Chamber Chick

Sara and her assistant, Tricia, on the front steps of City Hall. Sara would pay her 50 cents to help put out newsletters.

“I enjoyed the eight years at the Chamber of Commerce. Our office was upstairs at the City Hall, and I got to know all the city personnel, the officials, the police and firemen and almost felt like I was working for the city and the Chamber of Commerce. There were only two of us in the office, me and my boss, E.H. ‘Botts’ Blackstone.

Botts Blackstone and Sara in the Chamber of Commerce office.

There was no air conditioning then and the windows opened out onto an asphalt roof. In the summer it would get so hot up there that you could feel the sweat rolling down your legs, and sometimes my clothes would be clinging to me when I left at five o’clock. Botts did not want to run the ceiling fan because he said it blew his papers.

“I walked to and from work, and in the years when Mama was at the Red Cross, she and I would go through town every day at noon to check the stores out. We always made it to Woolworth’s Ten Cents Store and to Belk Hudson Department Store. Sometimes we would meet Son and his high school friends who had come to Fountain’s Soda Room to eat. He would pretend he didn’t see us.

Tricia and Son (Howard Evans Jr.)

“While at the Chamber of Commerce, I got to know all of the business leaders in town and made many friends. Botts let me do mimeographing for the public to supplement my income so I made a lot of friends that way, too, though I think he got a little jealous of my picking up the extra money. We put out a monthly newsletter, ‘Chatter,’ which was a gruesome chore that I hated. We sent out 600 copies, and it had four pages, so that was quite a job, mimeographing them, assembling and addressing them on an old addressograph machine. Botts thought it was a super publication and always devoted one page to jokes (often corny ones) and to financial news of the local banks.”

One skill Sara learned at the Chamber of Commerce was Tom Sawyer Fence Whitewashing, i.e., conning young people into helping with her projects. Tricia stuffed thousands of envelopes for fifty cents and thought it was loads of fun. At least the first time. When the Commercial Appeal Friday night Football Hotline set up in our kitchen, Cathy and I would be corralled to fold letters, sign press passes and haul boxes of “press kits” to the mailbox, all for a pittance. And that old mimeograph machine wound up in our house as well, and I can still smell that strong purple ink as the copies rolled off the spindle. There was never a job too big for Sara, but no one around her was safe from being drafted.

The contacts she made at the Chamber of Commerce stood her in good stead as she moved on into newspaper work. I think her greatest strength as a woman operating in a man’s world was that she was not awed or intimidated by those men. She’d whip out that little fliptop steno pad, stare them in the eye and ask the questions they didn’t want to hear. More on that to come.

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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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2 Responses to Chamber Chick

  1. Debbie Wiles says:

    Oh, this was priceless! Loved it. Look at those beautiful people. Love to Tricia. And you. xo Debbie

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