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JM Wallace Memories of a Mississippi Boyhood

  A special thanks to Jane Wallace, daughter of Dr. Wallace, for sending in this written account.
 If you have additional questions about this family or folks mentioned in this article, please contact Jane.             

Dr. Wallace's Photographs: 
Ripley High School Graduating Class of 1919      
James Merrill Wallace 



    One objective of preparing this biographical account was to leave for my descendants a better record than my forebears left for me. On my maternal side I have the names of ancestors tracing back to George Heyl, a grandfather eight generations removed, who was born in Germany in 1595. The records show that Pieter Heyl, a great-great-grandson of George Heyl, emigrated to England where he married an English girl in 1735. Three years later, this couple came to America and settled in North Carolina. At that time they changed their name to Hoyle. Their daughter Elizabeth married George Hovis, and my mother, Katherine Hovis Wallace, was a fourth-generation descendant of George and Elizabeth Hovis. From George Hovis down to my grandfather, Colonel Hugh Lawson Berry Hovis, the genealogical records available to me provide only some names, marriage dates, and the years that members of the Hovis family moved from North Carolina to Mississippi. The information I have on the ancestry of my maternal grandmother, Laura Phyfer Hovis, and on that of my father’s side of the family is almost nil and would require more effort than I wish to put into genealogical research at the present time.
    When I study the meager records I have of my ancestors, I have a desire to know more about them: where they lived, the professions they followed, the ups and downs of their lives and other things of interest, even the “skeletons in the family closet!”  It is my hope that what I have put on record for my daughter, Jane, and granddaughter, Katherine, will be of interest and at the same time encourage them, should the family tree continue to grow, to leave for descendants to come something more than names of ancestors and dates of births, marriages, and deaths.
    A second motive behind the preparation of these records was my desire to leave details of some experiences that came to me because of my profession as a plant pathologist working in a specialized field of citriculture, i.e., virus diseases of citrus. As a pioneer in that field, who in 1942 was the only person in the world employed on a full-time basis in the investigation of those destructive diseases, I witnessed great advances that resulted from worldwide interest and research during the thirty-five-year period 1945-1970. Presently, wherever citrus is an important crop, there are individuals or groups of individuals engaged in studies of virus diseases of citrus. Because many of these diseases accompanied citrus as it moved from its original home in the Far East to other parts of the world, widely separated citrus regions have common disease problems. That and other factors have been responsible for putting research on these diseases on an international level with worldwide cooperation and exchange of information between investigators. The accomplishments resulting from such cooperative study have been cited by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Having played some part in these developments, I am proud of these accomplishments. As founder of the International Organization of Citrus Virologists (IOCV) in 1957 and its chairman from 1957 to 1960, much of my travel in foreign countries has been related to the study of virus diseases of citrus. Therefore, it would not be possible for me to write of my professional career without devoting considerable space to the international aspects of it.  Experiences of foreign travel have been detailed for several reasons. The first of these is that much of my foreign travel was directly related to my profession and was occasioned by participation in numerous scientific congresses or by opportunities to visit citrus growing countries as a consultant. Secondly, I have detailed some of these because they provided my wife, Adeline, and me, a host of wonderful friends over the world with whom we have shared many interesting, enjoyable, and unforgettable moments and certainly should be a part of any permanent record we leave. Thirdly, written accounts of many of our travel experiences will serve, we hope, as a final expression of our affection for dear friends in foreign countries and our gratitude for their kind hospitality on numerous occasions—friends who, no matter how far we had traveled or how long we had been away from our own hearthstone made us feel at home.

    While I realize that personal experiences of two American travelers will not be of great interest to others, I have tried to be selective and to describe incidents which were interesting and/or exciting to us and have seemed to be enjoyed by friends who, as captive audiences or otherwise, have heard us describe these travel adventures.
    Because the pages that follow have been written primarily for my daughter and granddaughter, I have detailed much of my boyhood years in Mississippi, a way of life totally different from that of their younger years. University undergraduate and graduate years are covered largely to provide biographical data. Details of professional years, especially those spent in citrus virus disease research at the University of California, Riverside, serve as a historical account of developments in that special field of study. Finally, certain incidents were too exciting, frustrating, and/or humorous not to be included!


    I cannot recall the first Christmas I experienced, but I know that then, as on each Christmas morning of my childhood, the stocking I had hung by the fireplace on Christmas Eve bulged at the bottom from the presence of a bright red apple and a golden orange. In northern Mississippi where I was born and spent my childhood in the early years of the twentieth century, both of these fruits, but especially oranges, were Christmas delicacies. Some poor quality apples were produced locally, but these were summer ripening kinds, or Ben Davis variety, that were used largely for pies. Because of the coddling moth, few worm-free fruits matured, and even when picked early for use in pies, apples often had worm-infested portions that had to be cut away. Thus it was that we all looked forward to the late fall months and the Christmas season when our two grocery stores and some of the general stores brought in Winesaps and Arkansas Blacks from wholesale distributors in Memphis, Tennessee, and displayed these beauties in large wire baskets.
    Oranges were even more of a treat. Although one of our groceries carried them at other times of year, it was only at Christmas that they were readily available. The reasons for that were the seasonal production in Florida and problems associated with distribution. After harvesting and packing, transport to wholesalers in Memphis and distribution to retail stores by rail, there was often a considerable loss of fruit from decay. I learned that as a small boy when at Christmastime I helped to open the wooden boxes, remove the paper wrappers, and place the oranges in the wire baskets in which they were displayed at the front of my father’s general mercantile store. After all the years that have passed since then, I still remember the two distinct odors associated with those crates of oranges. The first was the normal smell that comes from the oil of the peel, and the other was the distinct odor of oranges in a stage of decay. At an early age, I learned from experience that these rots could spread from fruit to fruit and cause much spoilage, but it was not until I began to prepare for a career as a plant pathologist that I learned the cause, fungus species penicillium italicum and penicillium digitatum known to the housewife as “bread mold.” Additional years were to pass before I became associated professionally with men who devoted much of their scientific careers to finding means of controlling these organisms and reducing the tremendous losses they cause in citrus and other fruits while they are in storage, transit, or retail markets.

     The Southern Sentinel, our local weekly newspaper, in addition to reporting social events, church and school activities, marriages, births, deaths, court trials, and occasional travels of local citizens, played an important role at Christmas time. Several pages were added to the pre-Christmas issues to print letters to Santa Claus. During my childhood it seemed that Santa Claus would pass us by if we did not inform him through the Southern Sentinel describing what we wanted for Christmas. Consequently, hundreds of letters were printed. For the most part these asked only for things the writers thought they had a chance of receiving, such as clothing, school supplies, or other practical gifts. Letters from girls included requests for dolls, books, and games, while boys asked for toy guns, wagons, tricycles, or sometimes a bicycle. But regardless of whether the writer was a girl or boy, all letters closed with “. . . and Santa, please bring me some candy, a sky rocket, some Roman candles and firecrackers, and an apple and an orange.”

    The extent to which Santa complied with requests depended on the economic status of the writer’s family. Naturally many children were disappointed when they did not get everything they had asked for, but when Christmas morning came and they rushed to see what Santa had brought them, there were few who failed to find a shiny red apple and a Florida orange in the bottom of their stocking.

    Even after I was old enough to help remove the fruits from the boxes at my father’s store and share in those he brought home for the family, those Christmas stocking oranges were always something special. Like most other kids I would treasure mine and postpone eating it. Finally, when I could resist it no longer, I consumed it as slowly as possible. My technique was to make a small hole at the button or stem end and work a narrow knife blade around the inside. Then pressing my lips over the opening I squeezed the juice directly into my mouth. After every possible drop of juice had been extracted and savored and the orange had assumed the shape of a deflated ball, I broke it open and ate the juiceless pulp. Then only the rind was left, and sometimes portions of that were eaten as a final part of the ritual. Once all was finished there was a letdown feeling as if Christmas was over, but I could fantasize that perhaps sometime I could visit or possibly live where those remarkable trees grew that produced such delectable fruits.

