When the courthouse clock struck the first toll of the noon hour, the complexion of the village changed. Shopkeepers and clerks hurried their over-the-counter trade so as not to be late for mealtime; little old ladies in their shawls and bonnets scurried home along side streets to their salads and tea-cakes; doctors and lawyers put aside the healing of the sick and matters at the bar to congregate in the public inn for a plate of the noon-day fare; farmers found a shadier side of the square and rested under tall oak trees while they took their dinner of canned meat and yellow wedges of cheese. It was a time for idle chit-chat, political forum, witty repartee, and peaceful rumination with a temperance and protocol like no other time of day.
–L.W. Thomas Written for the menu of The Warehouse Restaurant, 1984
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.
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. Captain Jung explained that, while the device was not exactly a radio, it was a revolutionary, if makeshift, 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. 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.
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. 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. 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 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.  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.  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.  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.  Originally called the Yoknapatawpha and so named in Faulkner’s novels and stories.
“South Jackson as a place begins at 2155 Terry Road, the address of the city’s oldest home. It is the last remaining plantation house in the area. Today, an anomaly, a handsome Greek revival structure with Doric columns standing near Interstate 20’s cloverleaf, commercial enterprises and the decay of the Highway 80 Corridor.”
And so begins One Direction Home: A History of South Jackson, by Dr. Vincent Venturini and former city commissioner Doug Shanks. Shanks recounts that the work began with a question: Were his fond memories of growing up in south Jackson just nostalgia, or was south Jackson truly a special place? The answer is, of course, yes and yes. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, particularly that of the sort leading to such a wonderful work as this. At once scholarly and informal, poignant and piercing, One Direction Home entertains and informs on many levels.
U.S. Highway 51 splits in Jackson, ending on South State Street to the east, and starting again on Terry Road some two miles to the west. When Terry Road emerges from the cloverleaf south of Highway 81, atop a broad ridge sits the Carmelite monastery housed in the aforementioned Greek revival home formerly owned by the Myrant family. The Myrant/Lester home is a focus for an early history of south Jackson, which is integral to that of the city and of Hinds County. Terry Road (Hwy. 51) provides an axis for the geography of the area, which Venturini describes as, “somewhat porous, but we largely see south Jackson as beginning at Highway 80 and extending south to Lake Catherine and west to Mississippi Highway 18.”
“The eastern boundary is the Pearl River,” he added. We are also including Provine High School from its beginning until 1968. Although Wingfield High School opened in 1966 for students in the city’s southern section, those already enrolled in Provine were allowed to finish there. As pointed out in Doug’s Preface, Shoney’s is included as a south Jackson institution given the role it played in the lives of our contemporaries.”
And the time? While an early history is presented, Shanks claims, “What follows in the coming pages is a largely nostalgic visit to south Jackson as it existed between 1945 and 1975.” All Jacksonians will recall landmarks such as the Alamo Plaza, the “Chuc-Wagun”, the Frost Top, the Green Derby, Leavell Woods Park, Cook Center, Mart 51 and the Zodiac. They will also recall, among the many prominent south Jacksonians mentioned, Farmer Jim Neal of WSLI, Woodie Assaf of WLBT, “Skipper” Dick Miller of WJTV, Andrew Mattiache, and Walter Bivins.”
“The neighborhoods, the churches, the schools, the streets, parks, and other elements that compose a city are part of this wonderful weave,” he adds.
The book has scores of wonderful photographs, and has a reassuringly extensive and detailed bibliography with notes. One thing, though; Shanks and Venturini spend an inordinate time mentioning the proletarian reputation of south Jackson. This apologia is distracting, superfluous, and, most importantly, unnecessary. Let’s bear in mind that this is not Natchez, nor Vicksburg, but Jackson, Mississippi, a city no less a cosmopolitan than Audubon described in 1823 as “a mean place.” Sure, you’ll find people who will tell you one Jackson neighborhood is “better” than another, but many an outsider has found the entire city déclassé if not to say destitute.
While no doubt many former and current south Jacksonians will find flaws and omissions (that assuredly only they could detect) all can celebrate this loving biography of a time, a place, a people, a portal in time to a backyard barbecue, a high school football game, and a corner soda fountain.
Every day so far in my nascent life as a bookseller, I go through boxes of books. I can hardly keep up with the donations; just when I think I am finally getting caught up, someone comes in with say, seven boxes of books from their home in Iowa, or a box of children’s books culled from their kids’ bookshelves, and I begin again.
I love it. I love digging through books, with no idea what I am going to find next. Going through a box of self-help books and mass market paperbacks, I find a 90s edition of Tales of the City; Somerset Maugham lurks under Nicholas Sparks. In true crime paperbacks from the 2000s, I discover a couple of Fitzgerald’s “Great Brain” books, and three “Black Beauty” volumes. You have to know what you are looking for, to have the eureka moment. I like to leave little surprises scattered through the bookstore for discriminating readers. I know when I have a kindred spirit, because I hear little gasps of delight as they find an unexpected treasure on a lower shelf.
My academic life has always been about hidden treasure. When I first moved to Mississippi, I read John Howard’s Men Like That, and he gave me a vision of a vast queer Mississippi underground, erupting in newspaper stories, highway rest stops, and bookshelves. He introduced me to three gay Mississippi writers, including Hubert Creekmore, Water Valley native, poet, novelist, translator, and editor. I checked Creekmore’s The Welcome out of the UM library; it took me over ten years to locate a copy. I have been asking every editor at the University Press of Mississippi to reprint the novel, with no success. Opening a queer feminist bookstore in Creekmore’s hometown is, I hope, the first step in a campaign to bring him back in print.
I love digging around in archives. I spent two weeks hunting for fan letters in Christopher Isherwood’s papers. I found amazing ones, including a young man from North Carolina who mailed Isherwood photographs of his lovers, with detailed commentary on the back of each; water color portraits in a handwritten tribute; flirty come-ons from English teenagers. He wrote them all back, and often invited them to his house. At Duke University, I found the papers of fantastic Southern lesbian feminists. They kept everything—not just letters with agents and editors, but love letters from exes, flyers for readings, gossip and descriptions of parties and chance encounters. Dorothy Allison’s are my favorite. Most archives organize correspondence by letter writer, and store them alphabetically. Dorothy Allison kept every piece of mail she received in order and has them in her archive by date. One has to really dig to find the gems. But in between, you get a sense of her life as it was lived: Flip; a flyer for a reading; flip, a letter to her friend about her recent breakup; flip, a letter to her agent; flip, an invitation to an S/M sex party; flip, a letter to a manufacturer complaining about a defective whip she received in the mail; flip, a letter from Cris South, a member of the Feminary collective and novelist, about her forthcoming book and her shifting identity from butch to bottom; flip, a contract from her editor. Finding the treasures was a delight, but so was the rich tapestry of a live lived in real time, without a sense of what would be seen as ‘important’ later. That sequence is what makes it important, even as the gems I uncover become part of another narrative forming in my own head.
The treasures are the stories I share when people wonder how I could spend seven years working on a book. But the truth is I love the searching as much as I love the discovery. Doing research has taught me patience, something that my wife Dixie tells me I sorely need. She’s right. Chefs understand this, of course. You can’t rush the rising of the dough, the marinade on the pork, or the brine on the turkey; slow-roasted vegetables in the oven are better than the microwave or boiling water. I have a tendency to want things right away, but Dixie knows that the best things take time. Writing a book teaches you that, too. You can’t dash off a dissertation, or a book, in a series of all-nighters. You have to work a little bit every day, without being able to see the end; you research, and write, and revise, and repeat, endlessly. To sustain this, you must learn to love the process, to learn to love the questions themselves, as Rilke put it: ““Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Violet Valley Bookstore is the same. I have no idea how I am going to keep the bookstore going once the semester starts, with a full-time job, how it will evolve, whether it can become self-sustaining. Dixie tells me I don’t have to. I have an emergency savings account, with enough for hard expenses to last six months. I have a plan, month-to-month, six-months to six-months. I have a vision. But I also love the process—the arrival of books, the evolving categories on the shelves, the unexpected visitors to the store, from San Francisco and Durham and Jackson and Oxford. I love the excited teenagers, taking photos for Snapchat, and the serious bibliophiles, touching the vintage Mississippi textbooks. I would like this little 10×40 foot bookshop to be a hidden treasure in Mississippi for years to come.
