Mrs. Downing’s Children’s Garden

Edith Downing’s kindergarten was at 901 Poplar Boulevard, on the corner with North Jefferson Street.

Mrs. Downing’s husband, James Downing, was an executive with the Mississippi State Banking Department. A native of Lima, Ohio, Mrs. Downing attended the public schools there, Lutheran College, and graduated from Ohio Northern University. Later she took special musical instruction in Aberystwith, Wales, and in London. She was in charge of the music department of the Mississippi Institute, French Camp when she met and married James Young Downing. The couple moved to Jackson in 1912.

The Downings moved to 901 Poplar in the very early Fifties, and opened the kindergarten in 1951 or ’52. She and two other teachers, Catherine Lefoldt and Martha Taylor, held classes in a long, low building on the south side of the lot with a playground in between. The school building was a little shotgun with an “L” at the end with a one-way mirror where parents could watch their children at play.

As in all schools, everyone loved recess and the big green wooden jungle gym in the middle of the playground was a focal point for games. The May Day celebration featured a May Pole dance. The girls wore pressed, and probably starched, dresses every day. Students were often given worksheets, and stars were given for correct results. There were many “hands on” games where the children would begin an activity then move on to others in a planned order to stimulate their learning. A child’s birthday was celebrated with a party and he or she was told to throw pennies in a bucket to tell how old they were. Sometimes Mrs. Downing would split the double popsicles she served for sharing. Students also took turns churning cream in a wooden butter churn.

The kindergarten was warm and welcoming place, the teachers kind and attentive, and many of its far-flung graduates have remained close friends throughout the past 60 plus years.

Class of 1956-57: Bob Biggs, Graham Blue, Bill Brockman, Eddy Butler, Rick Carter, David Chapple, Laura Neal Dear, David Denny, Miriam Dickson, Kay Eisenstatt, Bruce Evans, Frank Ezelle, Karen Ezelle, Patty Farlee, Betsy Finger, Betsy Gordin, Lee Gotthelf, Gary Grant, Susan Haynes, Sarah Hendrix, Janice Hines, Bill Hollingsworth, Pam Howie, Jane Hutto, Sandra Jackson, Bob Lawrence, Harry Kirshman, Dudley Marble, Linde Mitchell, Joe Morris, Alan Orkin, Marianne Painter, George Reynolds, Roseanne Solomon, Ethel Louise Seay, Sally Sherman, Rusty Shields, Ely Siegal, Sue Stevens, John Studdard, Lynn Thomason, Tommy Underwood, Kathryn Weir, Willie Wiener, Robert Whitfield, Lina Yates, Yandell Wideman

(Contributors to this article include Bill and Nan Harvey, Cecile Walsh Wardlaw, Tish Hughes, Sally Brown, Patsy Shappley, Susan McRae Shanor, Michelle Hudson, Karen Ezelle Redhead, Susan Shands Jones, July Lane Douglass and Cindy Callender Fox, Annie Laurie McRee, Dr. Richard Pharr, Bill and Martha Mitchell Brockman.)

Captain Ahab and the Sloop

A nautical memory by Howard Duvall, Jr.

If memory serves me correctly, the expedition to locate and raise Mr. Faulkner’s sailboat took place in the spring of 1953. For some reason Mr. Bill had left the boat at anchor at Cole’s Camp on the Sardis Reservoir during the winter months; and in the early spring, it was discovered to have drifted out into the cove and sunk in about eighteen feet of water. The recovery of the boat would not have presented any great problem had Mr. Faulkner called Memphis for a professional diver and rig; however, this would have been too conventional and commercial for his adventuresome mind. Therefore, he chose to make use of local talent, which I’m sure he felt would provide for a much more interesting day on Sardis Lake.

On the appointed morning Billy Ross Brown, a neighbor and close friend of the Faulkners, and I reported for salvage duty at Mr. Bill’s home. Also along was the Browns’ houseboy, Isom Cillum, who would act as all-round handyman for the project, as we were sure that we were in for some heavy work ahead. Upon arriving, we were surprised to find that a new member had been added to the party. His name was V. P. Ferguson; he was a student at Ole Miss, and I think it would be safe to say the “Veep,” as he was locally known, was something of a character. Billy Ross and I were quite familiar with the kimono-wearing, Koran-reading orchestra leader from the University, but we were admittedly quite surprised to see him here primed for the occasion. We were later to learn that V. P., upon hearing of the sinking of the sailboat, had called Mr. Faulkner and offered his services in recovering it. He explained to Mr. Bill that he was preparing for a summer excursion to the Caribbean to dive for black pearls, and that the Sardis outing would be good experience. I’m sure Mr. Bill discounted much of this story, but I’m also sure that he saw possibilities for an interesting day on the lake, and so invited him along. (Whoever says Faulkner had no sense of humor should have been along that day.)

The chief preparation for the outing seemed to have been the securing of enough food to satisfy the appetites of the would be salvage crew. Miss Estelle was in charge of this department and she had already sent Norfleet, the Faulkners’ Negro houseboy, out into the side yard with a large picnic basket of food. With the picnic basket safely secured in the Faulkner family station wagon, the five of us set forth to the Sardis Dam to begin salvage operations, To look over the crew-a Nobel Prize-winning author, two young college friends, a would-be pearl diver, and the faithful Negro houseboy—one could wonder about the prospects for the success of the mission. The route carried us through the University campus out Highway 6 West some eighteen miles, and then about seven miles up a gravel road to Sardis Dam. Our plan was to board the houseboat anchored at the dam and then to travel up the reservoir about five miles to Cole’s Camp, where the sailboat, as has been previously mentioned, lay some eighteen feet below the surface.

I think it would be well to pause here to say a few words about the houseboat which would be our base of operations for the day. Contrary to the general principle of shipbuilding (or in this case, boatbuilding), this vessel was built in the side yard of Colonel Hugh Evans of Oxford, many miles from any body of water. Being a neighbor and friend of Colonel Evans, Mr. Bill became inter ested in the boat and soon was a full-time partner in its construction. Two other families were involved in this venture, namely the Ross Browns and the Ashford Littles. After the completion of the boat came the problem of getting the rather large craft through the narrow streets of Oxford and out the main highway to Sardis Lake without tying up traffic for hours. It was decided to hire a professional mover from Memphis to undertake the task, and at the appointed time the boat was transferred by night to the lake. That morning the owners, their families and interested friends gathered at Sardis to watch her slide down the ways, and down she went, only to bob like a cork on a fishing line. It was quite evident that the boat was riding much too high in the water. The propeller screw did not reach the proper depth. Mr. Bill and his friends put their heads together and the solution was soon reached: put concrete in the bottom of the boat. Concrete was then placed in the hold, and the Minmagary set forth on her maiden voyage to reign as queen of the Sardis Reservoir for many years.

Mr. Bill was indeed master of his ship as we pulled out of the inlet onto the main body of water. After estimating the time of arrival at about an hour, and with Mr. Bill at the wheel, Billy Ross and I settled back in the deck chairs to enjoy the spring morning, I think we were doubly enjoying it because we were cutting classes at the University in order to make the trip. I know, too, that Mr. Bill was relaxed in his khaki pants and military-style khaki shirt, sitting at the wheel and smoking his favorite briar. In sailing and boating on Sardis, he seemed to find the peace and privacy that was more and more of a struggle to obtain after receiving the Nobel Prize.

V. P., always the nervous type, soon tired of watching the shore line go by and asked Mr. Bill if he could take over the wheel. Offering no objection, Mr. Bill let him have it and then joined us on the back deck to relax and discuss the problems of getting to the sailboat. Presently we were interrupted by the clanging of the deck bell and sharp commands being issued by the “Veep” sitting hard by the wheel.

“Full steam ahead; we are approaching the salvage area. We must have more steam,” he shouted into an imaginary tube that led to an equally imaginary engine room. The only person available to heed his commands was Isom, our houseboy turned cabin boy for the occasion, and he was thoroughly mystified by the whole proceeding. I’m quite certain that Isom thought Mr. Ferguson was “tetched in the head,” for he came back to me and said, “Mr. Howard, you know we don’t have no engine room down there, only that 75 marine engine and there sho ain’t nobody down there to hear him.”