    Now as I begin to write these words, I can look back on twenty-eight years as a research plant pathologist and eight years as emeritus professor at the Citrus Research Center in Riverside, a total of thirty-six years of my professional career living in California and traveling to most countries of the world where citrus trees thrive. Thus, the boyhood dream that I once had is a dream come true.

    Those years as a research scientist have been rewarding professionally, but regardless of any contribution I may have made, one of the most satisfying aspects of my career has been the opportunity to know and to work with citrus specialists throughout the world. Some of these were students of mine, while others were my counterparts or associates when I visited their native lands to work with them and to gather information on citrus virus diseases, my special field of investigation.

    As one’s career progresses in a profession such as I had trained for, there are often many forks in the road that call for a decision as to which direction to follow. In my early professional years I had to make such decisions on several occasions, and had I gone a different way on any one of these I never would have reached sunny California nor had the opportunity to work on citrus problems. I am thankful that each time I was faced with choosing the road to travel, some unidentified power showed me the way. I have never decided if that guidance came from the “man upstairs,” the good fairy, or Santa Claus, but I choose to believe it came from the latter, who decided long years ago that he wanted me to always have “an orange in my Christmas stocking.”



    I am sure there were many small towns in the southern states like Ripley, Mississippi, my hometown. As the county seat and served by a railroad, it was the trade center of all of Tippah County and portions of adjacent counties. The economy of this region was strictly agricultural, and most farms were small, single-family operations. Cotton was the principal cash crop, but the farmers supplied local markets with dried corn from which meal was ground, sweet potatoes, melons, peanuts, sorghum molasses, some seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh beef and pork, and on occasion, some cured bacon, ham, and sausage. Many of these products, especially fresh meat, vegetables, melons, and fruits, were sold to the housewives by farmers from wagons driven around the town.

    There were a few successful farmers but, for most, life was hard and offered few luxuries. Many who farmed, both black and white, were sharecroppers who lived on and farmed land owned by someone else. These families usually produced much of their own food but had to purchase such basic products as wheat flour and sugar and, of course, shoes, certain wearing apparel and cloth from which items of clothing were made at home. Throughout the year, the landowner would provide cash or arrange a certain amount of credit for the sharecropper at one of the local stores for his essential family needs and would supply seeds, fertilizer, and other things needed to carry on the farm operations. If the farmer owned the land, he would usually make an arrangement with one of the local merchants for credit between crop harvests.
    Where farmland was infertile and insufficient fertilizer was applied, yields were low. Until sometime later when the boll weevil became a factor, heavy rains at planting time and long summer droughts were the chief perils of cotton farming. Approximately 1,500 pounds of raw cotton was required to make one 500-pound bale of ginned cotton. With the type being grown in that region and under the farming methods practiced, a yield of one-half bale per acre was good production. Records of the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the period 1901-10 show an average annual yield of 205 pounds of lint (ginned cotton) per acre for the state of Mississippi. Inasmuch as that calculation included yields from large acreages in the more productive Delta region, it was certain that the yields on the poorer soils of Tippah County were considerably lower than the state average, possibly no more that 160 pounds per acre. Using that figure and the 1910 price of 14 cents per pound, a farm family growing 10 acres of cotton would have produced 1,600 pounds with a cash value of $224. Returns from sale of the cottonseed may have added an additional $50. Unless there had been some cash income from sale of other products during the year or from outside labor by family members, there was little if any cash left after the debts at “the company store” had been paid.
    In those years in that part of Mississippi, farming was not a lucrative profession. However, prospects for success were better when the land was self-owned and the farm consisted of a sizable acreage under cultivation including some good “bottomland” where the soil was deeper and more fertile and where the crops suffered less during the regularly occurring summer drought periods. It was also advantageous if a farm included stands of timber suitable for lumber and/or firewood. There were a number of reasons why there were few wealthy farmers at that time in Tippah County. The hilly topography, heavy rainfall that eroded the land and leached out the minerals, and the resistance of farmers to new methods were contributing factors. In farming, the general philosophy was that since it worked for grandpa it was good enough for grandson. Even after agricultural county agents were hired to help the farmers in some regions, the farmers wanted no advice from these young “book farmers.”  It was not until years later when the sons of these resisters graduated from agricultural high schools or the state agricultural college that the words and advice of the Agricultural Extension Service were taken seriously.
    Characteristic of other county seats in the state, the business section of Ripley was, for the most part, on the four sides of a town square surrounding the county courthouse. With few exceptions, all businesses were on the square or on three short connecting side streets. There were about ten general mercantile stores. These stocked a wide variety of goods, and most carried some staple food products such as flour, cornmeal, canned foods, cured meats, lard, and sugar. There were two main drugstores, one of which operated a soda fountain. Although several general stores carried an assortment of food products, there were three businesses that dealt exclusively in groceries, including seasonal fruits and vegetables. Scattered around the business district were two barber shops, a cleaning and pressing shop, one and sometimes two banks, the post office, a café, a harness and saddle shop, a picture-taking establishment, two doctors’ offices, jewelry and watch repair, a furniture store, hardware store, and what we knew as the variety store, a forerunner of the five-and-ten-cent store. Some of these businesses, especially the cafés, came and went. Also on the town square were the office and print shop of the Southern Sentinel and a dental office. A number of the store buildings had second floors that contained offices of lawyers, judges, a newly arrived dentist, and the local telephone exchange.
    Our two daily newspapers came from Memphis. The Commercial Appeal, a morning paper, was the popular daily because it reached town before noon of the day it was published, and it included a Sunday edition with a comic section which was referred to as the “funny paper.”  The Memphis News Scrimitar, an evening paper, reached town the morning after its printing. That delay and the lack of a Sunday edition made it less popular.
    Except for a few individuals who subscribed to the mail edition of  The Commercial Appeal and received it via RFD (Rural Free Delivery), the daily papers were seen only by town folks. For those living some distance from town, the source of news was the Southern Sentinel that had been established in 1879. It was known as “the Sentinel” by all in that area and was an above average country or small town paper with a wide county circulation. The news it carried dealt largely with happenings in the county and county seat, Ripley, and it carried advertisements from merchants or others who had something to sell. On occasion, it gave some state or national news, but these items for the most part covered politics, disasters, or military activities such as the Mexican border troubles of 1914-16 and World War I.
    When I was a youth in Ripley, the owner and editor of the Sentinel was A. C. Anderson, a locally prominent citizen and politician who, during his career, served for sixteen years in the House and Senate of the State Legislature. Later Mr. Anderson was defeated by a very narrow margin in a race for Congress and in 1927 would have surely been elected governor of the state had not the late entry of another candidate split the vote sufficiently to prevent Anderson from getting a majority. Subsequently a son, Bill Anderson, joined his father in operating the paper. Upon the death of A. C. Anderson, Bill Anderson and his wife published the Sentinel until 1971 when it was sold to other parties. I don’t know that the Andersons became wealthy through the ownership of this paper, but publication of it must be considered a success if for no other reason than its continuation as a weekly paper to this day.

