Several weeks ago, I received a query via the Sideboard from former Jacksonian Sombra Laubach:
“Would like the King Edward Hotel recipe for chicken thighs baked with thyme and onions, please. My Jackson Symphony Cookbook disappeared. This was a recipe in the cookbook that the King Edward Motel was famous for back in the 70s. It is a favorite of mine over the years. Thrilled the King Edward Hotel has been refurbished!! Thank you for the recipe in advance. Hope all is wonderful in Jackson, my hometown!!”
I soon received a similar request from Diane Flowers and went looking for the recipe. I have The Jackson Cookbook, a superb collection with an introduction by Eudora published in 1975, but kept missing the recipe until a neighbor who is a native Jacksonian pointed it out to me (Thanks, Margaret!) In my defense, the recipe is credited to the “Edwards House”—as opposed to the King Edward Hotel—and I’m not really sure why. Perhaps the hotel restaurant was called the “Edwards House” though given the suspiciously archaic phrasing the recipe may date back to the early quarter of the century, which makes it really special indeed, an indication of the level of culinary hospitality in the city at that time.
The recipe is a classic fricassee, chicken fried and braised, simple yet rich, with a sublime aroma, all characteristic of haute cuisine of the sort you’d expect to have found in an establishment such as the King Edward in its heyday. Sombra said she doesn’t bread her chicken at all, that the onions were sliced thick enough not to singe and that basting is crucial. Me, I used boneless thighs skewered and lightly floured (no drenching beforehand) with salt and pepper, the beautiful early yellow onions we have coming to market now and a mixture of green and dried thyme. Use a medium heat—the butter will burn if too hot—and give the chicken a good browning. I wilted the onions in the oil/butter before topping the chicken, drizzle with more of the mix and placed it in a medium (350) oven for about half an hour.
The story of Parkin’s Pharmacy is a story of a time. It was a time when pharmacies were still called drug stores, the pharmacist was your neighbor and there were far more independent store owners than chains.
When Jimmy Parkin returned from pharmacy school in 1950, married and started his business next to the Jitney Jungle in Belhaven later that year, drug stores were a little more informal than today. Pharmacists counted prescribed pills, mixed emulsions, unguents and compounds, sported mysterious looking glassware and even made house calls. Drug stores carried more than pharmaceuticals. They had a section for magazines and comic books and featured a soda fountain where milk shakes cost a quarter and Cokes a nickel. They would fix you a cheeseburger and fries for thirty five cents and practiced the lost art of creating banana splits for a few cents more.
There were gifts for a friend in the hospital, candy and chewing gum for the children, bobby pins and nylons for the ladies and a multitude of tobacco products for the gentleman. You could actually talk to the pharmacist without having to go through a phone maze. Prescription drugs were filled while you waited or delivered to your home and if the store was closed on Sunday – and most were back then – and you really needed a prescription filled, the druggist would like as not meet you at his place of business after church and fill it for you.
It was a time some remember and others tell of. It was a time when there was no television, smart phones or computers. Air conditioning was rare and neighbors visited on screen porches or on the sidewalks after work or in their backyard while their kids played ball on the grass. This was the world into which Mr. Jimmy Parkin opened his drugstore and for forty-seven years it served the public. It was a time of conviviality and a great time to live in the small city of Jackson.
There were four other pharmacies in the Belhaven neighborhood, all in the proximity of the Baptist Hospital. Morris Pharmacy was located on the southeast corner of Manship and State Streets. Patterson Rexall Drugs was in the middle of the block between Carlisle and Fortification Streets. North State Pharmacy was next to the fire station across from Millsaps. These stores along with Parkin’s were closed on Sundays. However, Main Drugs down Fortification at Lamar was open on Sunday afternoons and if you wanted malt, a bottle of aspirins or a light switch, the Main was the place to go. But Parkin’s was different. It was more personal. Neighbors referred to it as “That good drug store.”
The Parkin tradition began in 1930 when Sam Parkin moved to Jackson from Little Rock, Ark. and bought Philip’s Drugs on West Capitol Street. The store was renamed West End Pharmacy. Sam Parkin’s son Jim became a pharmacist also and in 1950 bought the old Cain Drugstore on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Fortification. It was part of the original Jitney 14 which was built in 1927. In 1933, Cain’s moved into a separate facility as part of the newly constructed English Village and remained at the 904 Fortification Street address until the Parkin purchase. The grand opening of the Belhaven Parkin’s Pharmacy was February 9, 1951. It was a big event in the neighborhood.
In the 1960’s the store moved around the corner into the former Ben Franklin store location then later to a separate building where Lou’s restaurant is today. Some of the store’s neighbors were Pridgeon’s Florist, Snow White Cleaners and The Staircase. Doug tells the story of a day his father was chosen to be a pallbearer. He called the cleaners early that morning and when a woman answered the phone dad inquired, “Is this the Snow White?” “Hell no,” the woman replied angrily, “and this ain’t the seven dwarfs either!” “Dad had all day to think about that one.”
The Parkin drugstore chain became Medistat Pharmacies in November 1983 but the Parkin family still retained control of their operation. The six family-owned pharmacies including the Belhaven store were sold to the Jitney Jungle chain in March 1995, which in turn was sold in 1997.
According to the grand opening ad in the Jackson Daily News, future patrons registered for prizes such as an electric toaster, flashlight, alarm clock and thermos bottle. The soda fountain, featuring Seale- Lily products, pictured Bill Robinson, Lillie Beckwith and Bob Pilcher. Dick Wiggins and Therrell Fortune ran the drug and cosmetic counters and John Archie was in charge of free deliveries to homes in the area. The pharmacists were Jim Parkin, Sr. and Charles Stringer.