This recipe comes from Teresa Bullard, who lives near my old hometown in Calhoun County, Mississippi. Both Teresa and her husband Jerry are fine cooks. Teresa also provided the great photo.
5 lbs tomatoes 5 lbs pickling cucumbers 2 lbs onions 2 heads of garlic 1 large bunch fresh dill (optional ) 5 quarts water 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup fine sea salt 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar 10 Tablespoons sunflower oil (1 Tablespoon per jar)
Wash and dry your canning jars. I used 10 jars, 8 wide mouth quart jars and 2 half gallon wide mouth jars.
Wash the cucumbers and tomatoes. If your cucumbers are a little soft, you can crisp them up by letting them soak in really cold water for 15-30 minutes. Slice the cucumbers into approximately 1/2 inch circles. Slice the onions, about 1/4 inch slices and quarter the tomatoes. Peel the garlic. Place a few sprigs of fresh dill on the bottom of each jar, and then add 2-4 garlic cloves. Layer the onions, cucumbers and tomatoes in 2 layers in each jar.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring the water, salt and sugar to a boil, mixing until all the sugar and salt dissolve. Off the heat, pour in the vinegar. Ladle the hot marinade mixture over the vegetables in the jar, all the way to the top. Add about a tablespoon of sunflower oil to the top of each jar. I add a little bit less than a tablespoon to the quart jars and a little more than a tablespoon to the half-gallon jars.
Place the jar lids in boiling water and let the lids stay in the boiling water for 10-15 minutes also, off the heat. Place a clean towel or dishcloth on the bottom of a large pot, and fill it with water. Bring the water to a boil, Place the filled jars in the boiling water, on top of the towel, cover them loosely with the lids and cook, at a simmer, for 10-15 minutes. Take the jars out of the water and close the lids tightly. Repeat with all the jars.
The salad is ready to eat in 1-2 days. Store opened jars in the refrigerator, the rest are shelf stable at room temperature.
Mississippi stretches from the foothills of the Appalachians to the Gulf of Mexico, and her western border, her namesake, is one of the greatest rivers in the world. The state provides both residents and visitors with a wide range of natural environments: shady alluvial swamps, sunny beaches and barrier islands, rolling wooded hills, spacious piney woods and open prairies, all the home of a rich spectrum of living creatures. While this selection of materials does not claim to be definitive, it was created by Mary Stripling, who is uniquely qualified to make such a list of guides to identifying plants and animals in Mississippi.
Mary is now enjoying retirement, but as the librarian at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson from 1978-2010, she interacted with biologists in every realm of nature. Mary has been an avid birder and leader in the Jackson Audubon Society since the mid 1980’s, and has traveled extensively on birding ecotourism trips to destinations like New Zealand, Kenya, the Amazon and Central America, as well as to birding hot spots in North America. In each case she has used a field guide appropriate for each area. She has also utilized most of the other guides on the list while pursuing butterflies, dragonflies, turtles, freshwater mussels, insects, etc. and by helping museum guests identify all the various critters they find in the field or their backyards.
“Over the years there has been an explosion of nature field guides for North America, the eastern United States, Mississippi and surrounding states,” Mary says. “I’ve consulted with the biologists and botanists at the museum regarding the most accurate guides for each discipline. Some books included in the list are not field guide size such as Sibley’s Tree Guide, Fishes of Inland Mississippi and Birds of Mississippi, but all serious naturalists should study guides at home; you should be prepared to know what you might encounter before going into your own backyard.”
Mary includes asterisks by the titles most necessary for a Mississippi nature library. “These books will give you the most bang for your buck; for the most part the list is of selected general field guides, is not inclusive and does not include specialty guides such as guides for tiger beetles, wasps, warblers, hummingbirds, hawks, etc. I’ve included a few animal sound CDs for learning bird and frog songs and two are unique to Mississippi (the Mississippi bird and frog songs recorded by Bill Turcotte).” Mary was responsible for updating the original Mississippi bird and frog cassettes to CDs and revising the accompanying booklets. “No attempt has been made to include mobile digital apps for plant and animal identification, even though in the past few years apps have made a huge impact on nature watching. They are wonderful devices to take to the field especially for compactness, ease of use and for accessing sounds.”
But, she adds, “It is always great to curl up in your easy chair and enjoy a good read with your favorite field guide to get ready for your next outing.”
For a fuller appreciation of our state’s natural environments and their denizens, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson offers an absorbing collection of informative displays as well as exhibits of living plants and animals. As a center for research and support, the Museum helps to preserve and protect the swamps, the barrier islands, piney woods, prairies and living things that Mississippi calls her own.
VENOMOUS ANIMALS AND POISONOUS PLANTS
Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America Turner, Nancy J. and Szczawinski, Adam F. Timber Press; 1991
A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants, North America, North of Mexico Foster, Steven; Caras, Roger A.; National Audubon Society; National Wildlife Federation, and Roger Tory Peterson Institute. Houghton Mifflin; 1994 (Peterson field guide series).
*Poisonous Plants and Venomous Animals of Alabama and Adjoining States Gibbons, Whit; Haynes, Robert; and Thomas, Joab L. University of Alabama Press; 1990
Poisonous Plants of the Southeastern United States Everest, John W.; Powe, Thomas A., and Freeman, John Daniel. University of Florida, Florida Cooperative Extension Services, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; 1996
*Venomous Snakes of Mississippi, [pamphlet] Terry L. Vandeventer Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, 1994 (free)
Birds and Birding on the Mississippi Coast Toups, Judith A.; Jackson, Jerome A., and King, Dalton Shourds University Press of Mississippi; 1987; 303 p.
*Birds of Mississippi William H. Turcotte and David L. Watts University Press of Mississippi, 1999
*A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 6th ed. Roger Tory Peterson & Virginia Marie Peterson Houghton Mifflin, 2010. (Peterson Field Guide Series)
Guide to Birding Coastal Mississippi and Adjacent Counties Toups, Judith A.; Bird, Jerry L., and Peterson, Stacy Jon. Stackpole Books; 2004; 168 p.
Mississippi Bird Watching: A Year-Round Guide Thompson, Bill. Cool Springs Press; 2004; 165 p.
*National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America Dunn, Jon L. and Jonathan Alderfer. National Geographic; 6th Rev Updated edition, 2011; 576 pages.
*Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America Lee Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson (Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 2008
*The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America David Allen Sibley Knopf, 2003
*The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd ed. David Allen Sibley Knopf; 2014
*Backyard Bird Song [CD] Richard K. Walton and R. W. Lawson (Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin Co, 1991
*Birding by Ear: A Guide to Bird-Song Identification – Eastern and Central North America [CD] R. K. Walton and R. W. Lawson (Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin Co, 1989
Mississippi Bird Songs [CD] William H. Turcotte Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, 1985, 2008
A Field Guide to Eastern Trees: Eastern United States and Canada Petrides, George A.; Wehr, Janet, and Petrides, George A. Houghton Mifflin; 1988; 272 p.
Identification of Southeastern Trees in Winter Preston, Richard Joseph North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service; 1976; 113 p.
Mississippi Trees Hodges, John D.; Evans, David L.; Garnett, Linda W., and Mississippi Forestry Commission. Mississippi Forestry Commission; [200-?].(This book is free and updated every few years.)
Native Trees for Urban Landscapes in the Gulf South Brzuszek, Robert F. Crosby Arboretum; 1993; 11 p.
*Native Trees of the Southeast : an identification guide Kirkman, L. Katherine; Brown, Claud L., and Leopold, Donald Joseph. Timber Press; 2007; 370 p.
*The Sibley Guide to Trees Sibley, David. Knopf, 2009; 426p
*Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Louisiana Charles M. Allen, Dawn Allen Newman, and Harry H. Winters. Allen’s Native Ventures, 2002
*Trees of the Southeastern U. S. Wilbur H. Duncan and Marion B. Duncan University of Georgia Press, 1988. Reprinted, 1992.
Trees of Mississippi : and other woody plants Dukes, George H. and Stribling, Bob. Poplar Petal Pub; [1997?]