    In a corner of the town square near the beginning of South Main Street, a marble Confederate soldier stood vigil atop a memorial monument that had been placed there and unveiled with the proper ceremonies during my early boyhood. Presumably the monument was a project of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, paid for by donations from local citizens. When it was put there, its location within the traffic area posed no problems because the traffic consisted entirely of horse-drawn vehicles or an occasional ox wagon bringing logs to the sawmill. Later, as automobiles became somewhat numerous, the location of the monument became a bit of a problem, and some of the businessmen initiated a campaign to have it moved to the courthouse lawn. That plan failed because of the objections of some who had contributed money for its construction. These people argued that the monument might be damaged in moving. Among these objectors was a locally prominent, aged Confederate veteran who fought so hard against moving the monument that, even though victorious, he suffered a stroke and died soon thereafter. Although it was thought that the fight over the monument shortened his life, it can be concluded that the old soldier died happier than would have been the case had be lived a few years longer to see it knocked over and wrecked beyond repair by a heavy truck!
    In the first decade of the century, there were no hard-surfaced streets in town. Consequently, during the rainy seasons of winter and spring, the streets became quagmires with deep ruts and chuckholes through which heavily loaded wagons found it difficult to pass. Conversely, during summer weeks without rain, the surfaces of the same streets became thick layers of dust. Under the existing conditions, nothing could be done about either the mud or dust, but eventually when a town water system was installed, some locally made fireplugs were placed around the town square to which fire hoses could be attached. During the summer months, these were used to sprinkle the streets and reduce the dust nuisance.
    It was an exciting time when Ripley was supplied with “running water.”  This progressive step resulted from the community spirit and business acumen of one of our mercantile establishments, M. L. Finger & Sons, who later installed an ice plant and ice cream factory. From a deep well near the store buildings, water was pumped to a metal water tower which stood about forty feet above ground. Initially, this system supplied water only to the home of the Finger family, but subsequently some main water lines were installed throughout town from which feeder pipes were extended to homes and businesses as owners subscribed for water service. The sewage fed into a large cesspool located in the southern part of town on pasture land owned by the Finger family. The discharge from the sewage treatment facility was carried by a nearby natural drainage ditch to a small creek that led into a larger stream a mile or two below town. That system would not meet present sanitary laws or be approved by today’s environmental protection agencies, but it had a lot going for it in its time. Firstly, it dispensed no raw sewage into the ditches or streams as was being done in many southern towns, and secondly, it put many outdoor privies out of business.
    Most homes of residents who could afford the water and sewer service were large enough to have a room that could be converted into a bathroom, or else this was provided by an addition or by enclosure of an outside porch. The home in which I lived had been built by my parents in their early married years and enlarged without much architectural direction as the family grew larger. It had a wide passageway between the kitchen and a pantry that was partitioned to provide a bathroom. The location was not ideal since it was at the back and some distance from the living quarters. However, there were no complaints from any of the family because of the joy of having that facility with hot and cold running water and the luxury of a real bathtub. Not the least of our joys came from the inside toilet that put an end to the necessary round-trips to the “two-holer” at the back of the lot.
    Long-distance telephone lines had come to our town by 1890 by means of wires installed along the railroad right-of-way or the county roads, being brought in from New Albany to the south and Middleton, Tennessee, to the north. By the turn of the century, a local telephone company had been established to provide residential and business service. During my boyhood years, that company was owned and operated by the Dan Pitner family. The sons of that family put up the lines and installed the phones. The exchange was located over the Bank of Ripley where a daughter, “Miss Annie,” operated the switchboard in daytime and one of the Pitner boys slept to handle the occasional calls that came through during the night hours. Each phone probably had a number, but these were never used. To make a call, the caller removed the receiver from the side of the wooden-box-type wall phone and gave the crank on the opposite side a few turns. After a “Hello” from the operator, a conversation would occur as follows:

    CALLER:     Good morning, Miss Annie. Will you please ring Dr. Charlie?
    OPERATOR:  Oh, good morning, Miss Mary. How are you today?  Dr. Charlie
                          left on a call about a half-hour ago out to the Miskelly place. Said
                          he’d be back in two
hours. I hope none of you-all is sick?
    CALLER:      No, I just wanted to ask him something.
    OPERATOR:  Well, ma’am, I’ll call you when he gets back to his office.
    CALLER:      Thank you, Miss Annie. I sure will appreciate that. Good-bye.

    Sometimes these conversations continued with exchanges of local news or discussions of the weather and other subjects. The operator usually knew the where-abouts of all subscribers and could provide information on just about everything of current interest. Nearly all married ladies were addressed as “Miss.”  I presume that custom was a carryover from slavery days when the black people always addressed a young white girl as “Miss” and continued to use that address after she was married. For men, “Mister” was used with the person’s Christian name, and that form of address was sufficient except when more than one well-known citizen had the same Christian name. In those instances, the surname would be added.        

    Sometimes Miss Annie would call all the subscribers to notify them of some exciting event. I remember an occasion when the brave owner of an automobile, a chain-driven Metz, challenged the dirt road from New Albany and made it successfully to Ripley. Inasmuch as there were none of these horseless carriages in our town, the rare and unexpected arrival of one of them was something no one wanted to miss. On that occasion, Miss Annie called every home that had a telephone to announce, “There’s an automobile in town today.”  Although that service may have caused some people to consider having a phone installed, I am sure it was not given to promote business. Instead, it was a way of life in a small, backward, country town in those times. But we who lived there would have resented being told that our town was backward because, after all, it was the county seat served by a railroad, with water and sewer systems and telephones in businesses and homes. Compared to other rural communities in the county, we felt quite “citified,” although when we visited larger towns that had paved or graveled streets and electricity, we realized that Ripley still had a ways to go. Indeed, many years passed and I was no longer a resident when the town acquired these improvements.

    In that pre-electric era, steam power was used in the sawmills, and large gasoline engines powered the gristmills that, for the most part, ground dried corn into meal for making corn bread, a staple of daily diet. Until 1923, when a local group built an electric plant and began service to the community, homes relied chiefly on coal-oil lamps for illumination. Coleman lamps were used in a few stores and, eventually, some of the more progressive and affluent citizens installed small, gasoline engine electric-powered generators. I can remember the salesman who came to town periodically with one of these generators mounted on a kind of pickup truck. The generator was under a glass enclosure so that it could be examined by prospective customers as the salesman demonstrated its ability to produce electricity for home lighting.

    I did not live in Ripley long enough to experience the absence of the seasonal mud and dust on the streets of the town. By inquiry, I have learned that Main Street, as a part of State Highway 15, was provided with a gravel surface in 1928, and at that time the city fathers had gravel put down over the entire town square. Some ten years later paving was begun, and eventually all principal streets were paved.

    At some time after the town of Ripley was incorporated in 1837, or later when the town was plotted, the principal streets were named, but I only knew Main Street and one other that we called “Quality Ridge.”  I think few inhabitants knew the name of the street on which they lived. Everyone knew where everyone else lived, and since all mail was picked up at the post office, there was no need for street names and house numbers. Although the town was laid out in uniform blocks, these often were separated by “lanes” that were not graded and maintained as streets or roads. Some of these contained drainage ditches that carried away the run-off water of heavy rains.

    Our town of Ripley was served by a railroad that came into existence in the early 1870s as a locally built, twenty-five mile narrow-gauge track. By the time of my boyhood it had acquired the name Gulf, Mobile and Northern. This road connected with the Southern Railway at Middleton, Tennessee, twenty-five miles to the north and the “Frisco” at New Albany, eighteen miles south of Ripley. Both of these railroads came out of Memphis that in many ways was more the capital of our part of Mississippi than was Jackson, the state capital. Merchandise such as ready-made clothing, shoes, farm supplies and equipment, canned goods and other processed food products and fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, and bananas reached us by rail, for the most part shipped from Memphis.

    The railroad ran north and south directly through the center of town one block to the west of Main Street with a narrow street paralleling it intermittently on the west side. There was never such a thing as “the wrong side of the tracks.” Because the railroad was built after the older residential parts of town were established, some of the more pretentious homes found themselves with the tracks almost in the front yard. One can imagine the excitement engendered by the coming of the iron horse to this quiet country village and perhaps be correct in concluding that in those days home sites adjacent to the track were choice locations. My boyhood home was so located with only a sidewalk and a narrow, one-lane roadway between our front fence and the track. I can remember the hundreds of times I raced to climb onto our fence after hearing the whistle of an approaching train. In fact, my regular presence to watch the train and to wave at members of the crew caused great concern to the trainmen the day some freight cars left the track, overturned, and partially destroyed the fence where I usually positioned myself. Moving too fast on  downgrade curve a block above our home, some of the cars “jumped the track,” traveled along on the wooden ties and into the parallel street or roadway until two cars then landed sideways. The wooden cars were partially shattered and portions of them crushed part of the Wallace fence. It was my good fortune that I was not at home when the wreck occurred, but I returned to watch as the remains of the cars were put back on the tracks and taken away. During the operations I felt myself to be a bit of a hero because I had been told of the relief shown by the train crew when they learned I was not under the wreckage!