The cosmetic counter was unique to Jackson drugstores. Called the Gilded Cage, it was located so to be clearly visible through the store’s front full-view window. The hanging birdcage at the center gave it its name. It contained fixtures in white and gold in French provincial style, set off by delicate white ironwork. Right across the aisle was the men’s toiletries and cosmetic department called “The Saddle”
The success of Parkin’s was the result of a combination of factors. It was the times, the customers and the staff. “The folks most important in my childhood memories, Doug Parkin said, “are my dad, of course, pharmacist James E. Colmery, John Archie, Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards. There were many others but these had the most impact on my life.
“Mr. Colmery was a wonderful man to me as a kid. He would entertain me in the pharmacy, always with a smile. There was a glass enclosed compounding room in the center of the pharmacy, a fairly cutting-edge concept for the time, and he called it the ‘monkey room’. Naturally, that became one of my favorite places to go in and make faces at him. He laughingly responded in kind.”
“My dad always welcomed us kids, to his store. These were my brothers Jim, Jr. and Cole along with my sister Beth and me. We spent a lot of time there and were given pretty much free rein. We saw firsthand the attraction of other kids, the comic books, the toy racks and the soda fountain. There were sometimes extra cherries added to the cherry phosphates. It was a children’s paradise.
“As we got older we were taught to make sales and record charges at the cash register, run the soda fountain, dust shelves, rotate stock, sweep and mop the floors. We even drove the delivery car on occasions and most dreaded of all, empty the fountain sump tank under the building. When we were older my brothers and I interned there as pharmacy students.
“Christmas was a special time at the drugstore. We sold countless boxes of candy and other gifts that had to be wrapped. We used the heavy weight glossy red and white wrapping paper and every bow was cranked out on a Sasheen bow-maker. You didn’t want to get your finger caught between the bow pin and the bows impact socket or Christmas might be more painful than you would have preferred.”
Bill Nobles, Saundra Edwards and John Archie were constants at Parkin’s for as many as 40 years, speaking to a generation and beyond of satisfied customers and a neighborhood landmark “down by the Jitney.”
Doug described Bill as his father’s “right hand man”. “There was nothing about the store that Bill didn’t know and there was no one who traded there Bill wasn’t friends with. Bill was always asking about our customer’s families.”
Bill came to Parkin’s as a part-time employee in 1956 and went full-time in 1957. He remained with the establishment until 1997 when he left to work at a retirement home in Clinton. Mr. Parkin had come to him and told him he needed someone to manage the business so Bill gave up his regular job at Evans Lumber Company to do so. He was 19-years-old. In an interview Bill told of his duties through the years. “Mr. Parkin hired me to run the drugstore while he ran the pharmacy. I was the bookkeeper, but I also did the ordering, the pricing, put up displays, and helped with deliveries, worked in the soda fountain and around the pharmacy itself. I saw the business from the inside out and realized what another employee (Doug Drain) later put into words, ‘When I worked at Parkin’s as a teenager, I learned all that was needed in life to be successful’”.
Doug Drain became a success and he called Doug Parkin a couple of years ago. “He relayed to me that one of the leading economic professors in the nation recently asked him where he got his education before attending a university. Doug told him the name of the university and the economist replied, “No, you got your real education working at that drugstore as a kid.”
The famous and the everyday neighbor shopped at Parkin’s. Eudora Welty was a regular customer and dropped by the store each day to purchase a New York Times and a Wall street Journal. Sometimes Tom Spengler would stop by, buy the papers and take them to her. “She was a quiet lady,” Bill remembers, “even after she became famous and was always kind and friendly. She wouldn’t let anybody wait on her but me.” Well-known artist Marie Hull was also a regular as were the Reimers, Holmans, Stocketts, Giddens, Heidelbergs, Gammills, Kenningtons, Irbys, Wells, Macks, Lewises, Manships, the banker Tom Scott and Drs. Ward, Cavett, Womack, O’Ferral and Garrison. The Wrinkled Roosters, an informal men’s coffee club, met in the store in the mornings and a ladies group in the afternoons.
The store had a soda foundation as most did back then. It was a popular lunch spot that sold drinks, burgers and sandwiches. An article by Phil Wallace in the Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News tells of the soda fountain “that takes you back to a sweeter, slower pace of life. You sit on tall stools or at double tables and inhale the delicious atmosphere of another era, the smells and sounds of, say, the summer of ’52. People are happy and friendly enjoying the simple things of life – like a chocolate malt or double cheeseburger with a friend, scenes that once inspired the artist Norman Rockwell.”
Bill tells about a day the grill caught fire from grease that had accumulated underneath. “We had to act fast. I had heard that water would not extinguish a grease fire so I grabbed a couple of handfuls of washing powder and doused the flames. Meanwhile, a customer wanted a hamburger. I tried to tell him the grill needed cleaning before cooking but he kept insisting on it. So, I cooked him his hamburger and he ate it. He must have had the cleanest stomach in town.”
Bill remembers many stories in association with his tenure at the drugstore. “When Patterson’s Rexall Pharmacy closed on North State, Mr. Parkin bought their large upright safe. He sent Bill and two young employees to move that weighty and unwieldy object from Patterson’s to the store some three blocks away. “We were able to shove it up a steep inclined driveway to the street but finally gave up being heroes and hired a delivery company to take it the rest of the way.”
Stories abound over the years. Bill told of two ladies who came in one day to return a purchase. The older woman told her daughter, “Go out to the car and bring in that package on the front seat.” The daughter dutifully did so and when it was opened it contained a half pint of liquor. “No, not that one, dear,” she calmly exclaimed, “the other one, the Milk of Magnesia.” There was another customer who “rooted me out of bed at 3 a.m. one morning to get some sleeping pills. I needed some myself after that episode.
“There was a Mr. Hardwick, who delivered mail to the store and had a dog named Richard. He and Richard had conversations in the store during mail deliveries and the two seemed to have real rapport. Customers were never certain who initiated the conversation or where it would lead. However, the two seemed to understand each other.”