It seems that V. P. had just finished some popular novel of the day concerning the rescue of a British submarine down in the South China Sea with all hands aboard, and through his imagination we were the crew pushing full steam ahead to make the res. cue. I believe Mr. Bill thoroughly enjoyed the fantasies of the “Veep” and he was soon resting again in his deck chair, probably assuring himself that he had made the right decision in bringing along Mr. Ferguson.

As we approached the entrance to the cove that led to Cole’s Camp, Mr. Bill took over the wheel again and steered us into position near the sunken boat. There was no real problem in finding the boat because of a safety line that was still attached from the sunken hull to a tree on shore. The plan of action was for us to take down a steel cable attached to a winch on the bow of the houseboat and hook it through an iron ring in the bow of the sail boat. After securing the hook, the idea was to crank the winch, thus pulling the boat to the surface. When this was accomplished, Mr. Bill planned to move the houseboat with the sailboat in tow to a nearby boat ramp, where we could wade in to maneuver the sailboat onto a boat trailer which would be backed into the water, The station wagon would be used to pull boat and trailer out and to Mr. Bill’s backyard drydock for repairs and overhaul.

All of this seemed relatively simple except for the fact that V. P. began complicating things from the start. For example, after his first dive he came up on deck, bowed in true Arabian Night style before Mr. Bill and exclaimed, “Oh, Captain Ahab, there is an octopus down below guarding the boat. Do you happen to have a machete aboard that might afford me some protection?”

Much to our surprise, Mr. Bill, with his usual composure, dis appeared below deck, came up with a machete and gave it to Ferguson, who immediately dived over the side with the weapon and disappeared below the surface while Isom stood by in wide-eyed wonder.

Just before noon, the hook was finally secured to the sailboat, but “Captain Ahab” decided to wait until after lunch to bring it to the surface. Isom broke out the picnic basket and began serving the food, keeping one eye, I’m sure, over the side for any sign of the octopus. Snakes were no problem for Isom, but an octopus was something else!

About halfway through lunch we heard the sound of someone on the other side of the lake trying to get our attention, and before any of us could answer, V. P. jumped upon the top deck and began wigwagging signals with a couple of towels. Before anyone knew what was going on, we observed an appreciable number of slightly disreputable looking fellows approaching, and within a short time the houseboat was boarded by what turned out to be the entire membership of V. P.’s dance band. It seems that V. P. had made slight mention of the expedition to his colleagues, and had in fact invited them to join him for lunch. They made short work of the contents of the picnic basket, and then they spread out all over the boat for an afternoon of sunbathing. I must say, at this point, that for a man who enjoyed his privacy, Mr. Bill seemed to take the whole affair in a very calm and understanding manner. The taciturn Nobel Prize-winner, in quiet and sly fashion, maintained his aplomb while V. P. all but took command of the situation.

The rest of the afternoon went by somewhat uneventfully with only the routine of securing the sailboat to the side of the houseboat and loading it on the trailer as described earlier. At dusk the sailboat was placed on the trailer and towed to its drydock in Faulkner’s backyard.

Some several days later Mr. Faulkner invited the group down to his house for a lawn supper, and I remember that the highlight of the evening was Mr. Bill’s dancing the soft shoe with Paul Pittman, one of the Ole Miss students.

William Faulkner spent many hours of sheer pleasure in the little sailboat that went to the bottom off Cole’s Landing and that was raised to sail again by Faulkner and a group of college students on that happy and carefree day. He usually referred to it as “the sloop.”

One afternoon while he, Miss Estelle, Hunter Little, and I were cruising, dark clouds appeared in the northwest and it was soon obvious that a squall was imminent. Fishermen, we observed, were scurrying shoreward. Faulkner calmly dismissed the idea of a squall and was maneuvering the sloop down the lake when a gust hit the craft and almost upset it. Life preservers were passed around. Faulkner declined his. Another gust took his hat, and Hunter went overboard to retrieve it and was almost drowned. After he was pulled aboard and matters were as much in hand as circumstances allowed, Faulkner called to me, “Howard, hand me a preserver. I am getting a bit chilly.”

In looking back over the years to the event just related, it becomes more apparent that the people who knew Faulkner best, outside of his own family, were the young people who grew up around the Faulkner home, as children playing with Jill, his daughter, later dancing and eating at her parties, and sharing many carefree moments with the man we all knew as Mr. Bill.

 

The Year of the Trendy Whatevers–Felder Rushing

Just got another email alert about a plant being promoted alluringly as the 2020 Something of the Year. There’s always something.

I don’t generally fall for hype or jump on costly bandwagons that often fizzle. One I do follow is that of the Pantone Color of the Year. Not trying to be fashionable; I humor myself with it to keep my creativity on its toes by painting something in my garden with it and finding plants, pots, and accessories that coordinate with it. This year it’s Classic Blue. Ought to be fun.

My recent Plant of the Year email was from the Herb Society of America, feting “brambles” as this year’s highlight. Not just black, dew, or raspberries, but all of them. And to think of all the wild ones I pull every year by the Sisyphean gloveful from my garden! Not trying to be testy. I appreciate the sincerity and dedication of people who carefully winnow down the field, carefully examine the best contenders, and adopt a singular frontrunner to cheerily champion.

Usually the plant of honor meets multiple criteria such as proven survivability in a wide range of conditions with insect and disease resistance, exceptional beauty or extra good or long production, and unique growth habit; “pollinator friendly” is a current buzz phrase. And, cynicism aside, it isn’t always just a coordinated marketing ploy to push sales of a pricey new cultivar. Sometimes it’s a genuine effort to reignite a flame of popular interest under a precious heirloom or native plant worth being reintroduced into gardens.

The Mississippi Medallion program brings such plants to our attention but, unlike national promotions, promotes only those that are adapted to our state’s climate and soils and which could be produced and sold by Mississippi growers and retailers. For the most part they are all keepers, though a few are a bit tricky for newbie gardeners or are no longer being widely produced. You can find these outstanding shrubs, flowers, veggies, and others listed, with photos and descriptions, on the website of the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association (MSNLA.org; click on “programs” then Medallion Plants). Though over the years my garden has become overstuffed with plants brought to my attention through these kinds of promotions, so I farm new ones out.

My neighbor Jesse Yancy is a “guerilla gardener” who has transformed a neglected slice of dirt across from his urban apartment into a nearly overwhelming gallimaufry of vegetables, herbs, flowers, vines, bulbs, and anything else he can glean cheaply or free. They’re obliged to be robust because, though he’s a nurturing gardener he doesn’t have the resources or time to coddle. So I often hand over to him any newly-heralded plants that have been sent or given to me by promoters, and then watch from his curb. If they thrive in Jesse Lee’s conditions, and wows him with their performance, then I’ll give ‘em a go in my own garden the next year. Some favorites, such as African Blue basil, Tuscan kale, orange Profusion zinnias, Burgundy okra, blackeyed Susan vine, and the antique Mutablis rose, have become mainstays for us both, and are spreading amongst neighbors – a true indicator of long-haul success.

As for the herb society’s latest plant celebrity, I’m gonna pass. I usually wait for my wild dewberries to flower before I pull them, partly for the pretty and partly for pollinators, but leave just enough come back every year to keep this seasonal dance going without becoming too onerous.

Not being untrendy-grouchy, I just don’t want 2020 to become the Year A Trendy Plant Ate My Garden.