    In its early years, the railroad was owned and operated by local men, and the passing of trains must have added something special to the lives of residents who could sit on their front porches and wave to Mr. Claude, Mr. Will, Mr. Lee, or whoever happened to make up the crews. But time and progress brought changes. The local owners passed from the scene, and with growth and extension of the line, the narrow-gauge tracks and “doodle-bug” engines were eventually replaced by “The Rebel,” a streamlined diesel passenger train, and long, speedy, through-freights hauling their loads between mid-America and the Gulf State cities. Then, with more passing of time, only the freights were left, and the established custom of going to the station to see the passenger trains and observe who came or went on them ended on the day of the last passenger train run.

    Two blocks west of the railroad was Jackson Street, “Quality Ridge.” Actually, this street was on the same level as the railroad, but because there was a slight depression or valley between the two, Jackson Street appeared to be higher. That, and the fact that several large homes with expansive lawns were on that street, accounted for its local name. Some of these homes were constructed before the Civil War. Others were built later by persons whose business or profession enabled them to succeed financially during the difficult postwar years. Nearly all family residences were referred to as “places” with the family names of the original builder or of longtime occupants, for example, “the Murray place” or “the Cole place.”  Some of these still exist in rebuilt or remodeled states. Similar homes were scattered over other parts of town, and there were a few rebuilt antebellum houses in the surrounding countryside near town. Frequently the residence and shaded lawns, outbuildings such as barns, carriage houses and well houses, flower and vegetable gardens, and a fenced pasture for livestock occupied an entire town block. Many families obtained milk and butter from their own cows, and all families “of means” had horses for riding and for use as carriage or buggy horses. The size and quality of the large, old homes reflected to some extent the social and financial status of the present occupants who commonly were descendants of the original builder. In other words, such homes retained their original splendor only if those who occupied them were financially able to keep them in repair. There were some pretentious, later-constructed homes as well as many smaller houses built before or following the Civil War. During the first two decades of the 1900s, there was a trend towards construction of single-storied, bungalow-type houses. Scattered around the fringes of town and sometimes within the white residential section were the homes of black families. These were small frame houses that, like those of the whites, reflected both the economic status and, to some extent, the character of the owner or renter.

    There had been considerable war activity in this part of northern Mississippi, and during a federal raid in 1864 nearly all business and public buildings in Ripley were destroyed. Throughout the war, frequent raids by federal forces had taken most of the farm animals, and, when the fighting ended, farmers were ill-equipped to renew operations. They had no transportation, work animals, or seed supplies. The first five years of the Reconstruction period were especially difficult, and it was not until the state was readmitted to the Union in 1870 that any kind of order began to be restored. The fact that this region had only agriculture and some lumber production made its recovery very slow, and the ravages of war were felt for several decades. The memories of that struggle lasted as long or longer than concrete evidence of military action. As late as the 1920s I lived in parts of the South where some of the older natives acted as if Lee and Grant had signed only a temporary armistice at Appomattox, and I suspect that some of them were still hanging on to their Confederate money. A favorite wisecrack of a college roommate was that many southerners still thought “Damn Yankee” was one word. I am sure that would have applied to some residents of my hometown.

    When I was a youngster, about 1,000 persons lived in, or closely around, Ripley. I have no official statistics, but a good estimate is that 25 percent of these were black. Some white families were considered well-to-do, and based on their income and the value of the dollar, a few of them would have been classed as wealthy. Others, by thrift and hard work, had the necessities of life but few luxuries. The remaining families lived at varying levels of poverty. In general, the black families were poor, but in instances where the father or other wage earners developed skills as barbers, carpenters, brick masons, plumbers, railroad workers or other professions, income was sufficient to provide a fairly good life. The black families were descendants of slaves, and many had the same names as the white families from which their slave ancestor had taken his name. In a few cases the former slave was still living and working for the family that formerly owned him or descendents of that family. Some of these male slaves had served their master through the war and had continued to do so as free men for the remainder of their lives. The plight of the freed slaves after the war is too well known to need recalling here, but many of them depended on their former owners to care for them. Often, such an arrangement was mutually beneficial to both parties, because in the aftermath of the war, both needed each other.

    I can appreciate why the memory of the war was still so fresh in the minds of the senior citizens in the early 1900s. For many in Ripley, the effects of the war still remained. In addition to suffering property losses, some families like that of my Grandmother Hovis, had lost the head of the family and were left with no one to assist in restoring the family fortune. Other men of the South had nothing when they went off to fight, and many of these that survived had little chance of bettering themselves during the difficult postwar period. They returned from war to scratch out a meager livelihood at whatever they could find to do while begetting another generation that, because of lack of schooling and the general economic conditions of the region, found a life little better than that experienced by their parents. The majority of those who fell into this group were not there by choice. Compounding the problem were large numbers of black people who had to adapt to a new way of life following the end of the war. However, in some respects, these people survived and progressed faster than the poor white families. Having known nothing but a life of servitude, they were glad to work as house servants or to take on jobs of hard labor that even the poorest of the whites would not stoop to. Certainly the war that ended in 1865 caused many of the problems that existed in this part of northern Mississippi as it moved into the twentieth century, but even had there been no war, the single-crop economy of the region and the lack of educational opportunities for the masses prior to and following the war would have prevented this section of the state from moving forward as fast as some other sections.

    Looking back, it is clear to me that many things were lacking in my hometown in my boyhood years. Still, perhaps like many others who grew up at that time in small southern towns, I get a nostalgic feeling when I hear Kate Smith sing, “I love those dear hearts and gentle people, who live and love in my hometown.”  Of course, there were exceptions in Ripley, Mississippi, but it was a town of neighborly people—courteous, friendly, and always helpful in time of need. Religious people also: their beliefs, I think, too rigid, and their interpretations too narrow even for those times but providing a faith that gave to all, white or black, rich or poor, something to lean on when faced with sickness and sorrow or “when hard times came a-knocking at their door.”



    I was born October 13, 1902. I never was told of my parent’s reaction to the arrival of their eighth child, but either they or Mother Nature decided that eight was enough. Ahead of me, and in order, had come Fred, Nina, Laura, John, Lee, Mary, and  Hugh. In Ripley, Mississippi, where large families were common, I can imagine word of my arrival was spread around town with no more than the casual comment, “The Wallaces have another baby boy!”  I am sure that sometime later an announcement appeared in the vital statistics of the Southern Sentinel, but because no official birth records were then kept in any county or state office, I experienced some difficulty later in my life when I made an application for a passport.

    Sometime after my arrival I was christened James Merrill Wallace. The first name, James, was after an uncle, a brother of my father whom we knew as Uncle Jim but  who had moved to Texas before I was old enough to remember him. My second name, by which I became known by family and fellow townsmen, had a more interesting origin. At the time of my birth, my oldest brother, Fred, was away from home working in a railway office. His boss was a Mr. Merrill, a gentleman whom he admired very much. When Fred came home on visits he spoke so often of “Mr. Merrill” that the name became a familiar one in the Wallace household. I never learned who first suggested it, but apparently my mother thought that “Merrill” went well with “James.”  Neither did I learn if Fred’s boss ever learned that he had a namesake in the town of Ripley, Mississippi.

    I am sure that as the “baby” member of a large family I had some advantages, especially from the standpoint of attention and care from my parents and brothers and sisters. However, I now realize that there were some disadvantages. For example, of my four grandparents, I have only a faint recollection of my grandmother Hovis who died when I was five. While I have considerable information on my grandfather, Colonel H. L. B. Hovis, from the time he served in the Mexican War at age eighteen until he died in 1863 of wounds received in the Civil War, data on my Wallace grandparents is nil. As a youth  I made no effort to learn of these ancestors, and I do not recall my father telling me anything of his parents or his early life. Also, as no doubt often happens, I waited until it was too late to acquire any of that information from my older brothers and sisters.