WILDFLOWERS, MUSHROOMS, FERNS AND OTHER PLANTS
Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America Turner, Nancy J. and Szczawinski, Adam F. Timber Press; 1991; 311 p.
*A Field Guide to Southern Mushrooms Nancy S. Weber and A. H. Smith University of Michigan, 1985
An Illustrated Guide to Tidal Marsh Plants of Mississippi and Adjacent States Lionel Eleuterius Pelican Press, 1990
Louisiana Ferns and Fern Allies (out of print) John W. Thieret University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1980
*Louisiana Wildflower Guide Charles Allen, Ken Wilson, Harry Winters Allen Native Ventures, 2011
A Mississippi Woodland Fern Portfolio George H. Dukes, Jr. Poplar Petal Publishers, 2002
Mushrooms of Mississippi: and Other Fungi and Protists George H. Dukes, Jr. Poplar Petal Publishers, 2000
*Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southeast : Landscaping Uses and Identification Leonard E. Foote and Samuel B. Jones Timber Press, 1989
*Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Louisiana Charles M. Allen, Dawn Allen Newman, and Harry H. Winters. Allen’s Native Ventures, 2002
Southeastern Flora www.southeasternflora.com A superior, searchable website done by John Gwaltney, Southeastern Flora is an online resource to assist you in identifying native or naturalized wildflowers you may find in the southeastern United States. Currently there are over 1,980 species listed on this site and over 41,400 pictures to help you identify what you’re looking for. You can easily identify trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants without knowing how to read a plant identification key. Simply define a few traits about your specimen, and the visual photo search results will help you narrow your selection to the exact species. Note the Plant Picks List, which is a valuable aid.
*Wildflowers of Mississippi S. Lee Timme University Press of Mississippi, 1989
Wildflowers of the Natchez Trace S. Lee Timme and Cale C. Timme University Press of Mississippi, 2000
REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS
The Amphibians and Reptiles of Louisiana Dundee, Harold A. and Rossman, Douglas A. Louisiana State University Press; 1989; 300 p.
*A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins (Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin, 1998
*A Guide to Mississippi Frog Songs, [CD] William H. Turcotte MS Depart of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, 1988
Mississippi Herpetology Ren Lohoefener MS State University Research Center, 1983 (Out of Print)
*Salamanders of the United States and Canada Petranka, James W. Smithsonian Institution Press; 1998, 587 p.
*Snakes of eastern North America Ernst, Carl H. and Barbour, Roger William. George Mason University Press; 1989; 282 p.
Snakes of North America: Eastern and Central Regions Alan Tennant and R. D. Bartlett Gulf Publishing Company, 2000
*Snakes of the Southeast Whit Gibbons and Mick Dorcas University of Georgia Press, 2005
*Turtles of the United States and Canada Ernst, Carl H. and Lovich, Jeffrey E. 2nd ed. Johns Hopkins University Press; 2009; 827 p.
*Venomous Snakes of Mississippi, [pamphlet] Terry L. Vandeventer Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, 1994 (free)
*A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes : North America North of Mexico. 2nd ed. Brooks M. Burr, John Sherrod, Lawrence Page, E. Beckham, Justin Sipiorski, Joseph Tomelleri (Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin, 2011
*Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters H. Dickson Hoese and Richard H. Moore Texas A&M University Press, 1998
*Inland Fishes of Mississippi Stephen T. Ross University Press of Mississippi, 2001
A Field Guide to Mammals of North America Fiona A. Reid (Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin, 4th ed., 2006
*Handbook of Mammals of the South-Central States Jerry R. Choate, J. Knox Jones, Jr., and Clyde Jones Louisiana State University Press, 1994
Mammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species Mark Elbroch Stackpole Books, 2003
The Marine Mammals of the Gulf of Mexico Bernd Wursig, Thomas A. Jefferson and David J. Schmidly Texas A & M University Press, 2000
Mississippi Land Mammals: Distribution, Identification, Ecological Notes James L. Wolfe Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, 1971 (free)
*The Wild Mammals of Missouri C. W. Schwartz and Elizabeth R. Schwartz University of Missouri Press, 2001
INVERTEBRATES (divided into categories)
*Beetles of Eastern North America Arthur Evans Princeton University Press, 2014
»Butterflies & Moths
Butterflies and Moths. 2nd ed. Carter, David J. and Greenaway, Frank. (Smithsonian handbooks series) New York: Dorling Kindersley; 2002; 304p.
*Butterflies and Moths : a guide to the more common American species Mitchell, Robert T.; Zim, Herbert Spencer; Latimer, Jonathan P., and Nolting, Karen Stray. Rev. and updated ed. St. Martin’s Press; 2002; 160 p.
*Butterflies of Mississippi: a field checklist Mather, Bryant and Dingus, Eve. Mississippi Museum of Natural Science; 1994. (free)
Butterflies of the East Coast : an observer’s guide Cech, Rick and Tudor, Guy. Princeton University Press; 2005; 345 p.
Butterflies Through Binoculars Jeffery Glassberg Oxford University Press, 1993
*Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History David Wagner (Princeton Field Guide series) Princeton University Press, 2005
The Common Names of North American Butterflies Miller, Jacqueline Y. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press; 1992; 177 p.
*A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies Paul Opler, Vichai Malikul, Roger Tory Peterson (Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 1998
*Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie (Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 2012
*Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars of North America Amy Bartlett Wright (Peterson First Guides) Houghton Mifflin, 1998
»Dragonfiles And Damselflies Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East Dennis Paulson (Princeton Field Guide Series) Princeton University Press, 2012
*Dragonflies Through Binoculars: A Field and Finding Guide to Dragonflies of North America Sidney W. Dunkle Oxford University Press, 2000
Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies Blair Nikula and Jackie Sones Little, Brown and Company, 2002
»Insects *A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico Richard White, Richard White, Donald Borror, Donald Borror. (Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 1998
*National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders Milne and Milne Knopf, 1980, 1996 992p.
*National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America Arthur V. Evans Chanticleer Press, 2007, 496p.
»Spiders Common Spiders of North America Richard A. Bradley University of California Press, 2012
*A Guide to Spiders and Their Kin Herbert W. Levi, Lorna R. Levi, Nicholas Strekalovsky. Golden Guides from St. Martin’s Press, 2001
Jennifer Baughn says of her seminal work, Buildings of Mississippi, that the goal “from the start was to integrate—and I use that word purposely—black and white landscapes.” In this splendid essay (presented as a sidebar on p. 313), Baughn explains how the components of Mississippi’s landscape came to reflect the divisions of the state’s closed society.
Before the Civil War, enslaved blacks were discouraged or prohibited from congregating without white oversight, and although blacks and whites interacted on a daily basis, it was in the context of owner and owned, powerful and powerless. For a brief period following emancipation this power relationship eased, but after 1896, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional, all manner of places and spaces began to be segregated.
As blacks began to move to urban centers around 1890, new neighborhoods of narrow streets and alleys lined mostly with shotgun houses were developed, as for example the Henry Addition (see DR54) in Greenwood. Dense populations, limited employment opportunities, and widespread poverty characterized many of Mississippi’s black neighborhoods, even as they gave rise to an African American middle and upper class. Towns with large black populations–notably Jackson, Greenville, Meridian, Hattiesburg, and Clarksdale–often developed a separate, self-contained African American community with its own business district, hotels, churches, cultural center, schools, and funeral homes. Although often located adjacent to industrial or flood-prone areas, these districts gave African Americans relative security to form their own institutions without white interference. Because churches were one of the few institutions owned and run by black leaders, they became the anchors of such neighborhoods, but public and private schools also provided focus and space for community events.
By the early 1950s, a rising African American middle class began to embrace suburban living, moving out of the old mainstays such as Jackson’s Farish and Greenville’s Newtown neighborhoods into new black subdivisions lined with small ranch houses, such as the residence of Medgar and Myrlie Evers. By 1960 many black congregations with modest newfound wealth began replacing their older churches with new buildings. Such projects often allowed black architects (e.g., DeWitt Dykes and Clair M. Jones) to make their mark in such churches as Laurel’s St. Paul Methodist (pictured below). It was in this complex landscape of neighborhoods dotted with bungalows and shotgun houses and modern schools and churches that the civil rights movement formed and activated around the state.
