Jessie West Evans, 1895-1983.

We’ll pause here briefly, leaving Russell and Sara to move into their new East Adams home, and pay a Happy Birthday tribute to the woman who impacted all of our lives in more ways than she ever knew. Jessie Mae West Evans would be 116 years old today. She was born into a simple, rural world near Durant in the fall of 1895 and followed her older sister, Olive (“Big”) Stott, to Greenwood after their father died in 1911. She took some business courses, got a job as a secretary in a Greenwood insurance agency and met her future husband, Howard Evans, in the same little Walthall Street house where Sara and Russell would have their first apartment. Their marriage in 1916 was quick and simple and followed by 16 years in Greenwood and Jackson and five wonderful children. Jessie struggled through early, sudden widowhood, losing Howard when she was barely 37. She managed to raise those children with the help of Big and Uncle Roy and something more intangible: All of those children seemed determined to never, never disappoint Jessie or bring any hint of disgrace into their “borrowed” home on East Washington. They worked hard, made the sacrifices that must be made when 12 people are crowded into a home meant for 5, filled that house with wonderful memories, and one by one found mates who shared their values and fit right into our family. Jessie was always saying that some friend or another had “raised those children right,” and I hope she occasionally looked in the mirror and said those same words.

Jessie loved puppies and kittens and even welcomed a family of possums that moved in by her back stoop on West Claiborne. She loved sweets and bottled Cokes and onion burgers and “Gunsmoke” and “As the World Turns” and Lawrence Welk and Ladies Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post and Pond’s Cold Cream and dark blue Keds and fancy dolls and her grandchildren, especially me. (Sorry, you other 7, but it’s my blog). I never heard her raise her voice, not once. And her voice was rarely heard after a stroke left her nearly mute and frustrated in her final year. But when I went in to see her for the last time, in the summer of 1983, and told her I was expecting my first child, her eyes lit up and she very clearly said, “Oh, a little girl.” I thought she was talking about me, until Emily was born, just three months after she died. She wasn’t talking about me; she was blessing the next baby coming along. I cherish that.

I only knew one of my grandparents. My maternal grandfather died in 1932, my paternal grandmother in 1922 and my paternal grandfather in 1945. But Jessie, my Granny, was such a warm, loving paragon of everything a grandmother should be that I never felt shorted in any way. In the great game of life, I not only won the parent lottery, I also won the aunts, uncles and grandparent lottery. So Happy Birthday, Granny. You were the best.

Tiny and Jessie at Sara's house, likely on a Christmas Eve in the 1960s.

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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