    My father, John Chesterfield Wallace, was born in Taylor near Oxford,  Mississippi. Sometime prior to 1880, he came to Ripley where he worked as a clerk in a mercantile store which was originally the G. M. Bostwick Company but was later owned by William Hines. Shortly before the turn of the century, he and my brother Fred established a mercantile store known as “J. C. Wallace and Son.”  In his earlier years in Ripley my father had served as a town alderman and also as a member of the Ripley Cornet Band. I regret that I never learned how and where he learned to play a musical instrument or how well he played. Of course I know that he and my mother were married sometime around 1880 and had been blessed with seven “bundles from heaven” before I arrived in 1902. I have no information regarding the education my father received, but during his boyhood he must have attended a school in Taylor or else in Oxford because he was well-versed in the three Rs. He read the newspapers regularly, but it is doubtful that he spent much time on other reading materials. He was interested in local and state politics. In addition to town alderman, serving a four year term as the elected county sheriff was his only other venture into community affairs.
    My mother, Katherine L. Hovis, the youngest of four children, was born in Ripley in 1858. As a youngster she attended one of the privately owned schools where the fee was probably no more than a few dollars for the six or seven months’ term. (Private schools operated for about four months each year as a public school and another four months as private institutions because of the long delay in the establishment of a public school system as we know today in Mississippi.) Later she attended Stonewall College, a local private institution that provided a fairly broad curriculum. I have no details of the length of time she spent in that school, but I know that she remained a scholar throughout her life. What time she had left from managing a home and a large family she liked to spend in reading and learning. I well remember that in the closet of her sitting room, safe from damage by the young members of the family, she kept a set of the New and Complete Universal Self-Pronouncing Encyclopedia that she constantly referred to for her own information or when those of us doing our school homework around her fireplace needed some help. I am happy that I preserved this set of ten small volumes. They have always occupied a prominent place in my bookshelves. They bring back many memories and cause me to reminisce of early days and think of my mother and how much she would have enjoyed the modern set of  Encyclopaedia Britannica that fills the shelf in my home immediately below her books.

    My memory of my oldest brother Fred, nineteen years my senior, goes back some time after he was in business with our father, because by the time of my birth, Ripley had become too small for him, and he had struck out for greener pastures. In Ripley his education had been obtained in the semiprivate schools. After leaving home, Fred attended a business college for a short time, and his first job was the one with the railway company which I mentioned earlier. Later he became a “drummer” (traveling salesman) and spent most of his adult life with the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Fred was the handsome member of the family. He was a sporty dresser, and the money he did not give away or spend on friends he used for clothing and shoes. He had a multitude of friends and was generous to a fault. His reputation as a storyteller was widely known, and when he came home for a visit, his friends, both white and black, gathered around him to hear his witty and interesting, if not always true, stories.

    As soon as the United States declared war on Germany during World War I, Fred volunteered with a group of his friends in a field artillery unit being formed in Memphis and was sent to a camp in Greenville, South Carolina. Shortly before his outfit was to go overseas, he suffered a severe leg injury during some field exercises and had to remain behind when his friends left for embarkation camp. That was perhaps his greatest disappointment. Receiving a discharge because of the injury, he was forced to remain at home. When his surviving buddies returned, he could only listen to them tell of their adventures in France instead of describing his own.

    After the war, Fred received help from the government for a couple of  years, training to become a mortician. After finishing his training and working at that
profession for a short time, he decided it was not for him and spent a year as a purser aboard a transoceanic freighter. Then he went back on the road as a tobacco salesman. He remained single until he was in his forties, probably because he had so many girlfriends he could never decide which one he would favor by asking for her hand in marriage. He then married Irene Hazelgrove, from New Orleans. They made their home in Memphis from which Fred covered his territory for the tobacco company. They had no children.
    The injury Fred received in military camp caused much trouble in the years that followed. He developed very severe varicose veins and was in and out of veterans’ hospitals on several occasions. I think at times there was the possibility that he might  lose the injured leg. Of course he fought that idea, but in the long run, had it been taken off he might have escaped the fatal heart attack which took him instantly at the young age of fifty-one in December 1934. I can think of no better way to close these comments about this brother than to quote from a beautiful tribute written by a Ripley attorney Orbrey Street, an early playmate and boyhood friend of Fred and his first roommate away from home. Street wrote:  “In his heart there seemed to be fixed the law of kindliness and a gentleness that drew others to him. These elements so mixed in him, natural and unstrained, so far as comes to the memory of his boyhood friends, enabled Frederick Lawson Wallace to live and die without an enemy.”

    Next in line was my sister Nina. Like Fred, she obtained what education she could from the then available schools in Ripley. Like many young ladies in small
southern towns at that time, Nina was never married. Many factors contributed to the  numbers of “old maids” in those years. One important factor was the strict religious upbringing of daughters and attitudes of their parents regarding marriage. Because there were few secrets concerning the habits and behavior of the eligible young men about town, few of them were suitable in the eyes of parents. Also, many of the men left home at an early age and found their wives elsewhere. I think, too, with the existing situation and way of life, the girl herself had to have a little something extra—looks, charm, desire to marry, a competitive nature, and, finally, it usually helped a bit if there was some family money.

    This older sister lived at home and helped our mother with the work of the home as long as our parents lived, and she maintained the home for some years thereafter. During World War I, she replaced my brother Lee in the local post office. In earlier years when the Wallace store was thriving, she sometimes helped there on busy days. Other than that, I do not recall her working at outside jobs. After our home in Ripley was sold, the three girls, all unmarried at the time, established a home in Memphis. Since only two of them could be there, and one of those only in the summer because she was teaching elsewhere, that home was later sold, and Nina lived her remaining years with my brother Lee in Memphis and later with sister Laura in New Albany, Mississippi. After suffering for several years from a disintegrated vertebral disk and severe arthritis that developed after surgery, she suffered a heart attack and passed away in 1951 at the
age of sixty-three.

    Nina’s death was unexpected and took place under very unusual circumstances. At the time, she was living in New Albany with our sister Laura and her husband, Bill Ivy. Bill was then in his eighties and had been ill and bedridden for a year or so. Bill suddenly became worse one evening with symptoms suggesting a heart attack. His doctor was called and, after examining him, found that his illness was from some other cause. While the doctor was in the house, Nina had begun to feel uncomfortable but said nothing until he left. She then told Laura that she felt as if she was getting indigestion and went to the bathroom medicine chest to get some Tums, which she used on occasion. Soon Laura heard her call out and hurried to her to find her lying on the floor unconscious. Laura rushed to the phone to call the doctor back, but by the time he returned, Nina was beyond help. Naturally this strange happening made all of us wonder if the doctor had been told when Nina first began to feel ill, could he have done anything to save her?  But, of course, such questions can never be answered, and we could only console ourselves with the thought that she must have had such a massive heart attack that nothing could have prevented her death.

    Laura, the second daughter of the family, was next after Nina. After schooling in Ripley, she attended “Ole Miss” at Oxford. She did not graduate but obtained a teachers certificate and then taught school in New Albany for several years. While teaching, she lived with Mr. and Mrs. Bob Smallwood. Mr. Smallwood was president of the leading bank, and eventually he persuaded Laura to come to work in the bank. She stayed there several years, during which time it seemed that a romance had blossomed between Laura and Ralph Wiseman, another bank employee. However, that did not reach “full bloom” before another gentleman got into the act and eventually became Laura’s husband. This man was William H. Ivy, the owner and operator of the Rainey Hotel in New Albany. Bill Ivy, or “Uncle Bill” as many called him, was a widower and was about twenty years older than Laura. He was known and liked throughout northern Mississippi and was famous for the meals he served in the hotel dining room. At the time when the drummers traveled mostly by train, when possible they managed to spend their on-the-road weekends at Bill’s hotel. Its location at the junction of two railroads made it a convenient stopping place for salesmen, and the sumptuous meals and low prices brought in crowds, especially for Sunday dinners.