L.W. Aloft

Howard Bahr
as told to Ms. Kate Kirkpatrick

So far, I have written hardly anything to make you smile, which I certainly like to do, so I will tell a story featuring our late pal L.W. Thomas, one of the funniest boys who ever lived and a very nervous character who owned many peculiar phobias. For example, he was afraid of milk in any form. Also, when he bought a six-pack of beer at the Jitney Jungle, he would not touch the can with the price-tag on it (this, of course, was when things had price-tags). You could be sure L.W. would have a beer for you at his house, because there were always fifteen or so cans with the price-tag in his icebox. For Thomas, flying in an airplane was out of the question. Once, when he and Randy Cross and I flew on Delta Airlines to Washington, D.C., we had to render him comatose with three Ativan tablets before he would even get in the taxi to the airport.

Capt. Jung and his trusty Taylorcraft

Another late friend of ours, Captain R.A. Jung, owned a 1943 Taylorcraft tail-dragger (an old Army spotter plane) he named “The Yellow Peril.” She was canvas-covered (painted bright yellow) and could accommodate two persons in tandem seating. For instruments, she had an altimeter, an air-speed indicator, a horizon bubble, and a compass. That was it. We all enjoyed flying in this antique crate (sometimes we’d buy two or three bags of flour, then go hunting along the Illinois Central for a train to bomb), but, as you might expect, L.W. steadfastly refused to have anything to do with her. Finally, one evening at the local tavern, Captain R.A. Jung beguiled Thomas with the news that he had just installed a radio in the cockpit of “The Yellow Peril.” (Heretofore, the ship had been incommunicado, which meant the Captain could only land at strips without a tower.) This apparatus, claimed Captain R.A. Jung, made the old bird safe as a Chevrolet station wagon. L.W., girded with the bravado of a half-dozen draft beers, and no doubt embarrassed by his legendary reluctance, uttered the fatal words, “Why, there ain’t nothin’ I’d rather do than scale the airy heights with my old pal, Captain R.A. Jung. Excelsior!” After that, there was no turning back.

Next afternoon, a Sunday, the boys gathered at the Oxford airfield to see L.W. Thomas off on his maiden flight in the Taylorcraft. Having steeled himself beforehand with a half-pint of Cabin Still (no Ativan or Xanax in those days, and, at the moment, none of us had any reefer), Thomas squeezed into the cockpit and buckled himself in the rear seat, clutching to his chest a Gideon Bible he had swiped from some fleabag motel back down the line. Present as observers were Frank Walker, John Schorfheide, Steve Cook, Tommy Freeland, and I, each man enjoying the balmy day, each man uttering words of comfort and encouragement to our jittery comrade:

“C’mon, L.W.–if you crash, it won’t hurt–you’ll be killed instantly.”
“Don’t listen to him, pard–you’re back aft and may only be injured for life–”
“If that happens, man, try to keep your arms and fingers so you can play the
the guitar on the sidewalk by the bus station.”
“But . . . what if he’s only injured and the wreckage catches fire?”
“Good point! Lotsa guys survive a crash, only to perish in the flames.”

Meanwhile, Captain Jung ran through the pre-flight checklist:

Flaps: OK
Horizontal Stabilizer:  OK
Rudder: OK
Brakes: OK
Fuel: OK
Loaded Revolver Under Seat: OK
Peach Brandy: OK
Cigars:  OK
L.W. Thomas : Sitting quietly hating the Wright Brothers; hating Mr. Taylor who designed the Taylorcraft; hating all of us who, safely on Terra Firma, could afford to make light of hideous injury and death; most of all hating Captain  R.A. Jung who, when satisfied of the craft’s readiness spoke up as follows:

“Awright, girls–knock it off and pay attention.” He rummaged around under his feet and produced a mare’s nest of wiring from which, after a few minutes of muted invective, he extracted two sets of headphones fitted with throat mics. The leather earpads were cracked and dry, like the antique Bakelite mics and the confusion of black wires that connected one apparatus to the other, then disappeared beneath the instrument panel where, presumably, they were somehow connected to the generator[1]. Captain Jung explained that, while the device was not exactly a radio, it was a revolutionary, if makeshift[2], intercom system assembled from genuine WWII Naval Aviation components he’d discovered in a surplus store in East St. Louis, Illinois. As a result, the Captain pointed out, those in the cockpit would no longer have to scream at one another over the clattering of the engine and the wind howling through the wires and wing struts. L.W. Thomas–lucky boy!–was the first passenger to show up since the installation, and this flight would be the intercom’s initial trial.

Thomas revealed later that, in that moment, he did not feel lucky; his confidence was further eroded by the knowledge that Captain Jung had installed the rig himself. Not that the Captain wasn’t handy! It was he who built a muzzle-loading black-powder cannon from a length of steel pipe, so effective it could fire a dirt-packed tomato sauce can clear across the Mississippi River. His work with plunger-activated black-powder aerial bombs was pure genius.[3] However, the Captain’s craftsmanship was generally applied to automobile repair, heavy machinery, and crude explosive devices; his experience with electricity was limited to hot-wiring cars in his youth. Thomas was aware of this deficiency, but his thought was, What could possibly go wrong with an intercom?

Now, to start the motor of the Taylorcraft, a ground crewman had to turn the propeller until he felt pressure on the pistons, whereupon that person would announce “Contact!” whereupon Captain Jung would flip the magneto and reply “Switch on!” whereupon the ground crewman would grasp the propeller blade and give it a heave counterclockwise. This is a very old-timey way to start an airplane, but she was a very old-timey airplane. After the engine was started and the prop spinning, pilot and ground crewman would exchange a hearty thumbs-up and “Cheerio!” (see illustration below), Captain Jung would take a draught from his flask of peach brandy, and off he’d go.

Capt. Jung in the cockpit, the author giving him a thumbs up.

So it went on the day of L.W.’s first flight. We watched the little machine trundle onto the grass runway–in a moment, she began to roll forward–Captain R.A. Jung opened the throttle–the mighty sixty-five HP engine began to buzz–the tail came up–and in a moment “The Yellow Peril” was gracefully aloft and disappearing southward over the trees. Meanwhile, the boys walked back to the office to drink coffee and listen as the airfield manager, the late Mr. Jeff White, told us tales of flying in World War II.

Well, I started out with the intention of telling about the time our friend S. Cragin Knox beguiled L.W. Thomas into accompanying him to Texas to work on an oil exploration crew, and the foreman out there gave Thomas the job of driving the dynamite truck, which made Thomas very nervous indeed, especially when, one day, and without thinking, L.W. Thomas flicked his cigarette out the open window of the truck cab–but now I am all tangled up in the story of L.W. Thomas and the Taylorcraft. However, as I think about it, the two stories have a similar narrative thread. As a modern person (no offense), and especially a modern person (no offense) married to an Air Force fireman, you might question the wisdom of L.W. Thomas smoking a cigarette while driving a dynamite truck. Also, you might contemplate the photo above and ask yourself, “Should Captain R.A. Jung really be smoking a cigar in the cabin of a fabric-covered airplane swirling with gasoline fumes that is about to sail into the Wild Blue Yonder?” This behavior was perfectly routine in those times; today, it would most likely be considered poor judgment, if not moronic.

(At this point, I should insert an apologetic parenthetical. Beloved niece, you could not be blamed for assuming our gallant band were naught but a crowd of dissipated low-lifes and scoundrels. In fact, we were all in college at Ole Miss, save Schorfheide [a railroad detective on the Cotton Belt RR in Memphis] and Captain Jung, who, when he was not adventuring, worked as a millwright at a steel mill in Granite City, Illinois. Walker was an ex-Marine, Schorfheide and I were Vietnam veterans; Jung had served his Army time in Alaska as a ski-trooper; Steve Cook would become chairman of the graduate art program at Mississippi College. Tommy Freeland was a poet and intellectual from an old Mississippi family; he would grow up to become an excellent attorney, marry my ex-wife, and die of a heart attack at a tragically young age. S. Cragin Knox, in spite of his lowly beginnings slinging cable on an exploration crew, eventually became the State Geologist of Mississippi. As for L.W., he was a graduate student in theatre at Ole Miss, a musician, a restaurateur, and a fine writer. He died in his sleep at age fifty-two in ’02 as his beloved wife Jeanne watched by the bedside. Life was never the same for us after L.W. Thomas crossed the river, and I do not believe a man can own a higher accolade. The same can be said of Captain R.A. Jung, who was killed in the crash of “The Yellow Peril” on [fittingly] November 11th, 1976, just seven months after the events recorded here. These were lads who lived authentic lives, and I am proud to have been one among them, and I miss them greatly. Thus, though sometimes we were dissipated low-lifes and scoundrels, misbehavior was only part of the adventure.)