Perhaps Bill’s most interesting story involved a horse drawn sleigh. Mr. Parkin was close friends with Robert Stockett, Sr., who had a stable of horses down by the Pearl River. He would borrow the horses for a while in winter weather and deliver items to customers in the snow. “We even had a store display of that sleigh and its drivers but thankfully, those horses were not real.”
Saundra Edwards came to work at Parkin’s as a teenager in October, 1965. “She would do anything you asked her to do,” Doug said. “She was like a big sister to me and I often referred to her as ‘Sunshine’.” Like Bill, her duties included everything from greeting customers to sweeping the floor. “Bill and I worked the stock, tended both the back and front of the store, helped out in the pharmacy and in the contract post office which was added in the early ‘70’s. When the power went off we had to crank the cash register. You should have seen that thing. It would have been an antique today.”
Saundra’s impression of Mr. Parkin is that he was strict and professional in his approach to serving the public. He was friendly as long as you did your job. “If a customer asked for an item,” Saundra remembered, “we didn’t just say, ‘look over yonder’. If we had we would have been fired. We went over and helped him find it.”
Saundra, like Bill, has a lot of stories to tell regarding her years at the pharmacy. “I can’t use names, but I can tell you there were some characters. There was an elderly lady, the widow of a well known attorney, who would come to the Jitney next door for her lunch at the delicatessen. Rather than stand in line patrons would take a number and wait for it to be called. She would come early, take the number “1” and after being served put it in her purse. The next day she would bring it out and present it again to be the first served. She would do this on a regular basis. The staff knew what she was doing but the customers seemed not to mind so she stayed number 1 for the remainder of her patronage.
“Another prominent resident had plenty of money and property. She did not feel she should accept government assistance. She refused Medicare and other forms of government assistance. ‘The government needs the money more than I do,’” she explained. She would have been a rarity today.
When asked if there was anyone who did some unusual things, Saundra told of a woman who came in the pharmacy with a watermelon she had bought at the Jitney next door. “She sat in the aisle and ate it, spitting the seeds out on the floor. Mr. Parkin told her to stop and clean it up. She got real ugly and demanded he give her a dollar.”
John Archie was the deliveryman but he was far more than that. A veteran of Cain’s (Ca. 1933) before he came to Parkin’s he was a fixture in those establishments for over half a century. The City of Jackson even proclaimed a John Archie Day to celebrate his 50th anniversary. “John was very conscientious and would tell my dad when he felt something needed to be done,” Doug remembers. “When the delivery vehicle’s tires would show excessive wear he would go to my father and tell him, ‘doctor, the car needs new shoes’.”
John’s duties included a wide variety of items for distribution. Perhaps the most interesting involved a hunting item. It seems an employee of Parkin’s West End Pharmacy made turkey calls out of condoms. That pharmacy had run out and called the Belhaven store for reinforcements. The only candidates they had came in a box of a hundred which John Archie dutifully accepted for delivery. He studied the merchandise for a moment, looked up and said, “That guy must really be something, huh Doc?”
“We knew of some crazy things that went on at the Jitney, next door,” Mrs. Edwards .recalls. “We knew a lady who would go to the canned food aisle, open several cans of peas and select the one she liked the best. She just left the others open on the shelf. There was man who would dress like a woman, shoplift meat from the butcher counter and carry it to ‘her’ new Cadillac. One of our drugstore patrons recognized this tactic, yelled at the ‘woman’ to stop and jumped in front of ‘her’ car to prevent ‘her’ from leaving until the police arrived. There was another lady who got in the wrong car in the parking lot. It seemed that the key fit the same ignition as her identical model nearby. She was an Elvis fan and listened to him on her car’s sound system. When she turned the key she heard some different songs and realized something was wrong. Fortunately she discovered her error before the owner arrived.
“Then there was the drunk who fell off a stool at the soda fountain and the lady who left her false teeth in the car of a neighbor who had driven her home the day before from the nearby washateria. There was the couple who would pass out quarters, sometimes dollar bills to people in the parking lot. We know there are people in public places that ask for money but how many do we know who voluntarily distribute it?”
Bill worked at Parkin’s for 40 years, Saundra for 32 and John Archie for 36. Why did they do it? You have to ask? Saundra went to work for a psychiatrist after leaving the drugstore after the Jitney’s sale to Winn-Dixie. “Considering the experience I had over the years,” she said, “I felt I was well qualified.”
John Archie was the delivery man. He began when Mr. Parkin opened his store and through the years delivered throughout the neighborhood in a panel truck decorated with pills of all hues and sizes. John did not have regular hours. Perhaps on paper he did but his familiar vehicle and salutation rang through Belhaven far into the night and weekends in all types of weather. He almost never missed a day of work.
Parkin’s sold many items other than prescription drugs. It carried cosmetics, newspapers, confectionaries and gifts. These were delivered daily by one of the most familiar and friendliest faces ever to grace the Belhaven neighborhood. “Hi John Archie,” the children would call out as the delivery truck sped down the streets to carry drugstore products to those who for one reason or another could not come by and pick them up. “Hi Doc,” he would reply with a smile and a wave. Need a valentine box of candy or a Christmas gift? Call Parkin’s and it would be on its way. Order a few groceries from the Jitney next door? They might somehow find their way into the old truck along with the drugstore items. Want a message carried to a nearby house? John Archie could deliver it as well. There was always, “here you are Doc. Thanks for shopping Parkin’s.”
Then one day in the spring of 1987, John Archie did not come to work and an irreplaceable part of our neighborhood stopped forever. While Jim Parkin was the head of the business and Bill and Saundra, along with a host of others were its appendages, John Archie was its heart. There are those who remember him to this day and loved the man for his kindness and who he was. Home deliveries are a thing of the past but the memory of the man who called everyone “Doc” remains with us. Rest in peace John Archie.
When asked of his impression of Mr. Parkin when he worked in his drugstore, Bill Nobles thought for several moments. “We worked so long together it was like we were brothers but like all families we did not always get along. Let me put it this way. I had several opportunities to leave for better wages and benefits but I loved that old drugstore and its customers. I stayed and so did Saundra for whatever reasons and looking back I’m glad I did.”