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.”
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.”
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.
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 retired videographer/editor at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.
In 1951, author S. Skip Farrington, Jr., bestirred himself to see how America’s railroads were faring in the years following World War Two. What he found was a thriving industry open to innovation and dedicated to customer service. In his classic Railroading the Modern Way (Coward-McCann, 1951), Farrington extolled the virtues of the great companies whose heralds, maps, lists of officers, and intricate schedules fattened The Official Guide to the Railways, that indispensable yearly publication, the size of a Chicago phone book, that every ticket clerk and agent in the Republic consulted for the routing of freight and passengers. Farrington raised hymns to powerful diesel locomotives, all-steel cabooses (with electric lighting!), cushion couplings, centralized traffic control, end-to-end radio communication, and luxurious new passenger equipment. Reading Farrington’s work now, one is struck by his implicit conclusion: everything about the railroad was going to stay the same, but it would all be faster, safer, and shinier than ever before. The traveling public could rejoice, and small shippers could rub their hands in glee.
Two decades later, Farrington’s cheery prophecy had collapsed like a washed-out trestle. Those of us who were railroading in those twilight days witnessed changes in the industry far more radical than anything Farrington could have imagined in the money-green glow of the ‘Fifties. From our decrepit yard offices, grimy locomotive cabs, and generic all-steel cabooses (with electric lighting!), we watched as the old resounding road names celebrated in Farrington’s book were gobbled up by mergers. We saw the sale or abandonment of entire districts, the consolidation of agencies, the ruthless encroachment of job-killing technology, and the surgical excision of labor-intensive commodities like perishable fruit and passengers. The government got involved, then it got uninvolved, and then–well, who knows? Traffic agents like my old man– those stalwart, hard-drinking, fiercely loyal drummers who pounded the pavements in search of business–became as anachronistic as link-and-pin couplers and finally disappeared altogether, their once-busy offices abandoned or used for storage.
Railroads, it seemed, had found other interests. Our beloved Illinois Central, for example–once the Main Line of Mid-America–yearned for greater profits, so it redefined itself as Illinois Central Industries and wrapped its tentacles around Pepsi Cola and Whitman Candies and left the now-unprofitable railroad property to wither on the vine. By the mid-Seventies, the Official Guide had shrunk to the size of an L.L. Bean catalog. On our Gulfport District, the maximum main line speed of freight trains had been reduced to ten miles an hour over crumbling lightweight 1930s rail affixed to ties that could be pulled apart in the hand. Three-man crews, with radios that rarely worked, risked their lives trying to switch behemoth tank cars and piggyback flats in yards designed in the 1890s. Almost overnight, the old craft became unrecognizable to persons like myself, who remembered footboards and forty-foot cars and coal-oil switch targets, who had penciled switch lists in the rain, who had passed lantern- and hand signals along a cut of cars and waved at pretty girls from the cupola of a caboose or the cab window of a growling GP-9.
But surely some revelation was at hand. Surely the Second Coming was at hand. The new railroad model, slouching toward solvency with relentless efficiency, was a desperate attempt to survive in a world that had swiftly left Farrington’s ideal behind.
In due season–another ten years perhaps–the railroads accomplished their vision and their survival. The result, as John R. Stilgoe so beautifully illustrates in Train Time (U of Virginia P, 2007), was a tectonic shift in the American industrial landscape. Stilgoe’s book, in perfect counterpoint to Farrington’s, demonstrates how, in less than a half-century, the old clanking, colorful, individualistic railroad companies of folklore and romance vanished like a dream, and in their place rose a new paradigm: the single trunk line, a silvery welded-rail turnpike over which computer-controlled trains with two-man crews hauled inter-modals or bulk commodities. Yard switching became a matter of mere pulling and shoving, and along the main line, switching was minimal or nonexistent. Depots were sold for restaurants or gift shops, freight houses were demolished, and only the most reluctant accommodation was made for Amtrak passenger trains.
Out of the chaos, finally, rose a single indisputable Gibraltar of fact: for the Post-Modern age, no better method exists for the transportation of bulk commodities than a well-maintained, high-speed, computer-controlled, heavy-rail corridor over which fuel-efficient motive power hauls the goods. American mega-railroads have achieved their goal, and American mega-business–not to mention highways and Interstates choked with eighteen-wheelers–will be the better for it.
Like most revolutions, however, that which I have just described was not without its cost. A way of life disappeared, and with it the loyalty men and women felt for the companies that had sustained them, often for generations. Countless jobs were abolished as shops and yards “modernized,” trains were cut off, and maintenance and damage control were hired out to private companies. Small shippers found they were no longer courted; indeed, they were ignored, even bypassed, as the railroad companies pulled up branch lines and spur tracks. Train crews no longer learned on the job, but attended centralized schools like truck drivers or heavy-equipment operators. People, especially poor ones, who still found it expedient to travel by rail were shuffled off to poor old Amtrak, for years the red-headed stepchild of the new empire.
Today, railroads have all but disappeared from the American imagination, where they once held center stage. Through four years of Naval service, I was sustained by the idea that, when I was released at last, I could go and be a railroad brakeman–somewhere, anywhere. I would walk the tops gaily and ride the caboose; I might even get to wear the uniform of a passenger trainman. I could do it for as long as I wanted, for the railroads, of course, would never change, a prodigious delusion as it turned out. In latter years, I have met not a single young person whose ambition was to work for the railroad.
When the family SUV is inconveniently blocked at a grade crossing–OMG! Josh will be late for soccer practice!–or when a derailed ninety-foot tank car of ammonia exterminates a congregation, then the citizens pay attention, a little. Otherwise, most people are only dimly aware of the big, graffiti-plastered objects that lumber past on the edge of their vision. In an age when, for example, the Canadian National operates in Mississippi and Louisiana, the public can hardly be blamed for losing their sense of regional affiliation. Crewpersons, buttoned up tight in their air-conditioned locomotive cabs, do not wave much anymore, and the caboose, the public’s most cherished railroad icon, has long been replaced by FRED, the Federal Rear End Device. FRED is an air-pressure gauge with a blinking red light fixed to the last knuckle of the last car. FRED does not wave, he cares nothing for pretty girls, and trains pass like sentences without punctuation, gliding on their way toward destinations no one can name.
With the exception of amateur rail enthusiasts, most people born after 1970–even most contemporary railroad persons, I expect–have little sense or patience for what the old craft meant, or how important it was in the daily life of generations. My students do not know what a caboose is. They have never heard of the Panama Limited or the Pan American. They think The City of New Orleans is a corny old song their grandparents listened to. This is our collective consciousness now. It is where we need to be if we are to have a viable rail system in the context of the Twenty-First Century. A hard truth, perhaps, but, as old Major R.K. Cross used to say, the truth is a stubborn thing.
And yet. And yet. Some ghosts are hard to shrive from blood memory, and not for nothing do people have a sense of something lost, though they may no longer be able to articulate just what the loss involves. When a person, by chance meeting, discovers that I was once a railroad man, he or she will more often than not voice a familiar lament. “Isn’t it a shame,” the person will say, “that we let our railroads go.” Then, inevitably, he will press on to sing of the supposed glories of European systems, or how, as a child, he rode to grandma’s house on the beautiful Sunset Limited and drank from Waterford crystal in the dining car as the scenery reeled past like illustrations on an SP calendar. I never know how to answer the complaint, nor how to respond to the memoir, so I nod my head and remain silent, wondering if the person understands what he is saying. He is unaware, I think, that the guilty collective pronoun included the railroads themselves. He forgets, perhaps, that the complexities of modern life offer no alternative. He forgets, most of all, that one can no longer expect Waterford crystal in a culture that has agreed unanimously on the Styrofoam cup.
Nostalgia has little virtue save for them who have earned it. In the end, Nostalgia, and its consort Romance, are an insult to the old ones who spent half their lives in cheap hotels; who saw their comrades cut in half or mangled under the wheels; who felt the loneliness and isolation of flagging behind in a ghostly fog; who understood that a steam engine, for all the mournful poignancy of its whistle, was a hard taskmaster and a deadly one. Nostalgia and Romance conceal, and therefore dishonor, the fact that old-time railroading was a real bitch, a dangerous and lonely and demanding craft, and those who followed it, especially in train or engine service, dwelt always on the edge of catastrophe. To paraphrase my old friend Frank Smith, a switch engine foreman of thirty years service, if you got home after the job without having killed someone or turned something over, your day was a success.