Anyway, since I am thus far into the airplane story, I will stick with it.

Time and again, we hear persons complain that Life is Unfair, and certainly it seems so at times. Some point to Fate; the Calvinist attributes every misfortune to God’s Inscrutable Plan; sensible people have no other recourse than to mutter the well-worn phrase, “Shit just happens.” Whatever one’s philosophy, it does seem patently unfair that events surrounding “The Yellow Peril” on that balmy April morning in ‘75 came to pass with poor ol’ L.W. Thomas, of all people, in the catbird seat.  (As a writer, you will recognize this paragraph as intended to “stretch out the story” and “build up suspense” in order to delay the climax of the tragedy, so I will mention the wholly superfluous fact that, like old-timey barnstormers, Captain R.A. Jung always carried a number of wooden tomato stakes and a rolled-up bundle of cord affixed with colorful pennants like you might see at the state fair, a used-car lot, &c. so that, should he land in a cow pasture, as he often did, he could stake out a perimeter of wavy little flags around the ship. Remember that cows, though not very bright, are curious creatures; remember also that Captain Jung’s Taylorcraft was covered in a fabric treated with sealant [pilots call it “dope”]. Naturally, the local bovines would saunter over to investigate the big yellow insect that had buzzed down into their pasture; if Captain R.A. Jung neglected to set out a perimeter of wavy little flags to confuse them, the cows would commence to snack on the tasty, dope-covered fabric so that when Captain Jung returned from the nearby grocery with his sack lunch, he might well find a more or less portion of his fuselage gnawed down the the ribs[4]. I always wanted to use this arcane fact in a novel, but never found the opportunity.)

In any event, but a few minutes after takeoff found our intrepid aviators at a thousand feet and crossing over the Yokona River[5]. L.W. Thomas, of course, was not feeling intrepid. Below him lay the thin brown thread of the river, the greening woods, the checkerboard of cotton fields soon to know disc and plow, a sprinkling of white houses and, here and there, a wisp of cloud: truly a magical scene stretching to the blue hills and the world beyond. Alas, these aesthetic delights were not for Thomas. Later, he would freely admit that, from the moment the tail wheel lifted off the grass strip in Oxford, he shut his eyes tight and kept them shut. He white-knuckled the Gideon Bible and felt the rapid beating of his heart. He listened keenly to every variation in the motor’s rhythm and waited for the moment when it must surely quit altogether, all the while painfully aware that only a bit of wood and fabric lay between him and a thousand feet of empty air. Meanwhile, Captain Jung’s voice chattered amiably through the headphones clamped over Thomas’s Baltimore Orioles cap. Heretofore, L.W. had ignored the Captain’s observations, thinking them no more than the utterance of a madman indifferent to his own mortality. Now, high over the fields of Lafayette County, the Captain said something that made L.W. open his eyes and take notice: “Hey, man,” spake the Captain, “whatever you’re smoking back there smells like shit!”

This remark was an eye-opener for Thomas–first, because he wasn’t smoking at all, and, second, because he, too, all at once detected an unwelcome odor; i.e., the acrid smell peculiar to electrical fires. As the cabin began to fill with blue smoke, Thomas understood that the moment he’d feared was arrived at last, a realization confirmed by the Captain’s next announcement: “Well, hell, Thomas–we are on fire. Help me look for a place to set her down.”

Looking “for a place to set her down” was not among L.W. Thomas’s various array of skills. He’d never needed to “set down” from anyplace higher than his own bed, nor supposed he ever would. In addition, obeying the Captain’s order meant L.W. would actually have to look out the window! This he tried manfully to do, but the attempt was cut short when he realized (as he would later remark) that the distant ground, scary as it was from the sealed double-paned window of an airliner, was a hundredfold more so viewed through a vibrating half inch of cracked and oil-smeared plexiglass howling with wind. Thomas, heart palpitating, closed his eyes again and exclaimed “Oh, Jesus!” just as “The Yellow Peril” made a sudden stomach-churning drop. The Captain had chosen a field of broomsage nigh the river, and toward this he descended with dispatch, at the same time banking the ship hard over on her starboard wing in order to land into the wind, which direction he perceived by the smoke of a burning brush pile. The little machine hit hard, bounced high, hit and bounced again, and at last found her footing among the muddy ruts of the field. In a moment, she had rolled to a stop, whereupon Captain Jung shut off the engine and bailed out of the cabin door, pulling after him the still-smoldering remains of the intercom system, including L.W.’s headset. To say that Thomas was not far behind is to diminish the speed and agility of his exit.

Later, L.W. would admit that, once free of the cabin, he fell to his knees, pressed his cheek to Mother Earth’s welcoming bosom, and promised never again to leave her. It was, he said, not one of his finer moments.

For a time, Thomas and the Captain lounged under the wing, sipped peach brandy, and basked in the warmth of danger passed, peril overcome. Luckily, the Taylorcraft suffered no damage beyond a little bubbling of paint on the instrument panel; the intercom system, however, was hors de combat. One can imagine how, in that field to this very day, fragments of wire and Bakelite are turned up by harrow or plow, unseen and unlamented, their history lost to time like artifacts from a remote civilization. Here we must leave them, and here we must leave our tale of two gallant flyers–save for a final contemplation. When you feel safe, when the world seems in order at last and the Almighty has apparently wrapped you in His protecting arms–then look out, for the Cosmos is about to slap you up side the head. L.W. Thomas was still congratulating himself on his narrow escape when Captain R.A. Jung stood up, brushed off the seat of his pants, lit a fresh cigar, and said, “Awright, buddy–you ready to go?” Only then did Thomas comprehend that “The Yellow Peril,” having landed, must now take off again. With him aboard. True courage means that, when you’re scared shitless, you go ahead anyhow. This Thomas did, clutching his Gideon Bible as the ship bounced across the muddy broomsage field and struggled aloft. The last thing Thomas heard before he fell asleep was the brush of the landing gear through the greening branches of the trees.

The author with the irrepressible L.W. Thomas

[1] The generator was fixed under the starboard wing and had its own little red propeller. In flight, the wind spun the little red prop, and the generator generated.
[2] When he told the story later, L.W. Thomas used a more colorful synonym for “makeshift,” i.e. “nigger-rigged.” Regrettably, the term has since fallen out of common usage.
[3] In fact, we only had one; it was stoppered by a wooden plug so wouldn’t disintegrate; It made a most satisfying thump when dropped on an empty field, but when we landed, we had to get in the car and go retrieve it. The bomb in its experimental form wouldn’t hurt anyone, unless it hit him on the head. However, should any bad guys–Russians, Yankees, &c.–invade North Mississippi, we were ready to provide air support. Today, we’d be arrested as terrorists.
[4] When I was a little boy in Primary School, certain children from poor families (known as “clay-eaters”) would eat library paste and even dirt from the playground to satisfy the cravings of vitamin deficiency. Perhaps this helps to explain cows’ tendency to chew on airplanes.
[5] Originally called the Yoknapatawpha and so named in Faulkner’s novels and stories.

Kenneth Tobey: Monster Movie Icon

by Mykki Newton

Kenneth Tobey appeared in hundreds of feature films and television shows of almost every genre, but to Monster Kids he is best remembered as the romantic figure of a career military man who never backed down from a monster fight.

I guess I should explain what a “Monster Kid” is to those not familiar with the term.  A Monster Kid is someone who grew up watching classic science fiction and horror movies produced prior to 1970. Many Monster Kid’s first exposure to Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and all the Cold War creatures representing our fear of the nuclear bomb and communism came from late night local television. At that time, every television market had a “Creature Feature” movie program with its own unique host.

