Before we move on to Sara’s Civil Rights Era memoirs, let me tie up the loose ends for those of you who don’t know our family.

Russell retired (not altogether willingly) from the grocery business in the late 1980s. He immersed himself in gardening, a hobby at which he was quite skilled, grandparenting, puttering around the house and yard and generally delighting in being the Wise Old Man of the East Adams neighborhood. His mind was clear as a bell even as his physical health declined, a victim of all those Salems for all those years. Had he not been a smoker, we might have him with us today at a jolly age 94. I wish.

I have to share my favorite Russell story, along with a promise that his story will someday be told in more detail on this site. We spent so much time together doing so many fun things, from working in the grocery stores to riding around Greenwood at night to shivering in cold football stadiums watching our Greenwood Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels, but the very, very best thing we did was toss baseballs. He would pull up in the driveway, exhausted from a long day or days out on the road for H.J.Heinz, and I wouldn’t even let him get in the door before I had a baseball glove in his hand. We would toss balls back and forth in the yard until he just begged to go in and see Sara and prop his feet up for the 5:30 news. When I was five, I broke my right collarbone badly in a fall from a horse and was in a very limiting brace for several months. After the brace was removed, Russell was gently helping me along with our ballgame in the backyard, but noticed that my dominant arm was so weak that he said (and I will never forget this), “Charlie, you’re throwing like a girl. We gotta do better than that.” He patiently coached me to throw in an odd three-quarter motion that, I guess, maximized what arm strength I had. I never lost that motion and I managed to play ball with my male buddies well into high school and with my son, Jim, all through his childhood. Now here’s the memorable part of this tale: In 1991, Con Maloney sponsored a contest to name Jackson’s new minor league baseball team, having lost the Jackson Mets to another town. I won that contest with the suggestion, “Jackson Generals.” The prize was season tickets to the ball games, a trip to the parent team (Houston Astros) season opener and the honor of throwing out the first pitch ever for the Jackson Generals. The night of that game, Sara and Russell came down and Jimmy, Emily, Jim and I joined them in special seats behind home plate. When it came time for me to go out on the pitcher’s mound for the ceremonial first pitch, the very kind young Generals catcher walked out with me and asked me how close to the mound I wanted him to stand so I could get the ball to him. Trying not to hurt his feelings, I told him to get back behind the plate in his usual crouch. He gave me a dubious look, shook his head like “Oh, boy, this is going to be embarrassing” and squatted down behind  home plate. I wound up, went into my Russell-inspired motion and fired that ball right across the heart of the plate. The catcher stood up, laughing and giving me a “thumbs up” before he rifled the ball out to second base. I could see Russell on his feet in the stands, clapping and beaming  and bursting with pride. Probably the only dad in his group who could ever say he saw his child pitch in a professional ball park.

A year later, he was gone. All those cigarettes had destroyed the blood vessels in his intestines and he slowly and painfully bled to death over a six-month period. We all knew he was not long for this world, so we had time to say goodbye, but that didn’t make it any easier. This sweet, sensitive man, child of the Delta and reluctant soldier, peddler of pickles and ketchup and soup and baby food, daddy and granddaddy extraordinare, slipped away in Jackson’s Baptist Hospital early on the morning of June 16, 1992, with Sara sitting right there by him.

They had 45 years together, wonderful years that should have started earlier (but didn’t, thanks to WW II ) and lasted longer (but didn’t, thanks to Salems). Sara was predictably devastated and bereft, but she rallied, as we knew she would. She had experienced losses before that would have knocked a lesser woman to her knees and she knew how to fight back. She continued with her creative pursuits and was always finding a new project. T. D. Wood, her old Delta State boyfriend, came back into her life for a few years, and that was a joyful and fulfilling relationship that ended when, as Sara put it, he “ran off with an older woman.” (Sara and T.D. were 82 at the time, and the hussy was 83 or so.) We laughed and teased her about being dumped twice by the same guy, but in retrospect she was really heartbroken and her social life diminished after that.

Jimmy and I moved back to Greenwood in 2005, ostensibly for professional opportunities but also to help Sara through her declining years. She was one tough lady and made her own way until the winter of 2008-2009, when the post-Christmas dark days seemed to close in on her. She was dangerously frail and began hearing voices and seeing old friends and family members who simply weren’t there. Or at least we couldn’t see them. In a move that broke all of our hearts, we relocated her to an assisted living home in February, where she truly tried to be happy and involved. But it wasn’t 409 East Adams and it wasn’t home. She became more and more reclusive in her room and in August, 2009, she slipped into a coma from which she never returned. Cathy and I had been so worried about how we were going to get her through her first Christmas away from East Adams in almost 60 years, but she took that decision out of our hands. She died peacefully on  September 11, a big news day, which would have been her choice. The Greenwood Commonwealth and Memphis Commercial Appeal both ran long articles about her career as a journalist, which would have pleased her so much.

The house at 409 East Adams was bought by the perfect young couple and their two little girls. It just shines now with light and life and family activities, and it makes me happy to drive by and see it in such good hands.

The emotional coward in me will not let me sum up my parents’ lives and their impact on mine at this time. Let’s move on into the Civil Rights era and Sara’s description of those days, and put the “summing up” off for a few weeks. At least until after Christmas.

One more tale before we go, though: When I left Sara’s room at Indywood on the morning she died, there had been a leak of some sort in the storage closet next to her room. The housekeepers had moved all of the contents of the closet out in the hallway. So, as I left that dark room to go meet with the folks from Wilson and Knight, the hall was lined with Christmas trees. I had to laugh before I cried. I don’t know how she did it, but Sara left us with a reminder that Faith, Hope, Love and Santa always endure. Merry Christmas to all.

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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4 Responses to Epilogue

  1. Jenny Adams says:

    I was just saying to my mom how much i miss her this time of year. And always at April’s Fools – her birthday … when i would call and let her in on whatever outrageous lie i was going to try and pass off on my mom (pregnancy and “i’ve been arrested. again.” were usually my top choices, although alternates of “i just bought a discount ticket to Brazil and i leave tomorrow” or “My house is on fire … but the fire department is here and I think it’s gonna be ok” were also big sellers)

    and I would call my Grandma and say “what do you think of me doing this one” and she would always frantically exclaim “NO! Don’t you do that Jenny May” … and then she would go “well, ok, do it but don’t let it go on for too long before you tell her the truth and then call me RIGHT after and let me know how it went” … then she would giggle. Man, I loved her giggle. She and i used to talk about the most absurd things … and read the newspaper in bed and poke fun at people in it and just laugh and laugh. She was the best

    • sec040121 says:

      She was the best, both as a mother and a grandmother. And I never really found the right spot in the blog to say that grandmotherhood was the crowning achievement of her life, but it was. Just amazing that she had FOUR grandchildren who never, ever did anything wrong. What are the odds?

  2. Jenny Adams says:

    I wish she had put the story about her hopping on a train to Cruger Mississippi with a bunch of boys and breaking curfew one night in her memoires. she used to tell me that story every time I got in trouble (which i think we can all admit was a lot) and it always made me feel better.

    She would say “you just get that wild streak from your ancestors. Don’t you worry about it”

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