The Best Years of Our Lives

Sara and Russell, probably on the day he returned to Greenwood from the army.

“I met Russell in Jackson in September after he had been discharged at Camp Shelby, the same spot where he had been inducted. We came home on Sunday afternoon, and Mama and Big had fixed everything they thought he would like for his supper. He was almost in a daze over getting home at last and had a terrible headache.

“Pretty soon G.D. and Helen and Birch [Russell’s oldest brother and sister-in-law and their son] and Auntie (his stepmother) arrived. His Daddy had died earlier that year while he was in the thick of the fighting. He did not learn of his death until about a week later when he got a letter from Bailey [another of Russell’s brothers]. The cablegram which was sent never caught up with him. His father had a heart condition and died in Cleveland. Russell really had no home to go to since Auntie was teaching at a little country school near Cleveland and they had broken up housekeeping after his Daddy’s death, so he went to Cleveland and stayed with G.D. and Helen and spent a lot of time at our house.

“He began looking for a job, but with all the boys returning, jobs were pretty scarce at that time, so he helped G.D. in the furniture store where he worked while he looked. Finally, in December, he was offered a job with H.J.Heinz Company as a salesman working out of Clarksdale with a beginning salary of $50 a week.

A big part of life in the Criss family

He had bought a second-hand car but after going to work bought his first new car, a gray Plymouth. He had to work from Monday through Saturday morning, so I would only see him on the weekends. He wanted to marry and move me to Clarksdale, and we went so far as to find a room in a nice home, but the more I thought about it, I did not want to leave Greenwood and my job, at least until he was more settled.

“We had a good time on the weekends and even went to New Orleans to see his Captain, Harry Chalstrom and his wife, Rubye. She was a wonderful tour guide for us, and we saw things in New Orleans that we would have missed if they had not shown us around so.”

Ok, if you’ve been holding your breath since Sara turned down Russell’s 1942 marriage proposal at the drive-in, you can relax now. She waited for him. Despite an avalanche of cute, eligible, dashing young aviators who landed right on her Chamber of Commerce doorstep, she waited for him. Despite days and sometimes weeks with no word from him and no letter and no way to know if any of the 45th Division’s men would ever cross the Atlantic for home again, she waited for him. Because in spite of his limited job prospects and lack of a social pedigree, he was worth waiting for. During their brief months before the war took over their lives, she had seen something in Russell that was safe and dependable and solid. And he never changed, through all the years that followed. A good man is hard to find, but Sara did it. Lucky for her. Lucky for me. Lucky for the whole Evans family.

Ed. note: Sara’s memories of this time always bring to mind one of Hollywood’s best efforts, an often overlooked Academy Award winner, The Best Years of Our Lives. Myrna Loy should have walked off with the Best Actress statue that year, just for the scene where Frederic March walks in after years overseas, surprising her. It’s a jewel of a movie. 

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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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