And yet, for those of us who lived the old craft, no coldly efficient, high-speed computer game can replace it. Perhaps too much happened for too many years out there in the night when the old trains ran. There was too much death, too much honor and meanness, too much tragedy and glory and fun, and too many souls were moved by the distant cry of a locomotive–steam whistle or diesel horn, no matter–for it all to be erased by corporate ukase. Something of the old life remains, something deeply human and therefore messy and dramatic, to haunt the memory of the Race.
Once, Frank Smith and I were talking to a gentleman who had worked his whole life on the now-vanished Columbus and Greenville Railroad. Beside him sat his wife, a gentle, silver-haired lady whose eyes glowed with the knowledge that she and this old rascal had been married sixty-one years and had made it work. The old man patted her knee. “Ever’ time I’d leave on the job,” he said, “my wife would make me a bucket of fried chicken. I used to throw the bones right out the cab window, a lot of bones all down the main line, years and years.” He thought a moment, then smiled. “Lord,” he said, “wouldn’t it be funny if them bones was to rise again.”
Funny, indeed, and an irresistible image: hundreds of white leghorns rising from the dust, gazing about, puzzling how in the world they ever got there, all wandering forlorn along the weed-choked iron of the old C&G. Meanwhile, all across the Republic, outside the trembling windowpanes of restored depots and freight house museums, the big anonymous trains roll on, the cone of their headlights pointed toward tomorrow.
Depending on the compendium of time it could have been Eudora Welty, Willie Morris’ grandmother, Marie Hull, James Canizaro, Mrs. Fred Sullins, Mrs. R.E. Kennington, Betty Edwards, or my mother who shared the aisles with them all.
Since around 1930, Jitney Jungle 14 has been a fixture in Jackson, Mississippi’s Belhaven neighborhood, providing food, conviviality, and a hub of small town news to those who shared its aisles on Fortification. While the Jitney served the culinary needs of a diversity of incomes and interests it was the equal servant of all. The price of eggs was always the same for everyone. This article will be primarily about Jitney 14 but in the course of its journey we will learn a few things about its famous corporation, early Jackson and two of its foremost families. Settle back, pour yourself a cup of Jungle Queen Coffee and enjoy shopping the aisles of our history at the Jitney.
There could have been no “14” if there had not been a “1”. That “1” was born April 19, 1919, the dream of three young men whose fortunes lay ahead of them in the risk and rewards of yesterday’s America where a man could fail and rise again to prominence and success with God’s help and a good plan. Such was the destiny of Judson McCarty Holman, William Henry Holman and William Bonner McCarty, the fathers of the little store where you could “Save a nickel on a quarter.”
A Bit of Family History
W.B. McCarty and Jud and Henry Holman were cousins who first operated a store together in September 1912, on the southwest corner of Adelle and Grayson (N. Lamar) Streets in north Jackson. Each of the cousins put up a third of the start-up cost. This business had relocated from a block north at the corner of Grayson and McTyere Streets which was torn down to build houses for the McCarty sub-division. That store was operated by W.B. McCarty, Sr. and Jud Holman and A.N. Brannon worked for him. It was a cash and carry store and had initially been operated by W.B. McCarty’s father W.H. McCarty and located in the 1200 block of N. West Street near Millsaps. It was called Jackson Mercantile Company, the name given to it by Mr. W.H. McCarty, its founder.
W.H. McCarty had moved his family to Jackson in 1905 after operating the McCarty Store in Hemingway, Mississippi in Carroll County. Jud Holman came to Jackson in 1907 after working in the grocery business for Greenwood Grocery in Greenwood and began work with W.H. McCarty in his Jackson Mercantile Store along with Anthony N. Brannan. W.H. McCarty died in 1909. W.H. Holman came to Jackson in 1910 and worked for Mississippi Motors in Jackson, run by Joe Coffee McCarty, bother of Will McCarty, until Holman and McCarty joined together in Jackson Mercantile. When Will McCarty and Jud Holman opened the first Jitney Jungle #6 on East Capitol Street in April 1919, W.H. Holman was in France during the end of WWI. He returned to Jackson in June 1919 and helped his two cousins proceed to convert their other stores from credit to cash and carry and self service with the Jitney Jungle name since that first self service store was doing more business than all the other five McCarty/Holman stores combined.
Mr. W.B. McCarty attended law school at Ole Miss in the early Jitney days and returned to continue with the operation and growth of the stores with his Holman cousins. His legal acumen came in handy with an early patent infringement suit which the Jitney stores won. Mr. W.B. McCarty continued to franchise grocery stores in those days in addition to being heavily involved in the chain’s wholesale and retail operations. In his later years, Mr. McCarty would continue to go to his office checking on sales volume as well as the back storeroom doors to be sure they were always locked or attended. Never would a Jitney store manager or worker leave the back door open lest a theft might occur. The Junior Food Mart convenience store company, JFM, Inc. is still in business today and operated by H. Russell McCarty. It had its beginnings in the supermarket franchising that W.B. McCarty started and W.B. McCarty, Jr. continued until his death in 2001. (1) A railroad strike in 1916, left credit customers in such a bind the founders decided to quit the credit business. Business improved and a second store was opened on South Gallatin Street and the McCarty Holman Store chain rapidly grew to seven including stores in Greenwood and Canton. (2)
The First Jitney
The first Jitney Jungle store was opened April 19, 1919 at 423 E. Capitol Street. A photo provided by Bill McCarty, III, grandson of co-founder William Bonner McCarty, shows the store’s interior as an open front surrounded by shelves alongside walls containing canned goods and other non-perishables. In the foreground was a glass case of tobacco products and sundries and in the rear a meat counter with glass bins displaying produce on beds of crushed ice. The prices were interesting. Bacon was 34¢/lb., salt jowls 15¢, veal steak 17¢, meat loaf 19¢ and baby beef roast 22¢. The manager was A.N. Brannon. (3)
How did Jitney get its name? According to Mr. Will McCarty, at the end of the First World War, returning soldiers would buy an old car for riding about town. They called it a “jitney”. The term “jitney” was slang for a London taxi cab and became jargon in the states for a nickel, the cost for a downtown cab ride.
Back when the establishments were McCarty-Holman Stores, it was the habit of Chancellor V.J. Stricker, who lived just up Adelle Street, to invite the three young merchants, who were living in a nearby boarding house, to his home for Sunday dinner. Mrs. Josephine Bailey’s boarding house at 343 Adelle, could be a dark and foreboding place. Mr. Will relates there was only one light bulb in the entire house and tenants would “borrow” it and pass it around from room to room. One Sunday the boys told the judge they were considering a strictly cash and carry business which would save the customer 20¢ on the dollar over their deliveries. Cash and carry could thus save “a nickel on a quarter.” The merchants asked Judge Stricker to suggest a new name for their stores. Since a cab ride to town cost a nickel, the term “jitney” became popular and it was customary for patrons to shop with “nickels jingling in their pockets.” Judge Stricker suggested the name “Jitney Jingle” but McCarty made a variation when he observed that a wide variation of stock in the new stores would make the store itself “look like a jungle of values.” The name stuck. (1)(2)
Throughout the 1920’s, the owners added a number of stores, each with its own numerical designation which changed over the years. According to the 1930 Jackson City Directory, Jitneys were listed as:
No. 1 – 400 E. Capitol No. 2 – 1077 S. Gallatin No. 3 – 121 W. Pearl No. 4 – 2908 W. Capitol No. 5 – 209 S. State No. 6 – 423 E. Capitol (formerly No. 1) No. 7 – N. State and Fondren Ave. No. 8 – 412 W. Capitol No. 9 – 719 N. Gallatin (later 1209 N. State) No. 10 – 146 N. Farish No. 11 – 167 E. Capitol No. 12 – 850 W. Capitol No. 13 – 1241 N. West
This brings us to the birth of Jitney 14, which, according to the 1930 Directory, existed at that time. The listing contained the 904 E. Fortification Street address, a telephone number (9119) and a manager, Charles Alford. It is conjectured that the original store was small and became a “super store” some four years later. (4) Mrs. Betty McCarty Edwards, daughter of co-founder William B. McCarty, can remember when the new Jitney was just a hole in the ground. “My father had bought some cheap land around the Jefferson-Fortification Street corridor for investment. When the 1930 store was in its planning stage he offered to buy some fill dirt from a local vender. Mr. McCarty thought the price was too high and demurred. After a time the vendor went to him and said, ‘Just let me dump some of my dirt in that hole. No charge.’” Mrs. Edwards’s memories reflect back to when her brother (W.B. McCarty, Jr.) ran a Christmas fireworks stand as a youngster in front of one of the stores fronting Fortification. “He did well,” she said, “but would come home so cold on those December days he would question the wisdom of early entrepreneurship.