Several Belhaven residents have lasting memories of Parkin’s Pharmacy. Cindy Wood: “I used to go there for shakes and burgers in the ‘80’s. I remember when Bill went to Brent’s. He actually remembered me.” Julie Propst: “Eudora Welty sat at the same table on every visit and ate the egg salad sandwich. I’d skip school at Murrah and go and just sit and listen to her.” Lynn Haspel: “Parkin’s was a mainstay in our neighborhood with not only a pharmacy but a fountain for soda, sandwiches and a post office. Bill and Saundra knew us and our children. The kids would be allowed to charge lunch and we would get the bill and pay it at the end of the week. Good old days!”
Cleta Ellington: “Edward (Judge Ellington) always said we belonged to Parkin’s rather than River Hills. Those great burgers!” Linda Showah: “Such fond memories. When we came from the Delta to visit my grandmother on North Street, it was an adventure to walk to Parkin’s for a milkshake.” Gate Hogan: “I used to get the slawburger when I was a kid. I loved that place. Natalie Maynor: My memories are from when it was Cain’s.”
Mr. Parkin was well known and respected in his profession. He served on the University of Mississippi Association Board and was president of the Mississippi Pharmacist Association. He was president of the State Board of Pharmacy for four years and was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Jackson where he was a Life Deacon. He was a member of the Jackson Rotary Club and served on the Mississippi Walking Horse Association’s board of directors as vice-president.
The final site of Belhaven’s Parkin’s is now Lou’s restaurant and those who founded the establishment and patronized if for nearly half a century have passed on, relocated or remain with us as seasoned veterans of another era. In an interview for this article Doug reminisced about his childhood experiences in his father’s store. “I truly wish my own children and grandchildren could have had the opportunity to experience the family of Parkin’s Pharmacy and the pure joy of spinning on a soda stool, reading comic books and special ordering whatever they wanted at the fountain. On behalf of the Parkin family, our grateful Thank You is extended to all who allowed my dad to enjoy his profession, who seemed to regard him as the Mayor of Belhaven and who, either as co-workers or customers, loyally stood with him through the years. Were he with us today, he would be gratefully relieved that he is not forgotten.”
Good memories last forever and ensure that Mr. Jimmy Parkin will not be forgotten. That good old drug store he started back in his youth which rang with our laughter and the old stories of its time is with us still and has become a fixed star in the familiar firmament we know as Belhaven.
Bill & Nan Harvey October 2018
Sources: Interviews with Doug Parkin (August 28; October 17-20;30, 2018; Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards (September 18 & 26, 2018); “You’re Invited to the Grand Opening of the New Parkin’s” (ad), Jackson Daily News, February 9, 1951, Section Two; “Stars Cosmetics”, Drug Topics Magazine, October 14, 1968, p. 1; “Medistat: The Parkin Family tradition Continues” (Communiqué Section, Clarion-Ledger, October 1, 1984, P. 3); “Soda fountain reflects days of yesterday”, Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News Focus Section, May 7, 1987, P. 1; “Jitney buys 6 family pharmacies”, Clarion-Ledger Business Section, March 25, 1995, p. 5B; obituary, Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home, May 24, 2013; Various neighbor comments as shown.
Two decades after Appomattox the prostrate South still was—and comparatively still is—largely undeveloped in regards to the rest of the nation, which was undergoing a “Gilded Age”.
For Jackson, Mississippi the war was catastrophic, but the city had begun to rebuild and piece itself together slowly along its two main two axes, Capitol and State Streets. The Pearl River provided then as it does now a natural barrier to expansion to the east, so that the city grew west along Capitol behind the bluff and north along State following the bluff. The southwesterly course of the floodplain largely prevented significant development on South State Street beyond its parallel to the divergence of the Illinois Central and Gulf & Ship Island Railroads, yet inevitably attempts were made, paramount among them the hamlet that became known as Duttoville.
Located south of Porter and on either side of Gallatin adjacent to the Illinois Central Railroad, Duttoville was named for Father Louis Anthony (Luigi Antonio) Dutto, one of the most fascinating figures in the ecclesiastical history of Mississippi. Dutto was born in the commune of Boves in Italy’s Piedmont region and educated at Brignole-Sale, a pontifical college in Genoa. A very learned man, Dutto was the author of The Life of Bartolome de las Cassas (published posthumously; 1902). He was ordained for the Diocese of Natchez before he was 24 years old and arrived in Jackson on August 25, 1875 to assist Fr. Picherit in attending the surrounding missions. Dutto succeeded Picherit as pastor in 1885.
According to an anecdotal biography written in 1932 by Rev. P.H. Keenen, a personal friend, “Father Dutto was a great financier, having special aptitude in this line. He was sought as adviser in matters financial by young businessmen, and his advice, when followed, usually brought success, and often wealth. . . . He himself acquired much property. On the missions he seldom asked his people for funds—he gave instead of asking. His business acumen enabled him to do this.”
In 1886, Fr. Dutto bought land in what was then the southwestern portion of the city, which, according to the account given by McCain in The Story of Jackson, “he divided into lots on which homes were erected and gardens cultivated by certain Catholics who had to come to the city to engage in commercial and agricultural pursuits. This section is still known as Duttoville.”
By another account (Jackson Daily News, May 30, 1979 p. 15A) Dutto acquired the property in 1891 from F.A. and Mary F. Wolfe, J.W. Langley all along Gallatin Street and the I.C.R.R. and the G.&S.I. Railroad and the “Muh (pronounced as the pronoun “me”) Estate, “vast acres” of land just outside the city limits, Dutto sold lots to working class people who could not pay taxes on simple homes, including many Italian immigrants (likely the “certain Catholics” referenced above). The area soon became a thriving community with a planing mill, brickyard and other enterprises that provided work for residents, and many worked in Jackson proper. Anticipating being acquired by Jackson at an early date, the settlers, to avoid city taxes, incorporated in 1903.