Now back to Kenneth Tobey and a 1985 interview from my archives. With his leather flight-slash-monster fighting jacket, Kenneth Tobey tangled with a giant carrot creature from outer space at the North Pole, the radioactive Rhedosaurus that stomped through Lower Manhattan, and a nuclear-powered octopus that crushed the Golden Gate Bridge.

In 1949, Tobey had a bit part in I Was a Male War Bride and director Howard Hawks saw something he liked in the 32-year old actor. Hawks cast him as Captain Patrick Hendry, United States Air Force and the lead in The Thing from Another World (1951), but first Tobey had to impress studio boss Howard Hughes.

“I got a call when I came in slightly tipsy one night about 2 in the morning and the caller said, ‘Mr. Hughes wants to meet you,’” Tobey recalls. “I told the caller I’d be in first thing Monday morning, but the caller said, ‘No. No. No. No. Mr. Hughes wants to meet you right now.’ So, I drove over to his bungalow and met him. You can’t turn down Howard Hughes.”

Kenneth Tobey wielding an axe in “The Thing

The Thing from Another World and The Man from Planet X both went into general release on April 27, 1951. Both films mark the first-time people on Earth fought invading space aliens in an American feature film. The Man from Planet X is somewhat adorable in its simplicity and comic book visuals, but The Thing from Another World is terrifying and sophisticated even today.

Going into the 19-week shoot, Tobey said he thought it was just another adventure film. The Thing from Another World turned out to be far more than just an adventure film. It was ground-breaking cinema thanks in large part to the over-lapping dialog which brought a tense pace and sense of reality to the film.

“I’m going to take a little credit for that and give Howard Hawks a great deal of credit for using it,” Tobey said. “I had just come from the stage in New York and on the stage we overlap, so I automatically did that because I hadn’t done many pictures. Hawks liked it and got the whole cast to do it and we had a lot of fun doing that.”

The box office success of The Thing from Another World made Kenneth Tobey a gainfully employed film actor and a reliable frequent fighter of giant movie monsters. However, his next venture into science fiction was not the starring role. That spot was already taken by the title character, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). Before there was Godzilla, there was Rhedosaurus, the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms…although he actually came from deep in the ice of the Arctic Circle during a nuclear bomb test dubbed “Operation Experiment.” Maybe it isn’t the most original title for a government operation or an experiment, but Kenneth Tobey is there to do his duty for his country. This time he is Colonel Jack Evans, United States Army and the monster is classic Ray Harryhausen stop motion animation. It is one of the first films to tap into our Cold War fear of nuclear annihilation.

“Ray Harryhausen is the best. Some of the movements of the giant brontosaurus…uh, whatever the hell it was, looked very real,” Tobey said. In science fiction pictures with monsters and things like that, the most important thing is for the actors to believe that that’s a creature. The audience will take the actor’s word for it. If the actor is truly scared or takes the creature seriously, then the audience will.”

Kenneth Tobey (center) gets a love scene

Tobey would again face a Harryhausen creation in 1955 when It Came from Beneath the Sea. “It” being a gigantic octopus driven from its natural habitat and food supply by hydrogen bomb tests. This time Kenneth Tobey crosses over into his third branch of the military. He is Commander Pete Mathews, captain of a nuclear submarine and traditional 1950s American male who doesn’t understand “these modern women these days.” While the giant radioactive octopus is wrapping its tentacles around the Golden Gate Bridge, Commander Mathews is trying to wrap his big paws around Professor Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) of Harvard University.

“I liked It Came from Beneath the Sea because I had love scenes and I had a longer part than in Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and I starred in it,” Tobey said.

Before the end of the 1950s, Kenneth Tobey would fight one more sci-fi monster…a pill-popping vampire in The Vampire (1957) of course, and once again Tobey was in an innovative, albeit low budget film. Unlike previous movie vampires created by pure evil, the devil, a bat, or a bite from Count Dracula, this vampire was created by science out of control and playing God. It was another common fear in our new Nuclear Age and a new kind of Kenneth Tobey, Monster Fighter. He is now a civilian, somewhat anyway. He is Sheriff Buck Donnelly of “Any Small Town, U.S.A.”, and he’s got a grotesque blood-sucker terrorizing his county.

Tobey’s talents shifted to television late in 1957 when he starred as the co-owner of a helicopter charter service in the series Whirlybirds until 1960. It was a major success worldwide and remained in syndication for decades. There was even a reunion of sorts with the Thing. Tobey was a guest actor on a 1960 episode of Gunsmoke starring James Arness who played the giant carrot creature from outer space in 1951.

Tobey (far left) in “Airplane!”

Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Tobey would pop-up in small supporting roles in some of the biggest box office hits. Including Billy Jack (1971), Airplane! (1980), The Howling (1981), Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), and Big Top Pee-wee (1988). He even tried to kill the real-life, somewhat mythical giant figure of legendary Tennessee lawman Buford Pusser in the original Walking Tall (1973).

Kenneth Tobey passed away in 2002 and didn’t live to see his final film released. It was film done on a bet to see if director Ted Newsom could produce a movie for $2,500. It began shooting as an 8mm film in 1984 and switched to videotape in the 1990s. It was finally released straight to DVD in 2005 as The Naked Monster, a spoof/tribute to the classic sci-fi horror films of the 50s. Kenneth Tobey reprised his role as Captain Patrick Hendry from The Thing from Another World. For the last time, Kenneth Tobey would don his leather flight-slash-monster fighting jacket. It is a film only Monster Kids will understand and appreciate.

“I enjoy acting,” Tobey said. “Whatever the genre is, I love it. Of all the science fiction films I’ve done, The Thing is my favorite because it brought me the most fame and I’ve gotten my last 10 parts because of The Thing, which was 30 years ago.”

Mykki Newton is a grown-up “Monster Kid”, a connoisseur of cinema schlock and a videographer/editor at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.

Keepers of the House

In the summer of 1855, Miss Anna Sheegog died upstairs in the house in which I write. No token of hers remains, not even a hair ribbon; the grief at her passing was eased and forgotten long ago. Yet she is still fooling around up there, after al this time, and no wonder—she was only 16 and not ready to be done with life.

Something is always stirring in old houses, for they murmur in their sleep as people do. So much happens, and none of it wants to leave; it is laid up in the walls, left to leak out now and then when someone is listening. Ghosts, we call it, though it is really only memory. I have listened here—in all weathers, in the bright noon and deep watches of the night—longer than Miss Anna was alive, and I know something of the memory of houses.

This one is called Rowan Oak, for Mr. William Faulkner called it that, and he lived here longer than anybody. Because he lived here it is a literary shrine of sorts; for 20-odd years pilgrims have been coming up the walk to see what lies in the white house.

I, too, was a pilgrim once, come by a long road begun in a railroad yard. One night a switchman, Frank Smith, pressed on me a book, of all things, a paperback, greasy and bent to the shape of his blue jeans pocket. “Read this,” he said. In the yard office after the train was gone, I opened it and began to read, and the world was never the same again.

Years later, when I was curator of Mr. William Faulkner’s house, I happened on a page of manuscript behind a drawer in the library. I knew right away what it was; lines from The Hamlet, written in this very house. It was no small thing to meet, and as the morning light fell through the tall library windows, I remembered another light; the glow of Frank Smith’s lantern on that vanished summer night, when he put his copy of The Hamlet in my hand.

Ghosts again, and, always, time. In Mr. Faulkner’s house, time is the sum of all senses. It is in the light, in all seasons softened to twilight by the trees. Time lies in the creak of a shutter, rain in the downspouts, in a step half-heard in the empty rooms above. It is in the very smell of the place, which is the smell of all grandmother’s houses, made of dust and mildew, old books and years of fried chicken—and that almost palpable memory that will not go away. It is the smell of time.

No wonder pilgrims sometimes speak in whispers here. No wonder children often cling shyly to their parents’ legs, flirting with something only they can see. Time conjures them all, as it conjures us, who are stewards of time.

