The Real Skeeter

Sara's first newspaper article in the Jackson Daily News.

“In 1952 I decided I wanted to make some money so I wrote to the Jackson Daily News and asked them if I could be a correspondent for them and send in local news items. They agreed, and my first feature was about the Golden Age Nursing Home, which was new then. I made $15 that first month after not working for a couple of years I felt rich. My checks from them varied but were usually not more than $30, but at least I had some money of my own, and I got a big kick out of seeing my stories in the paper.

“The Doyles [who lived across the street at 500 East Adams] had had a little boy in July of 1951, and Marge and I compared notes daily and visited with each other while they played together. When Cathy was two we invited Jimmy Doyle over to have ice cream and cake on Cathy’s little table which she had gotten from Santa Claus (she had requested a cheese sandwich and a table with two little chairs, which she got). Just as they began to partake of the refreshments, Jimmy messed up his diapers, and Marge had to grab him and take him home, so that was the end of the party.

“The Doyles decided to move back to Ohio the following year, and I really grieved when they left. I remember sitting in the front room looking out the window at them loading up with tears running down my face. We have remained friends through the years but have only seen each other a few times.”

Sara in her early days on East Adams

If you’ve seen the movie, The Help, or read the book, you may recall that Skeeter, the main character, is thrilled to land a job at The Jackson Journal, writing a homemaker’s tip column. She couldn’t have been any more beside herself than Sara must have been when the real Jackson newspaper accepted her offer to write local stories, or “stringing” as it’s known in journalism. And it must have taken a world of courage to type up that letter, altogether unsolicited, stamp it and mail it and then wait for the postman to bring the reply. What in the world did Sara tell the Hedermans to make them think this young mother would have anything to offer? And why didn’t she try for a job with the Greenwood Commonwealth or The Morning Star first? Maybe she did, and just never told any of us that they turned her down.

What we do know is that this tentative beginning with a short story about a new nursing home would lead to much, much bigger things. Sara saved every story she ever wrote, and looking through her scrapbooks, you can surmise that some days in the 1950s there was absolutely not one iota of news in Greenwood, Mississippi. So she’d wander up to Sumner to do a piece on its progressive city administration or line up some children along Lewis Lake with fishing poles or pull together a little puff piece on an outstanding student. She could never imagine that within ten years her byline would be front and center in a much more prestigious newspaper and the eyes of the world would be on her hometown. Sara had a lot of Skeeter in her, or maybe it was the other way around. Kathryn Stockett, please take note.

The Doyle family was legendary in our house, reminders of those hot, happy days of early parenthood and struggle. Sara never stopped missing them, and would reminisce about those years every time that small house at 500 East Adams changed hands. I knew it through playmates like Ann Lawrence and Becky Toomey, and there have been many owners since then. It’s for sale yet again, and I wonder if there is such a thing as envy among houses. On that southeast corner of Adams and Liddell, dozens of families have come and gone and the Doyles are just a dim memory, a note in a dusty chancery clerk ledger from six decades ago. Catty-corner is Russell and Sara’s home, now the Warren house, its walls having sheltered only two families in more than sixty years. If I were a house, that’s the house I’d want to be.

An unmailed letter found with Sara's papers

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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 The Real Skeeter

  1. Nancy Webb Phillips says:

    I always loved that house, too! Memories of birthday parties…
    BTW, your mom took a picture of Torrey Hughes and me at the end of first grade and put it in the Commercial Appeal. We were cleaning out our cubbies. Somewhere in a box around here is a scrapbook that contains that picture. Guess that was my first exposure to fame! LOL!!!!

  2. sec040121 says:

    She gave a lot of Greenwood kids their first newspaper exposure, and Little Red was a good source of material. Wish that old school was still there. I’ve got several boxes of negatives that may include the picture of you and Torrey, and someday I’ll get around to looking through them.

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