The original Duttoville was bounded on the north by Town Creek, the east by the Pearl River with the Illinois Central and Gulf & Ship Island railroads to the west. Later the village expanded west of he railroad tracks to Terry Road. The first (and only) mayor was J.R. Root; aldermen were W.L. Porter, Joe Karese and Will Muh; J.E. Robinson was town marshal, and J.W Langley was city clerk. We’re told a small jail was built but “never occupied”.
When Jackson first attempted to incorporate Duttoville, the tiny village put up a fight. The Duttovillers went to court and fought the incorporation and won. The city of Jackson appealed, and after two years, while the case was still pending in court, the citizens of Duttoville and Mayor Hemmingway of Jackson made a compromise. The city agreed to extend water, lights, telephone, a fire station, police protection, a grammar school (George School) and other amenities. But the area continued to be called by its original name, which in time became corrupted into “Doodleville” or “Dooleyville” both used well into the mid-20th century as a popular though derisive term for the part of town bordered by Battlefield Park on the south, Terry Road on the West, Hooker Street on the north and South Gallatin on the East, well west of the original settlement.
Belhaven resident Wilfred Cunningham, who grew up on Farish Street, remembers going to Doodleville as a very young man. “This was in the late Forties, and I was in my early teens. Anything south of Capitol Street on Farish Street we considered Doodleville,”
“The area was much more depressed than North Farish. I seem to remember the roads weren’t paved, the streets were graveled, I thought we lived poorly on Farish, but Dooley was a lot more run down.” Cunningham said. “The houses were row houses, shotgun houses like we had on Farish. People from Doodleville would come to Farish where we had the ice cream parlors, the stores, the clubs the Alamo. There wasn’t any industry of any kind there for jobs, so most of the people worked in north Jackson. For some reason I was always told not to let the sun go down on me there. I never ran into such a problem, but I always got the impression that there was a gang of some kind that kept Doodleville for people who lived here and weren’t friendly to outsiders.”
Jackson bluesmen Cary Lee Simmons and Bubba Brown composed the “Doodleville Blues” in the 1930s, and it was a local hit, getting lots of laughs when Simmons performed it for his friends in Jackson. He made a recording in 1967, which you can listen to here.
I got a girl in the Bamas, I got on that lived out on Bailey Hill. I got a girl in the Bamas, and I got one that lived out on Bailey Hill. But don’t none of them suit me like that one I got down in Doodleville
The womens on Farish Street shakes until they can’t be still. I said, the womens on Farish Street shakes until they can’t be still. But they cannot sake like those gals Live down here in Doodleville
Turn your lamp down low. Somebody done shot poor Bud, Buddy Will. Turn your lamp down low. Somebody done shot Buddy Will. I told him to stay off Mill Street and get him a gal in Doodleville.
I won’t have a gal on Farish Street, Wouldn’t speak to one that lived on Mill. I won’t have a gal on Farish Street, Wouldn’t speak to one that lived on Mill. ‘Cause the next woman I got, she got to live in Doodleville.
They got the meat from the slaughterhouse And the wood from Grimm Stage Mill. They got the meat from the slaughterhouse And the wood from Grimm Stage Mill. And if you want to live easy, get you a girl in Doodleville.
Spoken: I got a secret for you though. It’s a mad dog out, and boys, it ain’t been killed. It’s a mad dog out, and boys, it ain’t been killed. And you better be careful, careful, careful how you doodle in Doodleville.
Even studded with jewels such as the old fire station and the magnificent Art Deco George School, Duttoville languishes in slow decay, but it’s the most fascinating neighborhood in the city of Jackson, the sad shadow of a good man’s dream.
Many thanks to neighbor Susan McNease for passing along this October 2, 1988 article from The Clarion-Ledger by Leslie Myers about the extensive remodeling of the old Jitney 14. Given the recent changes to the store, it makes for a timely read, and many neighbors past and present are mentioned. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I have.
The Little Store Gets Fancy: But loyal Jitney 14 customers hope the neighborhood personality remains cozy
Jitney-Jungle 14 has recovered from its face lift and the surrounding Belhaven neighborhood is abuzz with the news. For reasons nobody can quite explain, Jitney’s store No. 14 has never been a typical grocery store. Since its 1929 opening at Fortification and Jefferson Streets, it has been a friendly meeting place, a lifeline for its loyal customers. Regulars say they keep in touch with their neighbors there, renew old acquaintances and even get an emotional lift from a Jitney trip. The dress code is: come as you are. For some, that means pajamas. It’s homey. Shoppers plan to keep it that way.
“I’ve always loved the Jitney,” said writer Eudora Welty. Welty, who grew up to become the store’s most famous customer, said its magic began on Day 1—as Jackson’s first self-service grocery store.
“I’ve been shopping there since it opened,” Welty, 79, said. “Then it was like a maze. That was part of the charm—that was the jungle part, turning corners all the time. Then they had bottled milk with cream on top in the refrigerator box—not homogenized. Real milk. You bought the one with the highest cream on top.”
Throngs of such loyal customers, along with past and present employees, will gather Monday morning at 8 to celebrate Jitney 14’s “Grand Reopening” (although it never has closed). Jackson Mayor Dale Danks will cut a ceremonial ribbon. This year-long renovation is the store’s first face lift since 1941. It includes a 10,000-square-foot expansion. Many culinary delights and services have also been added to its former meat-and-potatoes fare. Now there’s a fresh seafood counter with live lobsters instead of a freezer with fish sticks. Anchovy paste and fancy pasta? No problem.
For many customers, the change is a source of both joy and angst. Shoppers have been anxious for the store to stock some non-traditional foods . . . but they wonder if it really was necessary to level out the crooked floors and paint the walls.