The new Super Jitney made a special point of catering to women. According to Mrs. Edwards, when you entered the store there was a platform area to the left for the ladies to sit and visit before they shopped. “There was a woman who taught knitting and the ladies would knit or read as they visited. It even had the first restroom for ladies in a Jackson grocery store. There were also chairs for children to sit in but keeping them still in those seats could be a problem.” There were “Jitney dresses” for sale at all store outlets. “They were not made by Jitney,” Mrs. Edwards says. “They were ‘house dresses’ as slacks were not in vogue at the time. They were good sellers but of course, no two were alike!”
As the business grew, however, more space was needed to display groceries and in time the ladies area was discontinued. (5)(6) Mrs. Edwards grew up in the Belhaven area living first on State Street at Manship, where the new Baptist Hospital building is being constructed, then moving with her family to St. Ann. Later the family moved to the Council Circle area. In the early years of her marriage while still living in Belhaven, Mrs. Edwards and her husband would walk to the store and shop. Few had cars during the war. She would bring home the perishables and her husband would bring the other groceries when he came home from work. (6)
The formal grand opening of “The New Super Jitney-Jungle Store” took place on Friday, November 10, 1933, when according to articles in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger of that year, “Jacksonians gave a hearty welcome to the newest addition to stores of the city Friday and Saturday when thousands of persons visited the new Super Jitney-Jungle at the corner of East Fortification and North Jefferson streets.” (7) (8) Back then 14 was known to the neighborhood as the “Big Jitney” and No. 9 on North State, the “Little Jitney”. 14’s manager was Charles Alford who got his start at the first store in 1919.
Mr. Alford brooked no sloppy doings. Clerks were dressed down for failure to dress up. Ties were compulsory. Alford, however, did have a sense of humor as related in Henry Holman, Jr.’s publication “Save a Nickel on a Quarter”. According to Alford, the store butcher waited on a customer late one Saturday evening who had come in to buy a chicken. The butcher reached into his case and brought out his last chicken. He showed it to the lady but she wanted to see a larger one. He put the chicken back in the case, bent over, moved his arms about, rattled the ice a little – as if looking for the right sized one – and ceremoniously came up with the same chicken. The customer replied with a satisfied smile: ‘Yes, that one is just fine. I’ll take them both.’” Oops! (5)
The new Super Jitney was a honey. Bill McCarty, III’s photo shows it facing two-lane Fortification with red and green awnings, tile roof and a glass front through which the shopper could see fresh fruit and vegetables displayed. The interior consisted of wooden floors, school room lighting and aisles of shelving. It contained a bakery, a refrigerated meat counter and a glass delicatessen. It became only the second grocery store in the United States and the first in Mississippi, to have air conditioning.
Its Tudor Revival style was designed by neighborhood architect Emmett Hull and contained only the grocery and the new Price Cain Drugstore at the Jefferson & Fortification corner. There was a small area for angular parking in front of the building and a loading dock and parking area around the corner on Jefferson. Belhaven was a rapidly growing neighborhood and shoppers came from throughout the area to see the new store which featured specialty items and select cuts of meat. (4)(9)
The Jitney chain had expanded rapidly throughout the “roaring twenties”, but by 1930, the Great Depression was beginning to take hold. On a typical Saturday you might drive your new $495, Ford coupe to the Jitney to shop. As you walked the aisles with your grocery basket you would notice green beans, three cans for 25¢; Wesson oil, 49¢ a quart; lemons, 12 for 20¢; cigarettes, 15¢ pack; roast beef, 19¢ lb.; bacon, 26¢ lb.; eggs, 25¢ dozen; lettuce, two heads for 15¢; sugar, 10 lbs. for 50¢; light bulbs, 20¢; fresh salmon, 29¢ lb.; mayonnaise, 29¢ pint; flour, 12 lbs. for 12¢; fryers, 35¢ lb.; Irish potatoes, 4 lb. bag, 55¢; and house coffee, 19¢ lb.
Most of these items you would carry home and place in your brand new $33.95 Ward’s refrigerator. (10) Refrigeration was just coming into play in the early 1930’s. Most people still had iceboxes. Meat was displayed in coolers on crushed ice and fresh fruits and vegetables, usually purchased from street vendors, went quickly early in the day. “Are the greens really fresh,” a housewife would keenly inquire of the store vendor in his white apron. “Yes ma’m,” he would respond. “Always.”
A trip to Jitney 14 was always a special event for the family shopper. An ad in the August 2, 1930 Clarion-Ledger announced “Your Jitney Jungle is arranged so that you can shop from front to back and from side to side without taking unnecessary steps. Your Jitney Jungle fixture arrangement not only provides a one-third more merchandise space than any other fixture plans in the world but is the most convenient. By shopping at Jitney Jungle you ‘save a nickel on a quarter’ on your grocery budget and many steps.” It was obvious these grocery stores were far ahead of their time. (11)
In 1941, Jitney Jungle 14 underwent its first expansion, enlarging eastward to include space for several small businesses. By 1942, the original grocery and adjacent drugstore had added the Beauty Lounge, Marjorie’s Shop (notions) and Snow White Cleaners. It took on the name English Village after its Tutor design. America was at war and throughout the early 1940’s, food items were scarce and rationed and neighbors pulled together and shared what they had. No one minded the sacrifice for their country and its sons overseas. On occasion there were vacancies in the store fronts and Mr. McCarty would let the Junior Red Cross use an empty space rent free to pack boxes to send to the Europeans after World War II. (4) (1)
Henry Holman, Jr. relates this story of an event at Jitney 14 during the days of food rationing. “On a certain April Fool Day, my father had one of the office force impersonate an O.P.A. investigator (rationing enforcer), who telephoned, of all people, the personable switch board operator at the store to find out why she had been getting extra sugar stamps. Since it was strawberry season, she impulsively implied it was to can strawberries – a fruit she and her family never ate! A few moments later father had the ‘investigator’ call back and say he was coming by her house that afternoon to check on her canning. Immediately she scrambled to the warehouse and bought a whole crate of strawberries, then came by to ask my straight-faced father for permission to rush home and can the fruit.” (5)
My own memories of rationing were going to the store with my mother. She would hand me a ration book with pages filled with stamps and instruct me “Billy, tear out half a sheet of tanks and a third sheet of planes.” Regardless of how much money a person had to spend, they had to produce these stamps for sugar and coffee when they were available and a host of other scarce items. Soft drinks such as Coke, Grapette soda, Orange Crush and Royal Crown Cola (twice as much drink for a “jitney”)- like bubble gum and comic books – were mostly unavailable until after war’s end in 1945. There were red meat points for steak or bacon and blue points for canned goods. Tokens, worth a fraction of a penny, were used to “make change” for sales tax. Sometimes the most respectable ladies would don an old cloth coat and slip across the Woodrow Wilson bridge off South Jefferson and into the Gold Coast where black market items such as bobby pins and local beef were available without a ration book. Few questions were asked. A lot of commerce over the years has been done “across the river”.
