What I didn’t see coming at this past weekend’s Murrah High School mega-reunion in Jackson, Mississippi (classes of 1968, 69 and 70) was the joy of sharing childhood memories. It seemed that most people were (finally) over needing to talk about how successful we are (10th reunion), how great our children are (20th reunion), how great our grandchildren are (30th reunion), and the latest surgery we had or were planning to have (40th reunion). Sure, there was some talk of those things this year (*guilty*) but my favorite stories were those shared from our Mississippi childhoods.
Like Sally McClintock, who lived on my street in first grade. I think she’s the person I’ve known the longest of anyone from my senior class in high school. Sally reminded me of some funny things that happened back in 1956-7 on Belvedere Street in the Broadmoor neighborhood. Most of us didn’t have air conditioning yet, so we spent a lot of time outdoors, looking for shade trees and sneaking out of the neighborhood to get ice cream at Seale-Lily, which was dangerous because we had to cross the railroad tracks. Can you imagine letting your 6-year-old walk a half mile and cross train tracks without any adults? (Of course our parents never knew, and thankfully we lived to enjoy those memories.) The air-conditioning was on full power at Seale-Lily. We sat at those tall bar stools with the plastic covers, which felt cool on the backs of our legs. They served ice water in little paper cones that sat inside aluminum holders. We drank and ate slowly, not wanting to leave the comfort of the air-cooled building.
Seems like lots of our memories from the 1950s involve ice cream. Or Popsicles. The heat plays a huge role in our memories growing up in Mississippi. Another of my classmates, whom I knew not only from school but also from church, told me about going to visit the Popsicle Lady, who lived near her family in the Belhaven neighborhood. The Popsicle Lady lived alone in a big Tudor house, and had lovely gardens. She was always surprised when she would invite her in for a popsicle and let her eat it inside the house, something our mothers never did back then.
One day she noticed that the Popsicle Lady was often sitting at a typewriter when she was there, so she asked what she was doing. I’m writing stories—would you like to read one? And then she would let her read one of her freshly typed stories. It would be many years before my friend would realize that she had been reading the unpublished manuscripts of Eudora Welty.