“Professionally I’ve been going to the Jitney for 22 or 23 years,” said Cleta Ellington, a school teacher. “However, my grandmother used to shop there, so I would go with her, which puts it up to about 40 years. What I liked about the old Jitney was it was not all slicked up. That’s one of the dangers of the Jitney 14 getting all slicked up—its personality. It’s like when you have a friend that’s gray-headed and kind of fat and she loses weight and dyes her hair. You’re not sure you know her anymore.”
“I’m not sure about this new place,” Ellington, 44, said, the reconsidered. “Well, there is a man there who will decorate a cake for you on the spot if you’re desperate. It’s the new Jitney 14 that has this instant cake decorator. That’s a plus.”
Jackson City Councilman (sic) Margaret Barrett, a Jitney 14 shopper since childhood, said she already misses the sagging floors.
“Now, when you let go of your buggy, it doesn’t roll down three aisles,” Barrett, 43, said. “Before, down by the ice cream case, if you ever let go of your buggy it would never stop rolling—just like in the parking lot.
“When you go to the Jitney, you find out what’s happening with your friends,” Barrett said. It’s the community meeting place. If you’re ever feeling out of touch, you only need to go for one shopping trip.”
She is pleased that the Old English style and décor of the original store has been retained. “I know it was a decision that Jitney-Jungle made, to try to preserve the English village style,” she said. “I know that was costly for them. But I think that’s very much appreciated by people in the neighborhood. The Jitney has been a good neighbor.”
“It’s just real personal,” said florist Susan Milan, a 13-year customer. “Frankly I like all the people who work there, the bag boys and all the people at the checkout. You can go in and, if you need time and the lines are real long, you can tell them, ‘I’ll bring the money tomorrow.’ They trust their clientele, when they finally know you real well.”
But she worries about the ritzy signs on the new shelves. “When CANNED SOUP is written in Old English, it makes me nervous,” she said. “Maybe it’s getting too fancy. But well, now it’s cleaner.”
At least two other sleepers are wiping the sleep from their eyes.
Pat Cothren, a florist, and Patti Carr Black, Mississippi State Historical Museum director, have gone to the Jitney in their pajamas. Both have had Jitney as a “second home” for 20 years.
“One morning,” Cothren, 41 recalled, “I had nothing for breakfast to feed my family. So I ran to the Jitney in a night shirt. The Jitney is the Jitney,” she said, defending her attire. “It didn’t bother me, so I figured it wouldn’t bother them . . . it was a pretty decent night shirt. But I don’t know if I’d do it now, now that the Jitney is so fancy.”
Black emphasized with Cothren’s rush-hour plight. “I have been to Jitney a few times in my nightgown, with a long coat over it, early in the mornings,” Black, 54, said. “that was the way we used to go to breakfast at the ‘W,’” said the Mississippi University for Women alumna.
“The Jitney’s plurality is what makes it nice,” Ellington said. “There’s just all kinds of people in there. It cuts along class (and fashion) lines.”
Barrett said, “The employees also are people you know very well by first name. You’re very interested in their lives, and they’re very interested in yours.”
Two favorite employees mentioned repeatedly by Jitney 14 fans were store manager Sam Holley and veteran cashier Johanna Wade. Wade said she will never forget some of the customers.
“Three or four years ago, I was going to Holland to see my parents,” Wade, 53, recalled. “Margaret Barret, Karen Gilfoy, Cleta Ellington, Penny Hutcherson, Sis Hicks, Pat Cothren, Susan Milam and some others came up in here one afternoon. They gave me an envelope with all this money in it—almost $400—and said, “Go to Holland, spent it and have a good time.’”
“Karen (a judge) had some kind of declaration make up saying I could come back into the country as a joke. I had no idea they would do that,” Wade said. “I was shocked. It was so sweet, what they’d done. It’s just something we’ve got here in this store,” she said. “We’re close. It’s always been that way here.” Holley said the real magic of Jitney 14 mystified him, too.
Ellington said that the Jitney feeling probably is best described by Charlotte Capers, a seasoned shopper who likes to say, “I belong to the Episcopal Church and the Jitney 14.”
In March, 2017, Joan Didion published the notes of her jaunt forty-eight years ago through Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi in a slender book, South and West (Knopf). We’ll take a much more in-depth look at the book in a later entry, but first let’s focus on the passage in which Didion meets with the legendary “Voice of the Rebels” Stan Torgerson, in Torgerson’s home town of Meridian, Mississippi.
Bear in mind as you read that the month is June, the year is 1970. Nixon is in the White House for his first term. The nation as a whole is in a somewhat less turbulent mode after the riotous Sixties, but no section is more complacent than the South, where the key word had become progress. This passage is in essence an examination of the ongoing homogenization of the South as seem through the eyes of a transplant from the upper Midwest (Torgerson) and told to a visitor from California. At times Torgerson sounds like a one-man chamber of commerce espousing racial harmony, social equality and industrialization. When Stan says, “We’re not as inbred as we used to be” he’s referring not (necessarily) to genetics but instead to the influx of people and ideas from outside the South; when he says “we don’t wear crinolines any more” he’s telling Didion that Old South is gone. But though he says, “If there were elm trees hanging over the street it would be very midwestern,” as they drive through residential Meridian, the issues of race and poverty he discusses are those of the South.
This section from Didion’s work appears here in its entirety not only for the more compelling reason that it needs to be read in toto to grasp its exhaustive effect on Didion and to understand more fully Didion’s comments in context—particularly the last line—but also on a somewhat sentimental level because those many of you–as I do–remain familiar with Torgerson’s voice from his 17 years on air with Ole Miss sports might recollect his voice in the cadences of the quoted passages.