I learned to shop at Jitney 14. I used to swing on its wooden turnstiles when I didn’t weigh quite as much as I do now. I was sent down one aisle for a five cent box of salt and another for ten cents worth of baking soda. I learned the brand names of foods and how beef and poultry were weighed. I looked for cookies and ice cream cones at Cain’s and helped carry grocery bags to our neighbor’s car since we did not have one. Later on, when I was a bit older, us neighborhood kids hung out near the freight dock on Jefferson. Mr. Elliott and his staff would unload oranges and apples and lettuce and onions and throw the boxes, crates and sacks out the back door for trash pickup. The orange crates were the prize catch. Made of sturdy wood, they had a divider in the middle. We would grab a couple, take them home, stand them on end and connect them with a board. The consummate lemonade stand was born with a shelf on either side for the cash register and the lemons. Profits were spent on Hershey bars and milkshakes at the drugstore. Our mothers loved the apple crates which were used as storage boxes and ideal for new bedding plants in the spring. Of course the lemons, sugar, paper cups and straws all came from inside the store where the high lights and lesser lights came and went. All were on a mission of their own, delighting in the plethora of food and furnishings made available at war’s end. Grand times!
Us kids, however, were only familiar with the outside of the dock area. Mrs. Betty Edwards’ son Steve, who began as a bagboy at “14” knew it as an assistant store manager from the inside out. “The only unusual feature of Jitney 14,” he said, “was the tiny back room area. When the trucks came in, many of the cases of fast moving large items, such as toilet tissue or seasonal extra goods were sent by a conveyer belt to the dark cavern beneath. It was the most challenging storage room of any store in the company except the Jitney in Philadelphia, MS., regarding truck unloading, dock area and storage.” (12) Since all our readers know by now there is or was a ghost in most of Belhaven’s early digs, this one might have lived in the stock room.
Belhaven, from time to time, has been the haunts of several ghosts – most of them good. Rumor has it one lives in the water fountain at Laurel Street Park. One of these days we are going to have to look further into the adventures of these elusive creatures. Throughout the 1940’s and 50’s and into the 60’s, “the Jitney” was the neighborhood’s hub of commerce. And oh, the stories; some not always verified but all, of course, true.
One of the primary ways a young boy could make a little pocket money was to be a bag boy at a local grocery store. It didn’t pay much and was hard work, but rewarding back in the times of self-reliance and personal responsibility. Such a bagboy was Coleman Lowery who, as told by his daughter Maggie, “From the summer of 1946, when I was in the 8th grade at Bailey Junior High School, until the spring of 1951, when I graduated from Central High School, I was a package boy at Jitney 14 where Miss Eudora Welty was a regular customer.
She tipped the package boys a dime. We were making thirty cents an hour – so we fought over the ladies who tipped. Mrs. Fred Sullins and Mrs. Robert Kennington tipped a quarter! Sometimes Miss Welty did as well. “In the fall of 1951, I entered Vanderbilt University, where I graduated in 1955, and that fall in my freshman English class we read ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’ During the discussion that followed I raised my hand and said ‘I know Eudora Welty. I carried her packages at the grocery store at home.” And just to think, Miss Welty could have written “Why I shopped at Jitney 14”. (13) Perhaps someday a manuscript will be found!
Being a package boy was many a youngster’s first introduction into the business world. Both Henry Holman, Jr. and Bill McCarty, Jr. served in this capacity as they learned from the ground up the intricacies of their family business. Store manager Alford once said “All young men in Jackson should start out carrying packages for Jitney.” The Jitney Jungles back in the 1960’s published a little handbook which was given to all the newly hired boys. It began with a mission statement “The purpose of this manual is to show you in step by step fashion, what you should do to be successful in your Jitney Jungle job, and what the store needs and expects of you as one of its important employees.” (14)(5)
The manual goes on to outline instructions on neatness, promptness, making sensible decisions, care and packaging of the grocery product, courtesy and thoughtfulness and always leaving the customer with the comment “come back again and bring a friend.” It concludes “We welcome you into the organization. We hope you will like playing on the Jitney-Jungle team. The game is just beginning. We’d like to see you become a seasoned star – a veteran…you can – and will – if you do your best.” (14) What wonderful lessons for a 14-year-old boy to learn and practice. What good advice on which to enter the professional world.
Writer Willie Morris grew up in Yazoo City. He didn’t get down to Jackson often but many times when he did he visited his grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Percy Weaks who lived at 1017 N. Jefferson Street. The house left the tax rolls in 1968 and the home site has been a vacant lot since. A Tote-Sum Store once sat at the corner with Fortification with a loading area in the rear. Bill McCarty, III remembers as a child an artificial limb maker behind the Tote-Sum and several times going by with his dad at night and seeing prosthetic legs or arms reaching skyward from a pile outside. “That certainly terrified us!” Just north along the sidewalk a small, battle – scarred magnolia remains on which, according to Joanne Prichard Morris, Willie once carved his initials – but time has removed them. Willie Morris was familiar with Eudora’s Jitney. (1)(15)
Writing in his book “Homecomings” in the 1989 article A Return to Christmas Gone, the author tells of his purchase of a half dozen roses in Oxford and brought with him to the gravesites and former homes of his antecedents, the last of whom lived in Belhaven. “I retrace the Christmas journey – down Woodrow Wilson, right on North State Street past Millsaps, left on Fortification to Jefferson….My grandparents’ house is no longer there, long since a parking lot near the Jitney Jungle across the street. The magnolia is still in front, but where the house was is grim, bare asphalt, cold and wet now from the rain. ….Mamie and Percy, Maggie and Susie would be greeting us now, just beyond the magnolia where the front porch was. I close my eyes and hear their happy welcomes. Old Skip has raced beneath their feet into the house in search of turkey livers, and my great-aunts follow in their flowing black dresses.
“I stand in the parking lot where the parlor was. I feel the ripple of the lost voices. I drift back into the kitchen. Time, as one ages, is a continuum. Past and present consume themselves into the ashes. There is no good place for the last two roses. I put them on the asphalt where the dining room table was. Tomorrow someone will run over them in the parking lot. But who would disturb them today?” (16)
1960’s – 80’s
As the years approached the 1960’s, another expansion of English Village and Jitney 14 was underway. It was a massive undertaking of space increment and modernization. New businesses were Pridgens Florist, Collins Barber Shop, and the Beauty Lounge to accompany the older establishments. Cain’s had given way to Parkin’s. Other enterprises that have occupied English Village over the years included the Automatic Laundry Services (washeteria), Neal’s Barber Shop, Ben Franklin Hardware, Southern Pulmonary Clinic, the ABC Coin Laundry, the Village Inn & Pub and now Basil’s. (4) [Basil’s went out of business in early 2014, and a new restaurant, owned by Louis LaRose, is scheduled to open soon.jly] A new and enlarged parking lot was constructed to accommodate growing patronage. A major feature was a complete and enlarged bakery at the front of the store. The pungent odors of fresh bread, cookies, pies and cakes wafted through the store attracting shoppers like a magnet to the freshness and taste sensations of these delicacies.
A photo provided by Bill McCarty, III depicts modern floors and lighting, wider aisles, shelving throughout the store, frozen food cabinets, an up-to-date refrigerated meat market, two turnstiles, six efficient checkout lanes with new calculators and scales and a lunch counter near the front of the store. As a young man, Bill cut his Jitney teeth here. He tells of when he first went to work to learn the shelf stocking end of the business. “Wooden floors were under newer tile throughout the store. One of my jobs was to do shelving on the sales floor. When I stocked the orange juice, I had to put my foot beside one wheel of the cart as I loaded juice into the retail case or else the cart would roll across the aisle. This was simply the result of the wooden floor’s old age. The eastern most addition to Jitney 14, when the entrance was moved to that side from Fortification Street had concrete sub flooring throughout.
“One clear memory was the kitchen directly behind the former Fortification Street entrance where Mrs. Pitts, the deli manager, and the ladies who had cooked there for so many years used a gas burner as part of the stove to cook icings and other bakery items. I once tried to change her brand of flour but after being told that she only cooked with one brand, I went to buy that flour at the best price I could get since I knew I was not going to change her wonderful ways. Mrs. Pitts, who catered many a reception and social event with her great recipes, also had a hand in starting the development of the delicious pimento cheese still available for purchase in McDade’s deli.