    The original Rainey Hotel, a frame building that was destroyed by fire, was built by Paul Rainey, a wealthy New Yorker who had established a hunting lodge near New Albany and at times needed extra space for guests whom he invited for hunting and partying. I shall devote more time to Paul Rainey later. After the first hotel burned, a brick hotel was constructed to replace it. I have no information on the early operation of that hotel nor do I know when Bill Ivy became the owner of it. I do know that Bill was running the hotel when I was still a young boy. After he and Laura were married, they lived in the hotel, and Laura helped with the management of it. I had the pleasure of visiting them on a few occasions and had many unforgettable experiences there.

    Who could ever forget Albert, the head porter, who kept the refrigerator stocked with bobwhite quail so that special guests could have “quail on toast” for breakfast?  Albert was a crack shot, and Bill Ivy gave him a gun, kept him supplied with ammunition, and sent him into the woods and fields frequently enough during hunting season to maintain a constant supply of quail. I also have many remembrances of the headwaiter, Leroy, a lovable old black man who did his utmost at all times to make everyone happy and who, when I was there, gave me special attention because I was “Miss Laura’s” brother.

    The dining room was also famous for the hickory smoked country ham that was always on the menu. Bill Ivy contracted ahead for these from certain farmers who were specialists in producing them. Bill told me that he made a bad mistake in connection with those hams. The story was that when asked by the drummers where he got them, he made the mistake of telling some of them where the hams came from. That resulted in those people going directly to the producers and offering them more than Bill was paying and thus getting some hams. Then, as those purchasers spread the information to their friends, it soon got to where he, Bill, had to get out in the country and “beat the bushes” to get a few good hams.

    Throughout her life my sister always addressed Bill, her husband, as “Mr. Ivy.”  This resulted from the fact that she had done that many years before they were married and afterward when they were operating the hotel. She would never refer to him in any other manner when talking to the hotel workers. After selling the hotel in 1946, they purchased a small home in New Albany where they lived for their remaining years. Bill was well into his eighties when he died in 1959. Laura passed away in 1965 at the age of seventy-six.

    Next in order in the family was brother John, who was given no middle or second Christian name at birth but decided when he was at “Ole Miss” that he needed another one. He selected “Richard” after our Uncle Dick with whom John was then living while attending the university in Oxford. He grew to a height of six feet four inches and appeared even taller because of his light weight and build. He continued studies in a business school while working in Memphis and eventually was employed by one of the Memphis banks. While at that job he took night classes and obtained a degree and license to practice in the legal field. Shortly after, he took a position in the legal department of the Prudential Life Insurance Company where he remained until retirement.

    Many years later the school he attended became a part of the University of  Tennessee, and after John had passed seventy, he and his fellow classmates who had
studied at night school were granted the Bachelor of Laws degree by the university. It was an exciting occasion for him at that age to don cap and gown and
receive a degree along with the younger candidates at a regular graduation ceremony.
    John and Julia Hastings of Port Gibson, Mississippi, were married in 1914 and made their home in Memphis. They had one daughter, Julia, who later was to give
them three grandchildren, and John lived to know at least one great-grandchild. During my early teenage years, it was thrilling for me to go to Memphis to visit, getting to know my first niece and seeing the sights of the big city. It was there, too, that I was introduced to the game of golf, first on a public course near my brother’s home and later at the country club where he was a member. There was no golf course in Ripley, but I retained an interest in the game and took it up seriously when I had the opportunity as a graduate student in St. Paul, Minnesota.

    Throughout most of his adult life, John was active in a Presbyterian church in Memphis and served for many years as treasurer of the home missions
committee of the Presbytery of Memphis. Other than that, his interests and activities were centered around his immediate family, especially his first-born grandson, John Campbell Freeman, whom he supported through medical school and lived to see become a medical doctor. After the death of his wife Julia in 1963, John remarried. At that time he was retired and, except for a honeymoon trip to California and occasional travels to vacation spots in the Southern States, he remained a resident of Memphis until his death in 1968 at the age of seventy-six.


    I do not have details of the establishment of the family store, “J. C. Wallace & Son” and do not know the exact date that it opened for business. I can only estimate that the business was started in 1900 or a year or two before when my brother Fred, the junior partner of the firm, was about eighteen years of age. The store building was near the center of the block of businesses on the south side of the town square. Like most of the existing buildings there, it was a deep, one-storied structure with a small basement under the rear part that served primarily for storage of the winter supply of lump coal used in the potbellied stove, the sole source of heat during winter months. Being of later construction, it was more modern than the older buildings in that it had glass-fronted display windows on either side of the front entrance. By that time, cement walkways about nine feet wide had been laid throughout the downtown section, and these were covered by a tin awning or roof, supported by wooden posts.
    Like other general stores, the merchandise ranged from shotgun shells to shoelaces, including canned food products such as peaches, vegetables, sardines, sockeye salmon, and other edibles; salt pork (side meat or fatback), hams, bacon, lard, sugar, flour, cornmeal, cheese, Karo syrup, and “sugar-house” (cane) molasses. Sometimes during the fall months, locally made sorghum molasses in one-gallon jugs or tin containers was available. There were overalls, boots, shoes, gloves, hats, sweaters, union suits and B.V.D.s (underwear), neckties, dress shirts, attachable stiff collars and other miscellaneous apparel for men. There were a few ready-to-wear items for women including winter union suits, scarves, handkerchiefs, stockings, sweaters, hats, sunbonnets, gloves, and shoes. There were many bolts of calico, gingham, percale, cotton flannel, and unbleached muslin for making dresses, nightgowns, aprons, curtains, and bed sheets. Other than shoes, underwear, gloves, hats, and caps, the store carried few ready-made items for children although some stores carried limited selections of boys’ suits and  girls’ dresses and coats.
    In general, the Wallace store was much like its competitors, but it had an extra something going for it. That was its junior partner, Fred L. Wallace, who, being one of the town sports and a fancy dresser, made it possible for the other young men of the town to obtain the latest in fashionable wearing apparel. Twice each year, in spring and fall, a salesman came with sample books and swatches from which a customer could select suit and overcoat material for made-to-measure clothing. There was always a heavy business during the few days the tailor-salesman was present to show the latest styles and to take measurements of those who ordered suits, overcoats, or pants. The sample books were left in the store, and brother Fred became proficient in taking measurements and thus could make sales throughout the year. Other stores carried ready-made suits for men, but the Wallace store was the first to offer “tailor-made” clothing, and that brought in many customers. Included among these were sons of other local store owners who passed up available clothing in their own stores for the latest in made-to-measure items. Although this clothing business came largely from white customers, there were occasions when some of the young negro men ordered suits or overcoats. I recall the story of one negro customer who, after studying the samples, selected a heavy piece of material in a mild color and pattern for an overcoat. Much to the surprise of Fred Wallace who was making out the order, the customer insisted that the back of the cloth showing a bright red-and-green plaid effect be used for the outside of the finished coat. Because that was what he wanted, that was what he got!
    After a few years in the store, brother Fred apparently decided that Ripley was too small for him, and he left home to take a business course. I do not have details of that period of his life or where he went for that training. However, I know that he was working in a railway company office as I have already mentioned when I was born in October of 1902. It is my recollection that he never returned permanently to Ripley again. For the next few years, the store was managed by my father with hired clerks and part-time help from family members. My second brother John had no interest in becoming a permanent part of the business. Consequently, he attended the University at Oxford for a couple of years and then took a business course, later obtaining a law degree in Memphis where he lived and worked the remainder of his life. For a time my brother Lee worked with my father in the store, but around 1916 he had begun work in the Ripley Post Office. By that time the store had become a one-man operation except on Saturdays and “trade days,” the first Monday of the month when many of the people from the country came to town. During my early years of high school, I, too, worked in the store on busy days, having advanced from an orange crate opener to a clerk.
    Although memory has dimmed by the passing years, I still can recall some of my experiences in the store. Most vivid are the Christmas seasons with the excitement of opening incoming shipments of Christmas toys and putting them on display and the reactions of the children as they watched the smiling mechanical Santa Claus in the display window surrounded by dolls, games, books, and other things that go with Christmas. I remember the ladders behind the counters, suspended from the ceiling to the floor that could be moved where needed to climb to the high shelves. I still have a clear picture of the wrapping paper as it unrolled from the holders with “J. C. WALLACE  & SON” appearing at intervals above the motto of the store, “Live and Let Live.”
    Many times it has occurred to me that my father took the store motto too literally and that in doing so he was not as successful and did not accumulate wealth equivalent to that of some of the other merchants in Ripley. All that I can say now as I try to analyze it is that after a promising start in business, the store became less and less prosperous as the years passed. I think the chief reasons for that are, firstly, the store was operated on too low a margin of profit, and secondly, my father was not a tough collector of what was owed him.
    In those times it was the custom to mark each article with its cost to the store and the selling price, using code letters from a secret word or combination of words having exactly ten letters, none of which was repeated. For marking the articles, the letters in order corresponded to numerals one to nine with the tenth letter representing zero. Thus, if a pair of shoes cost the store $2.60, the letters corresponding to numbers two, six, and zero would be marked on the box and beneath that, the letters corresponding to the numerals making up the selling price. In our store the markup or selling price was in the neighborhood of 10 percent above cost. Normally, however, the indicated selling price would be a bit above 10 percent over cost because few buyers ever settled for the first quoted amount without asking if that was the best price that could be made. All merchants expected that reaction, and most of them responded by some reduction in order to make the customer happy. The marked cost and selling price on each article enabled the clerk to determine just how much discount could be made. In the South, and probably generally over the States at that time, customers usually asked for a discount. I do not know where that custom originated, but, regardless of origin, it became adopted universally, and few shoppers failed to use it.
    When as a youngster I first became inquisitive about the letters I found marked on the various articles in the Wallace store, no one would explain them other than to tell me that they indicated the cost and the selling price. Later when I began to serve as a clerk and had to be told how to interpret those letters, I was surprised and somewhat embarrassed to learn that the code words were “monkey shit.”  I suspect that my fun-loving brother Fred selected this and talked my father into using it with the argument that as long as the words were to remain a store secret, no one in the family would dare to reveal what they were! I know for sure that I never gave away the secret as long as I lived in Ripley.
    Proof that the store’s code words did not become generally known is indicated by the wording of a song that some of the older boys in town used to sing to tease the younger kids whose fathers owned a store. I am sure they changed the name of the store depending on the subject of their teasing, but when I first heard it, I was angry because I took it very seriously as a reflection on our own store. This song was as follows:
            A jaybird flew into Wallace’s store,
            Shit on the counter and shit on the floor,
            Shit in the coffee and shit in the tea,
            Shit on “uncle John” and shit on Lee!