When I called Stan Torgerson for lunch at his radio station, WQIC, and asked him the best place to lunch, he said Weidmann’s, “but it wouldn’t win any Holiday Magazine awards.” In fact it had, and was not a bad restaurant, but everyone in Mississippi begins on the defensive. “I’ll be the biggest man in a green shirt to come through the door,” he advised me. He was, at lunch, wary at first. He said he didn’t think I knew what I was doing. I agreed. He refused drink, saying he wasn’t in New York City. Stan Torgerson came out of the cold North (Minnesota, I think) and headed to Memphis, where he went into broadcasting. He worked in Miami, and then, for a year, in San Diego, living in La Jolla. He felt ill at ease in La Jolla—his neighbors kept to themselves, had their own interests—and he wanted to get back south. His son had won a football scholarship to Ole Miss. He was worried about his children and drugs in California. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I just haven’t reached the point where I think pot is a way of life.”
When the black radio station in Meridian came up for sale he bought it. He also broadcasts the Ole Miss games, something he began doing when he was in Memphis. “That’s right,” he said, “I own the ethnic station, WQIC. In its thirteenth year of serving the black community here.” He programs gospel and soul, and reaches 180,000 in several Mississippi and Alabama counties, the thirty-second largest black market in the country, sixty miles in all directions and forty-three percent of that area is black. We serve a major black market, program soul music and gospel music, but what does that mean? A month ago in Billboard there was a survey pointing out that the Top 40-format stations are playing basically soul. Jackson 5 with ‘ABC.’ ‘Turn Back the Hands of Time,’ that’s Top 40 but it’s soul. Once in a while we throw in some blue-eyed soul, like Dusty Springfield with ’Son of a Preacher Man.’ We don’t play rock because our people don’t dig it. We don’t play your underground groups like the Jefferson Airplane . .. We have goodly reason to believe that ten to fifteen percent of our audience is white; some of the phone calls we get in the afternoon for dedications, they’re definitely white voices. We get thirty-six percent of the audience.”
He said I was probably wondering why he came back to Mississippi. “I came because I dearly love this state. I have a son—he’ll be a senior this fall—playing football at the University of Mississippi.”
He pointed out that Meridian was timber country, hill country. Pulpwood is the backbone of the agricultural product. He pointed out how progressive Meridian was: its three new hospitals. “In most southern cities there is a much stronger tendency to old-line money . . . Southern retailers stayed in business privately, home-owned, until very recently. In most cases the retailer has just begun to feel the competition from the chains. There’s the greatest business opportunity in the country right here in the South . . . We don’t have a McDonald’s in a city of almost fifty thousand people, don’t have any of these franchises here yet. You give one corner of one intersection in Jackson, Mississippi, or you give me the whole ball of wax right here in Meridian, I’d take the whole ball of wax and I’d put a McDonald’s on one corner, a Burger Chef on the other, a Shoney’s Po’ Boy (sic! jly) ‘cross the street . . . “
His voice kept on, weaving ever higher flights of economic possibility. “There is and must be,” he said, a “continued turning to the South by industry. The climate is certainly one reason. Another is that the South wants industry and is willing to give a tax advantage to get it. Another, of course, is that there is a relatively low level of unionism in the South. Lockheed assembles tail sections here and ships them to California for assembly . . .
“Atlanta is the magic city for the young around here, across the whole social spectrum . . . The great migration out in the past ten years has been black, they get these glowing letters, and of course they’ve got relatively liberal welfare programs in some of the northern states . . . No doubt, too, there appears to be greater opportunity in the North.”
More on the progressive nature of Meridian: “Our radio station has probably got as fine a list of blue-chip clients as any in town, black or not. We’ve got all four banks, and anyone in retailing who’s interested in doing business with the black—the black’s dollar is very important. The minimum wage was probably the most important thing to happen along these lines, and then food stamps were a good dead, I would say they added millions of dollars to the economy.”
“We are in a transitional phase. There’s a tremendous push to education on the part of young blacks. The schools here are completely integrated. Of course, neither you not I can change the older black, the forty-year old, his life patterns are settled.”
“Ole Miss has its standards to keep up. As more and more blacks get an educational advantage, you’ll see blacks at Ole Miss. There’s a feeling among some black leaders that because these kids have not had advantages they should get some kind of educational break, but basically what has to happen is the standards have to stay up and the people come up to meet them.”
We were driving through town at night, and Stan Torgerson interrupted himself to point out the post office. “There’s the post office, the courthouse where the famous Philadelphia trials were held, the trials for the so-called Philadelphia deaths.”
“If there were elm trees hanging over the street it would be very midwestern,” Stan observed as we drove through the residential district. He pointed out his $29,500 house, a two-story frame, “twenty-eight hundred square feet, with magnolia, dogwood and pecan trees.” He pointed out Poplar Drive the “Park Avenue of Meridian, Mississippi, all the houses built by the old-line families.”
Fervently, he kept reverting to the wholesomeness of life in Meridian. His daughter, who would be a high school senior in the fall, had “her sports, her outdoor activities, her swimming. It’s a quiet, pacific type of living, which is one of the reasons I wanted to come back down here. The kids are taught to say ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am.’ I know it’s very fashionable to poke fun at the South, but I’ll pit our slum area any day against the slum areas where the Cubans and Puerto Ricans live in Miami, Florida, and Miami’ll lose.”
Meridian is the largest city between Jackson and Birmingham, and there is a naval base there which means a great deal to the community. At apartment buildings largely inhabited by the navy there are cars with plates from all over the country.
Some random social observations from Stan Torgerson included: most of the local children go to college within the state, at Ole Miss or Mississippi (sic jly): the other country club, built with federal money, has a membership which includes “assistant managers of stores and some navy people’: most of the subdivisions in Meridian feature “custom houses.” Torgerson paused dramatically, to emphasize the versatility of the new blood in town: “A fabric store.”
I asked if some of the children did not leave, and he allowed that some did. “Nothing here for the kid with an engineering degree. And of course the girls go where they marry. Southern girls are notoriously husband hunting, but I guess that’s the same anywhere.” It occurred to me almost constantly in the South that had I lived there I would have been an eccentric and full of anger, and I wondered what form the anger would have taken. Would I have taken up causes, or would I have simply knifed somebody?
