midst of downtown, solid and predictable, the year “1930” carved just above the main door like a boast, telling all the world that Greenwood managed to keep its act together when the rest of the country seemed to be falling apart. I’m sure she was in her glory as a perky young secretary, in her early ’20s, dashing up and down those long stairs from the Chamber of Commerce office to the Mayor’s office and around to the Commonwealth building on Market or the Post Office next door. In her later career, when she was the Commercial Appeal‘s Greenwood correspondent, she made at least one pass through City Hall every day, often with me as her shadow. We’d check the police docket, see who was in jail, visit with the firemen in Station #1 and pop in and out of various offices, sniffing out the news and gossip. My favorite City Hall character was Winnie Baskin, the tiny custodian who ruled the building for decades with a ready broom and a cocked ear. Sara would slip into Winnie’s dim “office” under the stairs and press her for the inside scoop on all that went on around the corridors of power. Winnie knew where all the bodies were buried and she and Sara were tight buddies until Winnie finally faded away, well into her ’90s. I can still hear her cackling when we’d come through the big brass doors, giving my mother that look that meant “You go on and talk to all these important folks and then come ask ‘ol Winnie what’s what!” Just another memorable character in a town that grows them like weeds.