    While I did not like that insult to our store, I was happy that the author of it did not know the code letters used for the cost and selling price, or he would have substituted a monkey for a jaybird! I was to learn later that this kind of poetry was commonplace and was often found on the walls of public toilets.
    I have already mentioned that my father operated his business on a low profit margin. If he did not “knock off” something from the selling price he would “throw in” something extra. For example, with a pair of shoes on which he made a profit of fifty cents, he would include a pair of socks that cost the store about fifteen cents. With the economy being such as it was in those times, the store might have proved reasonably successful as operated had there not been other factors working against it.

    Many customers were low income farm families, some of which my father “carried” on the books during the year with the hope and expectation that when the cotton crops were harvested, ginned, and marketed, he would receive payments for what he was owed. But the cotton market was a gamble every year. The price of cotton depended on the closing price in the Memphis market the preceding day. The procedure for selling cotton in Ripley at that time was that the owner of the cotton, the farmer, would bring his wagon load of raw cotton to town, have it ginned and baled, and haul the bale(s) to the town square. There the merchant who had been the principal backer of the farmer would take a sample of cotton, study its quality, and then make an offer of so much per pound. The farmer then had the privilege of canvassing other cotton buyers in an effort to obtain a better price. Such an operation was always somewhat of a gamble for the buyer, too, because the price fluctuated from day to day, and the return to the local buyer was based on the market price when the cotton reached Memphis some days later.

    When crops were poor and/or prices low, the farmer received insufficient money to pay his debts. When that occurred, the merchant to whom he owed money often had to carry over much of the debt while extending more credit to the debtor. Two bad years in succession or a series of bad years meant that the merchants who had been too free with extending credit were forced to write off many substantial debts. Often in the absence of cash to apply to what he owed, the farmer would substitute other things toward the debt such as a load of firewood, a few bushels of corn, some sweet potatoes, or a jug or two of sorghum molasses. Such a barter system was commonly practiced, and many small debts were taken care of through it. It extended as well to the smalltown or country doctors who rarely received cash for their services to farm families.
    I can remember my father coming home each evening carrying the daily charge account book and a large ledger in which was recorded the running accounts of many of his farmer customers. It was necessary to bring these home because of the danger of their loss in downtown fires, which occurred not too infrequently. I am sure that could I find those books, they would show numerous sizable accounts not paid. I have no information regarding the economic conditions in Ripley during the years 1905-16, but I am sure there were years when the businessmen who were not shrewd and perhaps not a bit cold-hearted lost considerable money from uncollectible accounts. I think as a businessman my father lacked those characteristics, because when he was left to manage the store without the help of my older brothers, the business became less and less profitable. Finally in 1917, as his health began to fail, the store closed out, and J. C. Wallace and Son was no more.


    When I entered school in September 1909 just a month before my seventh birthday, I was already well trained in the three Rs. This had resulted from the home schooling I had received from my sister Mary, five years my senior, and her friends who enjoyed playing teacher with me as the pupil. I entered what was known as Ripley High School, which was the entire school system for the white pupils, housing in separate rooms of the one building the primary, or as now described, kindergarten classes, grades one and two, three and four, and five and six with one teacher for each room. Grades seven to eleven were grouped in a large room filled largely with desks but with some space for benches and chairs when this room served as an auditorium for public functions. The school principal presided over this room and taught classes at its front where there were benches for the students and blackboards at the rear of a stage. Other classes were taught in two small rooms at the front of the building. In 1916 when I completed the eighth grade, instruction was being given through eleven grades, and the school held its first graduation that year.
    The school occupied an old, two-story building built in 1883 for a private institution, Stonewall College, which like some other institutes or academies established in the South in the post-Civil War years served for about four months as a public school and as a private, or tuition school, for four to five months. The merging of Stonewall College with another local private school resulted in a name change to Ripley Male and Female Institute, which occupied the building until it was purchased by the Board of Alderman of Ripley in anticipation of creation of a separate Ripley School District. Such a district was formed in 1905, and Ripley High School came into existence. As I remember it, the old building was quite dilapidated and far from modern. Rooms were heated by large coal and wood-burning stoves. The absence of inside toilets called for well-separated boy and girl “outhouses” located as far from the school building as space permitted.
    The school principal, always male, kept order and taught classes at the front of this room, which contained sufficient desks for all students in these upper grades. Women taught in the two small rooms at the front of the building. In those years, women were capable of handling most disciplinary problems because classes were small and all pupils knew that the teachers had the consent of parents to use whatever action was necessary to keep order.
    None of the students living within the corporate limits of town had more than three-quarters of a mile between their homes and school. Thus, all walked to and from school, and most went home during the noon hour for the “dinner” meal. Students living outside of town had daily round-trips of from two to six miles. When weather was good, those living within a mile and a half also walked, but those from longer distances came on horseback or by horse-drawn vehicles. For those who normally walked to school from country homes, the muddy roads in the winter months made overshoes and rubber boots a necessity. Students of families living some distance out of town but adjacent to the railroad considered themselves fortunate because they could walk on the tracks, which passed directly by the school grounds.
    In the summer of 1915, the old building was removed and replaced by one of brick construction, two-storied, and with a basement containing in the center a boiler furnace to provide steam heat and at either end, boys and girls toilet rooms. Rooms for the lower grades occupied the first floor. On the second floor there was a large central room with several rows of theater chairs across the rear. The remaining space was filled with desks for students in grades eight to eleven. At the front there was a stage with small rooms at each side. One of these served as a scantily stocked library and the other as a music room where students whose parents were willing to pay the small cost could have piano lessons from a teacher who came on certain school days. These rooms served also as backstage space or dressing rooms during school performances or plays. Opening from the central room on both sides at the rear were two small rooms where other recitation periods were held.

