Papa Pickles

Russell being the good sport for some Heinz promotion.

“In 1979 Russell’s thirty-three year job with H.J.Heinz Company came to an end, when they terminated all of the sales force and decided to sell their products through food brokers. It was quite a blow because he had intended to work for them until he had to retire and he was only 62 at the time. At least though he was eligible for retirement and also received pretty good severance pay based on the number of years he had worked. Fortunately he immediately got a job with Fulcher Evans and Welsh Food Brokers, who had gotten the Heinz line and started to work for them right away and continued to work for them until October, 1987, when they terminated his job after being bought out.

Russell and Tricia with the girls, probably 1956

“We did get a nice trip to Hawaii to the Lewis Grocer Company convention just as his job with Heinz ended. We had gotten some nice paid trips to Las Vegas, Acapulco, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast through his Heinz job.

“Heinz was a big part of our life for those thirty-three years, and Russell worked hard at his job as a salesman. For years Cathy and Mary Carol thought it would be a sin to eat Campbell’s soup or Gerber’s baby food. It took everything he made for us to live while they were growing up, and if we had not budgeted our money carefully we probably would not have done as well as we did. Every two weeks when his Heinz check came in, we doled it out to the various envelopes we had set up and which we called ‘the pouches.’ Of course, we would borrow from one pouch to help out another occasionally, but we always paid our bills at the end of the month and bought very few items on credit. It was always Russell’s firm conviction that ‘if you can’t pay for it, don’t buy it but wait until you have the money to do so.’ I remember one time when the air conditioner, the refrigerator and the washing machine all went on the blink at the same time, and I sat down and cried because I didn’t see how we could pay to have them all fixed, but we made it.

Man of the house

“He was offered transfers which would have probably meant promotions, but money was never our primary concern. We both wanted roots and wanted our children to have roots. After moving from town to town during the Depression, Russell was especially anxious for his children to grow up in one town, and when we moved into our house he made the remark, ‘I want to die right here in this house.’

You’re not going to get much from me on Russell, as I simply can’t do it, even after he’s been gone for almost 20 years. Suffice it to say that this man, who barely knew his own mother and who watched his father struggle just to put a roof over the heads of his family through the Depression and who was dragged through ten different high schools, was so grounded and so determined to raise his girls with stability and those roots that Sara mentioned that he passed up all hopes of promotion, more money and more prestige to stay right there on East Adams. He made Greenwood his home and loved each and every Evans as if they were his own blood. It could not have been inspiring to head out each day across the Delta to stock baby food and pickles and ketchup and soup, but he did it because it had to be done and he did it well. I cherish the memory of all those nights when he would finish his sales report, seal it up and say, “C’mon, Charlie, time to make our rounds.” We’d stop by the Greenwood Leflore Hotel to weigh the mail (and visit with the desk manager) and then head over to the old Post Office, where it was my great privilege to slide the Heinz envelopes through the brass slot and open the lock on Box 506 for the night’s mail. Then, if it was a really good night, we’d go by Chaney’s Drugs for a comic book and on to the Russell Company, where I’d ride the conveyor belt while Russell checked his inventory. There was one night when a salesman I had never met looked at Russell, looked at me and then just fell out laughing. “Criss, you really marked that one!” I badgered him all the way home as to what in the world that odd man could have meant, and he just shook his head and smiled. He knew I was marked for life in more ways than that.

We always had a pantry stocked floor to ceiling with tiny jars of applesauce and bottles of ketchup and mustard and cases of soup. It’s amazing what a creative cook can do with nothing to work with but Heinz products. And the title of this blog? When the CB radio craze hit in the mid-70s, Russell found a new calling in talking with the truckers as he drove the highways and back roads. Cathy’s best friend, the inimitable Kathy Koury Keyes Knudsen (she deserves her own blog, another day), gave Russell the “handle,” Papa Pickles. He was so proud of that.

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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 Papa Pickles

  1. Nancy Webb Phillips says:

    I remember once when I was at your house, your dad gave me a pickle pin. I kept that thing for years!!!

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