There have not been many of us. Dr. James Webb, the first and best curator, will always be chief. In the early years Dr. George Street was here, and Bev Smith. I have worked with Danny Toma, Terrell Lewis, Keith Fudge. Winfred Ragland was the first groundskeeper, and then Isiah McGuirt, whom I watched rake the leaves of 15 autumns.

These were all Southern men who knew not just Mr. Faulkner and his work, but also what it means to love an old house and earth whence it came. They were all pilgrims, come here by their own long roads, each to find his own doorway to the past.

Once, on one of those days when the sky is deep blue and every leaf sharp and clear and shadows haunt the fence corners—once, on such a day, Isaiah walked out in the north pasture to work his turnips and Dany went along to swap lies. I wandered out by myself by and by and leaned on the fence and watched them. On the whole place there were only three of us. Their voices drifted to me across the morning. Now and then, an acorn rattled on the tin roof of the cookhouse, the loft door creaked, the house drowsed white and solid in the sun.

I should not have been surprised to find Mr. Faulkner at my elbow, leaning on the fence with his pipe, nor to see Miss Anna in the kitchen door—for the streams of time had come together once more, the old proper rhythms of life were in cadence, and all that ever happened on this place narrowed to an old man and a boy in the pasture, talking quietly under the autumn sky.

Occasionally, folks ask me what it is like to work at Rowan Oak. I do not know how to tell them about Frank Smith or Dr. Webb or Danny or the day Isiah went out to hoe his greens, but sometimes I try, and they are almost always satisfied. It is a good thing for pilgrims to carry away into the world waiting for them beyond the gate, for in that world ghosts are silly and magic is only for children. I don’t believe so myself, and neither does Miss Anna—but then, she is only 16, after all.

Novelist and scholar Howard Bahr lives in Jackson, Mississippi

Parkin’s Pharmacy – That Good Drug Store

The story of Parkin’s Pharmacy is a story of a time. It was a time when pharmacies were still called drug stores, the pharmacist was your neighbor and there were far more independent store owners than chains.

When Jimmy Parkin returned from pharmacy school in 1950, married and started his business next to the Jitney Jungle in Belhaven later that year, drug stores were a little more informal than today. Pharmacists counted prescribed pills, mixed emulsions, unguents and compounds, sported mysterious looking glassware and even made house calls. Drug stores carried more than pharmaceuticals. They had a section for magazines and comic books and featured a soda fountain where milk shakes cost a quarter and Cokes a nickel. They would fix you a cheeseburger and fries for thirty five cents and practiced the lost art of creating banana splits for a few cents more.

There were gifts for a friend in the hospital, candy and chewing gum for the children, bobby pins and nylons for the ladies and a multitude of tobacco products for the gentleman. You could actually talk to the pharmacist without having to go through a phone maze. Prescription drugs were filled while you waited or delivered to your home and if the store was closed on Sunday – and most were back then – and you really needed a prescription filled, the druggist would like as not meet you at his place of business after church and fill it for you.

It was a time some remember and others tell of. It was a time when there was no television, smart phones or computers.  Air conditioning was rare and neighbors visited on screen porches or on the sidewalks after work or in their backyard while their kids played ball on the grass. This was the world into which Mr. Jimmy Parkin opened his drugstore and for forty-seven years it served the public. It was a time of conviviality and a great time to live in the small city of Jackson.

There were four other pharmacies in the Belhaven neighborhood, all in the proximity of the Baptist Hospital. Morris Pharmacy was located on the southeast corner of Manship and State Streets. Patterson Rexall Drugs was in the middle of the block between Carlisle and Fortification Streets. North State Pharmacy was next to the fire station across from Millsaps. These stores along with Parkin’s were closed on Sundays. However, Main Drugs down Fortification at Lamar was open on Sunday afternoons and if you wanted malt, a bottle of aspirins or a light switch, the Main was the place to go.   But Parkin’s was different.  It was more personal. Neighbors referred to it as “That good drug store.”

The Parkin tradition began in 1930 when Sam Parkin moved to Jackson from Little Rock, Ark. and bought Philip’s Drugs on West Capitol Street. The store was renamed West End Pharmacy. Sam Parkin’s son Jim became a pharmacist also and in 1950 bought the old Cain Drugstore on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Fortification. It was part of the original Jitney 14 which was built in 1927. In 1933, Cain’s moved into a separate facility as part of the newly constructed English Village and remained at the 904 Fortification Street address until the Parkin purchase.  The grand opening of the Belhaven Parkin’s Pharmacy was February 9, 1951. It was a big event in the neighborhood.

In the 1960’s the store moved around the corner into the former Ben Franklin store location then later to a separate building where Lou’s restaurant is today. Some of the store’s neighbors were Pridgeon’s Florist, Snow White Cleaners and The Staircase. Doug tells the story of a day his father was chosen to be a pallbearer. He called the cleaners early that morning and when a woman answered the phone dad inquired, “Is this the Snow White?” “Hell no,” the woman replied angrily, “and this ain’t the seven dwarfs either!” “Dad had all day to think about that one.”

The Parkin drugstore chain became Medistat Pharmacies in November 1983 but the Parkin family still retained control of their operation. The six family-owned pharmacies including the Belhaven store were sold to the Jitney Jungle chain in March 1995, which in turn was sold in 1997.

According to the grand opening ad in the Jackson Daily News, future patrons registered for prizes such as an electric toaster, flashlight, alarm clock and thermos bottle. The soda fountain, featuring Seale- Lily products, pictured Bill Robinson, Lillie Beckwith and Bob Pilcher. Dick Wiggins and Therrell Fortune ran the drug and cosmetic counters and John Archie was in charge of free deliveries to homes in the area. The pharmacists were Jim Parkin, Sr. and Charles Stringer.

The cosmetic counter was unique to Jackson drugstores. Called the Gilded Cage, it was located so to be clearly visible through the store’s front full-view window. The hanging birdcage at the center gave it its name. It contained fixtures in white and gold in French provincial style, set off by delicate white ironwork. Right across the aisle was the men’s toiletries and cosmetic department called “The Saddle”

The success of Parkin’s was the result of a combination of factors. It was the times, the customers and the staff. “The folks most important in my childhood memories, Doug Parkin said, “are my dad, of course, pharmacist James E. Colmery, John Archie, Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards. There were many others but these had the most impact on my life.

“Mr. Colmery was a wonderful man to me as a kid. He would entertain me in the pharmacy, always with a smile. There was a glass enclosed compounding room in the center of the pharmacy, a fairly cutting-edge concept for  the time, and he called it the ‘monkey room’. Naturally, that became one of my favorite places to go in and make faces at him. He laughingly responded in kind.”

“My dad always welcomed us kids, to his store. These were my brothers Jim, Jr. and Cole along with my sister Beth and me. We spent a lot of time there and were given pretty much free rein. We saw firsthand the attraction of other kids, the comic books, the toy racks and the soda fountain. There were sometimes extra cherries added to the cherry phosphates.  It was a children’s paradise.

From left: Cole Parkin, Jim Parkin, Jr., Jim Parkin, Sr. and Doug Parkin. Photo taken in 1984.

“As we got older we were taught to make sales and record charges at the cash register, run the soda fountain, dust shelves, rotate stock, sweep and mop the floors. We even drove the delivery car on occasions and most dreaded of all, empty the fountain sump tank under the building. When we were older my brothers and I interned there as pharmacy students.

“Christmas was a special time at the drugstore. We sold countless boxes of candy and other gifts that had to be wrapped. We used the heavy weight glossy red and white wrapping paper and every bow was cranked out on a Sasheen bow-maker. You didn’t want to get your finger caught between the bow pin and the bows impact socket or Christmas might be more painful than you would have preferred.”

Bill Nobles, Saundra Edwards and John Archie were constants at Parkin’s for as many as 40 years, speaking to a generation and beyond of satisfied customers and a neighborhood landmark “down by the Jitney.”