“Extra thin sliced bread was so popular we spent hours preparing it on a noisy cast iron slicing machine that was in action every time I went into the kitchen. My personal favorite was the Old Fashioned bread in the wide loaf, one of six sandwich bread items baked in the Mill Street bakery. It came in a white bag with the logo printed on it and tasted much like real homemade. During the Christmas holidays we had red and green and other colors for each holiday that followed designed to compliment party sandwiches requested by our customers. You could just about tell the holiday by the color of the bread. In addition to governors, mayors, lawyers, legislators, doctors and everyone else in town, I vividly remember Eudora Welty coming by and talking with me as I stocked shelves or ran a checkout stand. Frank Haines (former Jackson Daily News entertainment editor) asked me when we were going to get a supply of George Washington Seasoning, so I ordered some for him. One item Jitney 14 always stocked was the small glass jar of Smithfield Deviled Ham spread. I learned to love it in 1972 and special ordered it for myself until it was recently discontinued by the distributor. I remember Mrs. Noone, an elderly lady from up around Madison Street with an Australian accent who came by every day to buy Ryvita Wafers for herself and a small bag of litter and a bit of liver for her 14-year-old cat. ‘The liver had to be tender,’ she told me, ‘or my cat will not eat it.’ On occasion she returned it the next day for more tenderization.
“I recall the Jefferson Street side entrance to Parkin’s Drugstore and going in to their soda fountain as a child where I either had a banana split or chocolate malt.” (1) How many young fellows in the Belhaven neighborhood running barefoot along the hot sidewalks of summer must have done the same.”
Jitney 14 was an icon, attracting patrons from throughout the Jackson metro area and beyond. The pace was quick, the new computerized checkout stands crowded and the clerks challenged with the need for speed and accuracy. One in particular caught the attention and love of many customers: Johanna Wade. Johanna, a native of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, was a 16-year veteran of Jitney 14 when she appeared in a local newspaper article. She was a popular favorite of Jitney shoppers and as the head checker knew many on a first name basis. “I know them by name,” she told the reporter. “I know their children. I like the people. I’ve got lots of friends here in the neighborhood. They’ve always been real good to me.” This goodness came through in 1986 when her husband died. They invited her over for the holidays to relieve her loneliness and they were happy to share their family day with her. When her parents died in 1988, and she made two trips to Holland in a week, customers expressed their sympathy by helping send her. “I came back and it was all in the office- money, checks, everything.” Then store manager Sam Holley called her not only an asset to the store “but to the entire neighborhood.” Such are the rewards of a friendly smile, accommodation and knowing the rhythms of Belhaven. (17)
Eudora’s Jitney rolled into the 90’s with a full head of steam. The company had expanded to hundreds of stores throughout the southeastern United States. Bill McCarty III reports that “business was brisk and by 1994 the Jitney-Jungle chain had expanded to 105 stores in six states and annual sales exceeded a billion dollars. That large volume continued to produce a profit for the company through hard work and efficiency.
“Beginning in 1987, the Jitney 14 structure was completely rebuilt from the inside out with the entire building being replaced except the exterior brick facades and walls along Fortification and Jefferson Streets and the north walls and east main entrance. This preserved the historic character of brick, tile and copper exterior with big improvements to the 30,000 square foot store. The store remained open during this period and the grand reopening was October 8, 1988. Parkins Drug Store was relocated to the structure occupied by Basil’s Restaurant today.” [See note above, jly](1)
The 21st Century
Times change; new generations take over and old ways are altered by current need and circumstance. The sale of the Jitney Jungle chain was finalized in March 1996 and at that time the annual sales volume was approximately $1.2 billion. After the sale, some difficult times followed with subsequent companies. However, Greg McDade purchased the old Jitney in 2005 just before it was to be closed forever and it flourishes today at the same location. Through the 84 years Jitney-Jungle was a McCarty-Holman enterprise it was state of the art as the store remains today. Its staff was courteous and well-trained, its stock and produce of the highest quality and its reputation a solid testament to what a family business can attain with vision, hard work and careful attention to the needs of its customers. Simply put, it did the right things at the right time in the right place.
Eighty-two years after the “Big Jitney” and Price Cain’s drug store first anchored the northeast corner of Jefferson and Fortification, McDade’s Market sits proudly on the site of Jackson’s very first air-conditioned supermarket. Our neighborhood owes a great debt of gratitude to the McDades for saving our store and making it viable. Road equipment churns down the new Fortification bustling with innovative ideas and the coming aesthetics resulting from countless hours of careful planning. Twenty-first century patrons pause along the aerated bins of fresh produce and the well-trained cashiers, stockers, sackers and department managers who hustle to fill their daily needs. The world is faster now but shoppers still pause to say “good morning” and “How are things?” And the employees say the same. It remains our neighborhood grocery.
As we shop McDade’s this Christmas season and gather together the spices and condiments of the year in anticipation of family reunited, we can reflect on Eudora’s tips to package boys and the spirit of Willie’s roses in the rain. Together they, as have we, been a part of the little store which became an exponent of the American dream as it brought its bounty to our dinner tables and conviviality to our lives. But remember also its journey. The early footsteps are stilled. The old hand-cranked adding machines have been replaced by computers. The aisles are brighter and bracketed with a plethora of universal foods, spices and specialty items. The turnstiles have given way to electronic doors. Roast beef costs a bit more than 35¢ a lb, but on sale days you can still save a nickel on a quarter. New writers and artists recreate its glorious past and its future shines like a freshly polished apple. But beneath it all, through the wooden and concrete floors clad in contemporary colors lies the ground that heard those footsteps in 1930 and above the main entrance, under the archway looking eastward into the sunrise, still stands a harbinger, a numeral that takes us from yesterday to tomorrow at Eudora’s Jitney: “14”.
Bill and Nan Harvey, December 2012
Nan Ertle Harvey is a native of Yazoo County, a graduate of Mississippi College and has lived with her husband Bill in the Belhaven neighborhood since 1994. She worked in a research position in the Department of Microbiology at UMMC, retiring in 2003. Nan’s hobbies are photography, nature study and family research. She is a volunteer at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Bill Harvey is a native Jacksonian, living most of his life in Belhaven. A MSU Bulldog, he has had careers in journalism, education and as development director of the Andrew Jackson Council, Boy Scouts of America. Bill enjoys photography, music, writing articles for neighborhood sources and sharing experiences with friends at a local coffee shop. (Text copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, used by permission of Bill and Nan Harvey; photos of Jitney Jungle copyright Bill McCarty III, used by permission of Bill McCarty III)
Sources: (1) Conversations with Bill McCarty, III, Nov. 2012 [Details are from memory, family members and an April 3, 1962 interview between W.B. McCarty, Sr. and his son W.B. McCarty, Jr.] (2) “Lesson Learned from Strike Here in 1916 was Start of Jitney-Jungle organization” [Jackson Daily News, Oct. 1, 1950] (3) Jitney Jungle is Celebrating Start of 12th Year of Service [Clarion-Ledger, Oct. 12, 1930 (4) Jackson City Directory, 1930, 1916 (5) “Save a Nickel on a Quarter: The Story of the Jitney-Jungle Stores of America” [Address by William Henry Holman, Jr. to Newcomen Society in North America, Jackson, Mississippi, April 18, 1973] (6) Interview with Betty McCarty Edwards [Madison, Mississippi; Nov. 12, 2012] (7) Formal Jitney-Jungle 14 Grand Opening Invitation [Clarion-Ledger, November 10, 1933] (8) “New Super Jitney-Jungle Has auspicious Opening” [Clarion-Ledger, Nov. 12, 1933] (9) Registration Application/National Register of Historic Places/NPS – P. 74. (10) “Store with a thousand Items” [Clarion Ledger, June 26, 1930] (11) Store ad, [Jackson Clarion-Ledger, August 2, 1930] (12) Conversation with Steve Edwards [Nov. 14, 2012] (13) “Knowing Miss Welty: I was Miss Eudora’s Package Boy” – Coleman Lowery as told by his daughter Maggie [Lemuria Book Store blog, Aug. 9, 2012] (14) A Handbook for Package Boys (1960) (15) Conversation with Joanne Prichard Morris [October 31, 2012] (16) Homecomings by Willie Morris (University Press of Mississippi, 1989) (17) “Check Her Out” by Sherry Lucas [Clarion-Ledger, Feb. 7, 1994]
Special thanks to Mrs. Betty McCarty Edwards, Steve Edwards and particularly Bill McCarty, III who provided essential information and much-appreciated assistance. [This article was first published in 2014.]