On the Road Again

Joe Labello and Russell, 45th Division, somewhere in Italy.

“Russell’s army buddy, Joe Labello, who made tombstones and whose wife Bernice worked at the Mars Candy Factory, met us and showed us all around Chicago. We went to a striptease joint, where we really didn’t have any business being. They had never been to one either, so we were very naive. There were some tough-looking waiters who kept giving us dirty looks because we were only ordering beer and not much of that. We were glad to get out of the place.

“We left Chicago a day earlier than we had planned and drove to Warsaw, Indiana, to see Tricia, who was at a band camp there. Motels were almost non-existent then, and we found a small one near her camp and stopped, which was a bad mistake. It was nothing more than a tiny cabin with a horrible bed and one ragged towel. You had a bell to ring if you needed anything. We checked out the next day and went on to Findlay, Ohio, to see the Crosbys.

Captain Crosby and Russell

He had been Russell’s captain before Captain Chalstrom and was a doctor. Russell had been close to them and their children, George and Jane, and drove Lucille and the children from Fort Devens to Pine Camp. She and I had corresponded all during the war and did so until she died in 1979. Dr. Crosby had died a few years earlier.

Dr. Harold Crosby

Mary and Howard [Bartling] had married in June and were living in Columbus, Ohio, so we met them at Indian Lake and then went on to Columbus the next day. It was a tiring trip, and we were glad to get back home, but for $400 we really saw and did a lot. I really missed Mary when she left Greenwood, since she and I had always done a lot together and been very close. They married, like us, at Tiny’s house, and the next year their daughter Melanie was born. Tiny’s son, Billy, had been born in 1941 and Pamela Pleasants Roberson was Jessie’s first granddaughter, born in May, 1945.  I was jealous because by that time I was ready to start a family.”

Mamie (Mary Olive Evans Bartling), late 1940s.

Sara had learned to cook bacon and seen a striptease show in the big city, so naturally it was time to think motherhood. Something tells me that Jessie never heard about the entertainment options in Chicago.

Russell would tell me stories of his buddies, Joe Labello and Stoudemayer and Captain Crosby, all these scared young men from wildly different backgrounds and corners of America. He was devoted to little Joe, a tough, stubby city boy who made his living by carving tombstones. And Harold Crosby, a well-respected physician in the booming Ohio town of Findlay, which you may remember was devastated by floods just a few years ago. For all the tragedy of war, it does throw people together who would otherwise have never met. In Sara’s address books are the carefully updated addresses and telephone numbers of all these army acquaintances, most of whom they never saw again, but faithfully sent and received Christmas cards for decades.

Mamie and Howard were our exotic relatives, bravely living up there in faraway Ohio with all those Yankees. They would call long distance on an occasional Sunday night, and everyone in the house would scramble for a phone to pick up and listen in, as Mamie told us of her adventures in huge department stores and fancy tearooms and museums and all that a big city like Columbus had to offer. We could not have been more enchanted if the Bartlings had taken up residence in Paris or Monaco or the other side of the moon. Sara did miss Mamie, although they would manage to get mad at each other at least once every time there was a trip back to Greenwood. That’s just sisters being sisters. Sara named her firstborn Cathy Olivia, in honor of Mary Olive and Olive Stott, and I got the “Mary.” Challenging shoes to fill.

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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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