Doug described Bill as his father’s “right hand man”. “There was nothing about the store that Bill didn’t know and there was no one who traded there Bill wasn’t friends with. Bill was always asking about our customer’s families.”

Bill came to Parkin’s as a part-time employee in 1956 and went full-time in 1957.  He remained with the establishment until 1997 when he left to work at a retirement home in Clinton. Mr. Parkin had come to him and told him he needed someone to manage the business so Bill gave up his regular job at Evans Lumber Company to do so. He was 19-years-old. In an interview Bill told of his duties through the years. “Mr. Parkin hired me to run the drugstore while he ran the pharmacy. I was the bookkeeper, but I also did the ordering, the pricing, put up displays, and helped with deliveries, worked in the soda fountain and around the pharmacy itself. I saw the business from the inside out and realized what another employee (Doug Drain) later put into words, ‘When I worked at Parkin’s as a teenager, I learned all that was needed in life to be successful’”.

Doug Drain became a success and he called Doug Parkin a couple of years ago. “He relayed to me that one of the leading economic professors in the nation recently asked him where he got his education before attending a university. Doug told him the name of the university and the economist replied, “No, you got your real education working at that drugstore as a kid.”

The famous and the everyday neighbor shopped at Parkin’s. Eudora Welty was a regular customer and dropped by the store each day to purchase a New York Times and a Wall street Journal. Sometimes Tom Spengler would stop by, buy the papers and take them to her.  “She was a quiet lady,” Bill remembers, “even after she became famous and was always kind and friendly. She wouldn’t let anybody wait on her but me.” Well-known artist Marie Hull was also a regular as were the Reimers, Holmans, Stocketts, Giddens,  Heidelbergs, Gammills, Kenningtons, Irbys, Wells, Macks, Lewises, Manships, the banker Tom Scott and Drs. Ward, Cavett, Womack, O’Ferral and Garrison. The Wrinkled Roosters, an informal men’s coffee club, met in the store in the mornings and a ladies group in the afternoons.

The store had a soda foundation as most did back then. It was a popular lunch spot that sold drinks, burgers and sandwiches. An article by Phil Wallace in the Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News tells of the soda fountain “that takes you back to a sweeter, slower pace of life. You sit on tall stools or at double tables and inhale the delicious atmosphere of another era, the smells and sounds of, say, the summer of ’52. People are happy and friendly enjoying the simple things of life – like a chocolate malt or double cheeseburger with a friend, scenes that once inspired the artist Norman Rockwell.”

Bill tells about a day the grill caught fire from grease that had accumulated underneath. “We had to act fast. I had heard that water would not extinguish a grease fire so I grabbed a couple of handfuls of washing powder and doused the flames. Meanwhile, a customer wanted a hamburger.  I tried to tell him the grill needed cleaning before cooking but he kept insisting on it. So, I cooked him his hamburger and he ate it. He must have had the cleanest stomach in town.”

Bill remembers many stories in association with his tenure at the drugstore. “When Patterson’s Rexall Pharmacy closed on North State, Mr. Parkin bought their large upright safe. He sent Bill and two young employees to move that weighty and unwieldy object from Patterson’s to the store some three blocks away. “We were able to shove it up a steep inclined driveway to the street but finally gave up being heroes and hired a delivery company to take it the rest of the way.”

Stories abound over the years. Bill told of two ladies who came in one day to return a purchase. The older woman told her daughter, “Go out to the car and bring in that package  on the front seat.” The daughter dutifully did so and when it was opened it contained a half pint of liquor. “No, not that one, dear,” she calmly exclaimed, “the other one, the Milk of Magnesia.”  There was another customer who “rooted me out of bed at 3 a.m. one morning to get some sleeping pills. I needed some myself after that episode.

“There was a Mr. Hardwick, who delivered mail to the store and had a dog named Richard. He and Richard had conversations in the store during mail deliveries and the two seemed to have real rapport. Customers were never certain who initiated the conversation or where it would lead. However, the two seemed to understand each other.”

Perhaps Bill’s most interesting story involved a horse drawn sleigh. Mr. Parkin was close friends with Robert Stockett, Sr., who had a stable of horses down by the Pearl River. He would borrow the horses for a while in winter weather and deliver items to customers in the snow. “We even had a store display of that sleigh and its drivers but thankfully, those horses were not real.”

Saundra Edwards came to work at Parkin’s  as a teenager in October, 1965.  “She would do anything you asked her to do,” Doug said. “She was like a big sister to me and I often referred to her as ‘Sunshine’.” Like Bill, her duties included everything from greeting customers to sweeping the floor. “Bill and I worked the stock, tended both the back and front of the store, helped out in the pharmacy and in the contract post office which was added in the early ‘70’s. When the power went off we had to crank the cash register. You should have seen that thing. It would have been an antique today.”

Saundra’s impression of Mr. Parkin is that he was strict and professional in his approach to serving the public. He was friendly as long as you did your job. “If a customer asked for an item,” Saundra remembered, “we didn’t just say, ‘look over yonder’. If we had we would have been fired. We went over and helped him find it.”

Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards

Saundra, like Bill, has a lot of stories to tell regarding her years at the pharmacy. “I can’t use names, but I can tell you there were some characters. There was an elderly lady, the widow of a well known attorney, who would come to the Jitney next door for her lunch at the delicatessen. Rather than stand in line patrons would take a number and wait for it to be called. She would come early, take the number “1” and after being served put it in her purse. The next day she would bring it out and present it again to be the first served. She would do this on a regular basis. The staff knew what she was doing but the customers seemed not to mind so she stayed number 1 for the remainder of her patronage.

“Another prominent resident had plenty of money and property. She did not feel she should accept government assistance. She refused Medicare and other forms of government assistance. ‘The government needs the money more than I do,’” she explained. She would have been a rarity today.

When asked if there was anyone who did some unusual things, Saundra told of a woman who came in the pharmacy with a watermelon she had bought at the Jitney next door.  “She sat in the aisle and ate it, spitting the seeds out on the floor. Mr. Parkin told her to stop and clean it up. She got real ugly and demanded he give her a dollar.”

John Archie was the deliveryman but he was far more than that. A veteran of Cain’s (Ca. 1933) before he came to Parkin’s he was a fixture in those establishments for over half a century. The City of Jackson even proclaimed a John Archie Day to celebrate his 50th anniversary. “John was very conscientious and would tell my dad when he felt something needed to be done,” Doug remembers. “When the delivery vehicle’s tires would show excessive wear he would go to my father and tell him, ‘doctor, the car needs new shoes’.”

John’s duties included a wide variety of items for distribution. Perhaps the most interesting involved a hunting item. It seems an employee of Parkin’s West End Pharmacy made turkey calls out of condoms. That pharmacy had run out and called the Belhaven store for reinforcements. The only candidates they had came in a box of a hundred which John Archie dutifully accepted for delivery. He studied the merchandise for a moment, looked up and said, “That guy must really be something, huh Doc?”

“We knew of some crazy things that went on at the Jitney, next door,” Mrs. Edwards .recalls. “We knew a lady who would go to the canned food aisle, open several cans of peas and select the one she liked the best. She just left the others open on the shelf. There was man who would dress like a woman, shoplift meat from the butcher counter and carry it to ‘her’ new Cadillac. One of our drugstore patrons recognized this tactic, yelled at the ‘woman’ to stop and jumped in front of ‘her’ car to prevent ‘her’ from leaving until the police arrived. There was another lady who got in the wrong car in the parking lot. It seemed that the key fit the same ignition as her identical model nearby.   She was an Elvis fan and listened to him on her car’s sound system. When she turned the key she heard some different songs and realized something was wrong.  Fortunately she discovered her error before the owner arrived.

“Then there was the drunk who fell off a stool at the soda fountain and the lady who left her false teeth in the car of a neighbor who had driven her home the day before from the nearby washateria. There was the couple who would pass out quarters, sometimes dollar bills to people in the parking lot. We know there are people in public places that ask for money but how many do we know who voluntarily distribute it?”