Torgerson was would up now, and I could not stop his peroration. “There’s been a great metamorphosis in recent years in the South, the Volkswagen dealership for example comparable in size to anything you’ll find anywhere.”
“The KKK which used to be a major factor in this community isn’t a factor anymore, both the membership and the influence have diminished, and I cannot think of any place where the black is denied entrance, with the possible exception of private clubs. We don’t have any antagonistic-type black leaders working against racial harmony. Since the advent of black pride, black power, there is a little tendency to be self-segregating. On our station, we have a program we call Adventures in Black History to point out the contributions black people have made—a black minister does it. I have blacks working in the WAIC Soul Shop, and there’s a black druggist here, a man eminently qualified, who is a local boy who went north and came back, received his training at the University of Illinois. We have a certain degree of black business, including this gas station here, which is owned by a black. The key is racial harmony, and education, and we’ll try to provide our people with both, ‘cause we’re gonna live together a long time. Every major retailer hires black clerks, Sears has a couple of black department heads, there’s a black business college here, and a black and white Careen Training Institute.
“Of course we have transplants, too, new ideas, like any other hybrid we’re generally stronger. We’re not nearly as inbred as we used to be. We’ve been withdrawn in this part of the South for many, many years, but we’ve become more aggressive, and as people come in they’ve helped us become more aggressive—we don’t wear crinolines anymore, no we don’t.”
“And about our politics, well, George Wallace got a lot of votes in Indiana, let’s face it. I’m not saying I’m going to have a black minister come home to dinner tonight, ‘cause I’m not. But things are changing. I had a man the other day, owns an appliance store, he never believed you could send a black repairman into somebody’s house. Now he can’t find a white … He asks me if I know a black man who makes a good appearance. That’s progress . . .”
Of course, there’s a tremendous lack of skilled blacks, and the problem is training and education. It’s no longer a matter of lack of opportunity, it’s a matter of lack of skills. We’re still two generations from full equality, but so are they in Chicago, in Detroit, and have you ever been in Harlem?”
Glazed by the two hours in which this man in the green shirt had laid Meridian out before us as an entrepreneur’s dream, a Shoney’s Po’ Boy (!) on every corner and progress everywhere, even at the country club, I dropped him off and drove through the still-deserted streets of the downtown. A few black women were on the streets and they carried umbrellas against the sun. It was almost five o’clock. In the middle of 22nd Avenue, the main street of Meridian, there was a man holding a shotgun. He had on a pink shirt and a golfing cap, and in one ear there was a hearing aid. He raised the shotgun and shot toward the roof of a building several times.
I stopped the car and watched him a while, then approached him. “What are you shooting at?” I asked.
“Pi-eagins,” he said cheerfully.
In this one demented afternoon Mississippi lost much of its power to astonish me.
It was in the spring of the year in the dear long ago. There had been a long dry spell and the farmers were well up with their work, but, complaining as to the weather quite a number were gathered in town. A dark heavy cloud was seen rising in the west and about noon a nice refreshing shower fell to bless and benefit these sons of toil.
In the afternoon the village of Banner was filled with happy farmers. The postmaster, Esq. Brower, and myself were sitting in the post office looking at the throng around Frank Brantley’s grocery. The dingy old gallon pot was sitting on a stump in front of the grocery, well filled with red liquor and surrounded by a happy crowd, all in a merry mood and still partaking rather freely.
All at once a young man stepped into the post office and asked if there was any mail for John Martin. He was rather small, with light hair and a few strangling red hairs on his upper lip and chin. Brower, after a careful look, told him there was no mail for John Martin. He said then, “I am a stranger here. This is the first time I was ever in Banner. I am Fighting John Martin from Butta Hatchie creek; I am a fighter from the east. I have often heard of Banner and I have come over to-day to clean her up and paint Banner red. I understand you have some fighters here and I would like to meet them. I tell you I am a fighter.”
He pulled from his ponderous pocket an old-style, iron-barrel pistol, with tube and hammer on the top and said, “You see this. I am going to have some fun this evening. The first man that bristles up to me, I’m going to down him.”
He walked nimbly across the muddy street to the stump and gallon pot, introduced himself to the crowd and took a drink of the liquor. A dispute between the Van Winkles and the Hardins soon resulted in a general fight. The men were all in their shirt sleeves and most of the young men and boys were barefooted. The men engaged in the fighting were old Carter Van Winkle who had a small lumber stick in his hand and he knocking the Hardins right and left, when he was modestly confronted by John Martin who asked, “Who are you and which side are you fighting? I am Fighting John Martin from Butta Hatchie. Did you ever see me turn loose in Banner? If not, look out!”
He thrust his old pistol into Van Winkle’s face and pulled the trigger, but the pistol snapped and Van Winkle struck him over the head with his stick and brought him to his knees. Martin galloped across the muddy street on his all-fours with Van Winkle striking him with the lumber stick first on the right and then on the left side as he crawled across with his pistol in one hand and his hat in the other.
Just as he crossed the street Van Winkle left him and returned to the general fight. Martin dragged himself into the post office all covered with blood, handed his pistol and hat to Brower and called for a doctor. The little Banner doctor examined him and found that he had received a downward lick on the side of his head that pealed the scalp his forehead back beyond his ear.
“Fix it quick doctor I want to get away from here.” The doctor took two or stitches, brought the edges of the wound up together, tied a few bands across. Brower handed him his hat and pistol; remarking as he did so, “This is hell turned loose in Banner, is it not?”
“No,” said the little doctor, “he is the man that painted Banner red.”
“Let me out of here,” said Martin and he slipped out, took through the woods to the south of Banner and that was the last seen of Martin, the Fighter from Butta Hatchie that painted Banner red.
(Signed, The Rambler, The Calhoun Monitor, Pittsboro, MS, Aug. 18, 1904)