Bill worked at Parkin’s for 40 years, Saundra for 32 and John Archie for 36. Why did they do it? You have to ask?  Saundra went to work for a psychiatrist after leaving the drugstore after the Jitney’s sale to Winn-Dixie. “Considering the experience I had over the years,” she said, “I felt I was well qualified.”

John Archie was the delivery man. He began when Mr. Parkin opened his store and through the years delivered throughout the neighborhood in a panel truck decorated with pills of all hues and sizes. John did not have regular hours. Perhaps on paper he did but his familiar vehicle and salutation rang through Belhaven far into the night and weekends in all types of weather. He almost never missed a day of work.

Parkin’s sold many items other than prescription drugs. It carried cosmetics, newspapers, confectionaries and gifts. These were delivered daily by one of the most familiar and friendliest faces ever to grace the Belhaven neighborhood. “Hi John Archie,” the children would call out as the delivery truck sped down the streets to carry drugstore products to those who for one reason or another could not come by and pick them up. “Hi Doc,” he would reply with a smile and a wave. Need a valentine box of candy or a Christmas gift? Call Parkin’s and it would be on its way. Order a few groceries from the Jitney next door? They might somehow find their way into the old truck along with the drugstore items. Want a message carried to a nearby house? John Archie could deliver it as well. There was always, “here you are Doc. Thanks for shopping Parkin’s.”

Then one day in the spring of 1987, John Archie did not come to work and an irreplaceable part of our neighborhood stopped forever. While Jim Parkin was the head of the business and Bill and Saundra, along with a host of others were its appendages, John Archie was its heart. There are those who remember him to this day and loved the man for his kindness and who he was. Home deliveries are a thing of the past but the memory of the man who called everyone “Doc” remains with us. Rest in peace John Archie.

When asked of his impression of Mr. Parkin when he worked in his drugstore, Bill Nobles thought for several moments. “We worked so long together it was like we were brothers but like all families we did not always get along.  Let me put it this way. I had several opportunities to leave for better wages and benefits but I loved that old drugstore and its customers. I stayed and so did Saundra for whatever reasons and looking back I’m glad I did.”

Several Belhaven residents have lasting memories of Parkin’s Pharmacy. Cindy Wood: “I used to go there for shakes and burgers in the ‘80’s. I remember when Bill went to Brent’s. He actually remembered me.” Julie Propst: “Eudora Welty sat at the same table on every visit and ate the egg salad sandwich. I’d skip school at Murrah and go and just sit and listen to her.” Lynn Haspel: “Parkin’s was a mainstay in our neighborhood with not only a pharmacy but a fountain for soda, sandwiches and a post office. Bill and Saundra knew us and our children. The kids would be allowed to charge lunch and we would get the bill and pay it at the end of the week. Good old days!”

Cleta Ellington: “Edward (Judge Ellington) always said we belonged to Parkin’s rather than River Hills. Those great burgers!” Linda Showah: “Such fond memories. When we came from the Delta to visit my grandmother on North Street, it was an adventure to walk to Parkin’s for a milkshake.”  Gate Hogan: “I used to get the slawburger when I was a kid. I loved that place. Natalie Maynor: My memories are from when it was Cain’s.”

Mr. Parkin was well known and respected in his profession. He served on the University of Mississippi Association Board and was president of the Mississippi Pharmacist Association. He was president of the State Board of Pharmacy for four years and was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Jackson where he was a Life Deacon. He was a member of the Jackson Rotary Club and served on the Mississippi Walking Horse Association’s board of directors as vice-president.

The final site of  Belhaven’s Parkin’s is now Lou’s restaurant and those who founded the establishment and patronized if for nearly half a century have  passed on, relocated  or remain with us as seasoned veterans of another era. In an interview for this article Doug reminisced about his childhood experiences in his father’s store. “I truly wish  my own children and grandchildren could have had the opportunity to experience  the family of Parkin’s Pharmacy and the pure joy of spinning on a soda stool, reading comic books and special ordering whatever they wanted at the fountain. On behalf of the Parkin family, our grateful Thank You is extended to all who allowed my dad to enjoy his profession, who seemed to regard him as the Mayor of Belhaven and who, either as co-workers or customers, loyally stood with him through the years. Were he with us today, he would be gratefully relieved that he is not forgotten.”

Good memories last forever and ensure that Mr. Jimmy Parkin will not be forgotten. That good old drug store he started back in his youth which rang with our laughter and the old stories of its time is with us still and has become a fixed star in the  familiar firmament we know as Belhaven.

Bill & Nan Harvey
October 2018

Sources: Interviews with Doug Parkin (August 28; October 17-20;30, 2018; Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards (September 18 & 26, 2018); “You’re Invited to the Grand Opening of the New Parkin’s” (ad), Jackson Daily News, February 9, 1951, Section  Two; “Stars Cosmetics”, Drug Topics Magazine, October 14, 1968, p. 1; “Medistat: The Parkin Family tradition Continues” (Communiqué Section, Clarion-Ledger, October 1, 1984, P. 3); “Soda fountain reflects days of yesterday”, Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News Focus Section, May 7, 1987, P. 1; “Jitney buys 6 family pharmacies”, Clarion-Ledger Business Section, March 25, 1995, p. 5B;  obituary, Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home, May 24, 2013; Various neighbor comments as shown.

WANTED! An Inclusive Flag for Mississippi – the Magnolia State

Like it or not, our current state flag is highly divisive – it is refused display EVERYWHERE, from our nation’s capitol to our own college campuses and city halls. It simply does not represent who we are, or how we want to be known. It’s inevitable that the flag will be changed.

Mississippi’s people need – DESERVE – a state flag that’s inclusive, beautiful, bold – and distinctive. A flag that says something about us as a highly diverse and proud people, and about our rich natural heritage.  A flag that says something special.

Instead of having a generic alternative forced on us like what happened during the last flag referendum, why not take the lead and expect a choice that proudly and without question represents everyone in the Magnolia State, our culture, and our diversity – both here and abroad.  Just as the flag of Texas is immediately recognized as that of the Lone Star State, and South Carolina’s as that of the Palmetto State, Mississippi – the Magnolia State – should also have a unique, beloved symbol that doesn’t need explanation. Simple yet evocative enough to be embraced by artists of all ages – including children.

A bit of background…

During our last flag referendum in 2001we were offered a choice between the current flag and a generic alternative which was rejected by many as being meaningless and bland. Its 20 stars represented the minor fact that Mississippi was the “20th state” – not much of a defining point for a state with such diverse history, culture, and pride.

A very similar new “Stennis flag” being heavily promoted also features the “20th state” stars – again, an obscure point hardly worth noting.  THE BIG PROBLEM IS – to directly quote the flag’s designer from the Stennis Flag website itself – “The centering of the blue star on the field of white is an inverted “Bonnie Blue,” a reference to the state’s secession (1861 – 1865).” This not-so-subtle nod to a ruinous period in our state’s history is tone deaf at best – if not outright unacceptable. And it most certainly should not fly with anyone who is aware of why we need a less divisive flag.

 WHY SETTLE for a generic “anything is better than what we have now” place setting flag, when the diverse people of Mississippi deserve a real choice that does not include a divisive feature? Surely we can proudly do better – with the highly cherished, instantly-recognized, Mississippi-native Magnolia flower on our precious flag! 

Can’t you just smell its sweet fragrance?

The magnificent Magnolia grandiflora (Latin for “large flower”), with its bold evergreen foliage and huge fragrant flowers, is native to every county in Mississippi and highly valued in gardens all over the US and beyond – it is featured prominently in botanic gardens across five continents! Nothing could be simpler and more meaningful than proudly celebrating this symbol on the official flag The Magnolia State!  Visitors to Mississippi are greeted by the Avenue of Magnolias; hundreds of the exotic-looking beauties have been planted by the Garden Clubs of Mississippi along every major highway entrance to our state. Since 1949 it has graced historic markers placed statewide by the MS Department of Archives and History.

Written by Felder Rushing. For more information or to join this organization, visit www.magnoliaflowerflag.org