    The teacher in charge of the central room, usually the principal, held recitation periods at the front while seeing that those seated at their desks were studying or at least not misbehaving. With this large auditorium room serving on school days as both a study hall and a classroom, it was not much different from the old one-room schoolhouse. But for the most part, the holding of classes at the front, with students reciting or working algebra problems on the blackboards at the back of the stage did not seem to interfere greatly with those working at their desks.
    The new schoolhouse with its steam heat and inside toilets was real progress for the town of Ripley, and I think that most of the citizens who fought against the bond issue were proud of it when it was completed. I am certain that we who were attending Ripley High School liked the improved facilities and thought we were a bit superior to the other schools in the county.
    There were no indoor sports facilities, but on the grounds there were play areas for the young children and spaces for a tennis court, a basketball court, and an undersized baseball field. There were school basketball teams of both girls and boys and baseball teams for the latter. On occasions these teams competed with schools in nearby towns. There was no coaching per se, but at times a teacher would instruct the players to the extent of their knowledge of the sport and would supervise and referee local play as well as contests with other schools. Usually, however, after being taught the rules of basketball or baseball, the students had to develop their ability by watching older players and by the experience of play and practice. I began to play baseball when very young and had a thorough knowledge of that sport and some playing ability by the time I entered high school. The fact that I was very small in stature and weight did not affect my ability as a player on the school teams but worked against me decidedly on the basketball court, when I frequently found myself pitted against a strong, strapping farm boy a foot taller and about seventy-five pounds heavier than I.
    There were many things we did not have in our school, but we were blessed with capable teachers who took their work seriously and expected the students to do the same. The three Rs plus penmanship and spelling were stressed through the intermediate grades. Spelling contests were held frequently and few, if any, students were poor spellers when they reached eighth grade. For penmanship we used copybooks with sentences written in script at the top that the students were to imitate on blank lines below. When we first began to use the copybooks, the teachers would inspect our work and help us when we needed assistance. As we progressed, each of us developed our distinct style of writing but had to continue to fill the pages of the copybooks to improve speed and legibility.

    Much time was given to basic arithmetic, English grammar, and Mississippi and U.S. history in the upper intermediate grades. Our high school years, grades eight through eleven, included three years of Latin, taking us through Caesar and Cicero. Our math studies introduced us to algebra and plane geometry. There were courses in American and European history, physics, literature, civics (government), a lot of English and composition, and at least an introduction to human physiology. This last-named course covered only that which could be presented to a mixed class of boys and girls, so naturally no mention was made of certain parts of the body and their functions. In fact, I am sure the textbook we used would have been banned had it even mentioned the word “sex”!
    I had no particular difficulties with any of the high school subjects, but like the majority of young boys, I did not appreciate the value of learning Latin and a lot of history. If I had favorite subjects, I think they were literature and English composition. I do not know that I had any special liking for mathematics, but I did well, partly because I had inspiring teachers who taught me to enjoy the challenge of correctly solving the mathematical problems. In my later college years, I became thankful for the teachers I had in high school and the quality of training they gave us in that small-town school. I sailed through my college English courses with no difficulty while many of my classmates had to struggle to get a passing grade. Still later, in graduate study, I even became thankful that my high school Latin teacher had insisted that we would find a use for that “dead” language. The training I received in Latin grammar helped a great deal when I took courses to acquire a reading knowledge of French and German. Additionally, some knowledge of Latin was very helpful to me in taxonomic studies and subsequent research in my chosen profession in the biological sciences.
    From Monday through Friday during the school year, there were few distractions to take us away from our studies. There was baseball or basketball during recesses and lunch hours for older students, and sometimes we stayed for some play after school. On the whole, however, most extracurricular activities, including any social affairs, had to be planned for weekends. Sometimes there were school plays, and those in the cast rehearsed after school or in the evening. There was no PTA, but at least once a year the pupils of the different rooms put on programs for the parents. These included displays of artwork, writing skills, and student performances in elocution, mathematics, and spelling.
    In the spring of each year, a major event was what was known as County Field Day. This actually consumed two days, a Friday and Saturday, at which time representatives from all public schools in the county assembled at Ripley High School to compete scholastically and in certain athletic events. The latter included some track events—110-yard dash, broad jump, and pole vaulting—and basketball contests. While the athletic contests were being held outside, judges were busy inside selecting those students within different grade levels who would perform as finalists on Saturday evening in spelling, recitation, or declamation, and debating before a well-filled auditorium.

    After I reached the upper grades, I played on our basketball teams, but it seemed that each year just a few days before Field Day it would be discovered that our school needed an entrant for the boys’ declamation. I know that happened two successive years when, with no time to memorize something new, I had to recite Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith” or a poem entitled “1492,” which dealt with the problem a young student had in remembering historical dates. In that poem Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Washington crossed the Delaware, etc., in that year, and it ended with, “And I think the cow jumped over the moon in 1492.”  Both times I was a contestant, my chief competitor was Pleasant McBride from the Chalybeate School, who stood before the audience well rehearsed oratorically to present Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” or Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death.”  The result was that Pleasant McBride always went home with the blue ribbon and first prize, usually a gift order from a local merchant worth a dollar or two.
    With the passage of so many years, only one other incident related to those Field Days remains clear in my mind, and I think it will be of interest to leave a record of it. This occurred during an evening performance of the finalists and involved one of the older contestants, Duke Humphrey, a tall, awkward, country boy from Dumas Institute, a school located in the community of Dumas some ten miles east of Ripley. As a finalist in the speaking or oratorical contest, Duke walked onto the stage in his tight-fitting suit, brown shoes, high celluloid collar, and necktie to recite the poem, “Down by the Rio Grande.”  Scared and somewhat red-faced, he launched into his recitation with vigor and feeling. After a few verses he suddenly became silent. He blushed and fidgeted while attempting to speak, but the words would not come. Finally he composed himself sufficiently to reach into his coat pocket for a copy of the poem. After locating the verse he needed, he returned the paper to his pocket and took off again. But once again his memory failed him, and he quickly drew the copy from his pocket and hurriedly turned the pages to find his place. Then, holding the copy conveniently at hand, he partially regained his composure and doggedly finished the poem. The sympathetic audience, having suffered with him through his trying ordeal, gave him a good round of applause, but none who witnessed his performance that evening could have dreamed of what the future held for this young man.

    Inasmuch as his later accomplishments in the educational field provide an interesting sequel to the story I have just given, I will present it here. I believe that after finishing high school, Duke Humphrey attended the State Teachers College for a time because he became a teacher and was principal of Ripley High School in the early 1920s. In 1924 he became county superintendent of schools, and during the next five years he completed sufficient courses at nearby Blue Mountain College to graduate in 1929 with a bachelor’s degree, one of the seven male graduates from that school for girls. Subsequently he earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Ohio State University. After serving as principal at another Mississippi high school, in 1934 he was named president of Mississippi A & M College at Starkville (now Mississippi State University). During his tenure, that institution grew in size and status, and Humphrey established a reputation as a leading educator. He was sought by other colleges and universities but remained at Mississippi State until 1945, when he assumed the presidency of the University of Wyoming in Laramie, remaining there until his retirement. Under his direction and leadership, the University of Wyoming developed into an outstanding institution of learning, and Duke gained further recognition, serving on the National Science Foundation Board and as president of both the Association of American Colleges and the National Association of American Universities.
    Duke Humphrey married Miss Joe Robertson, who was from a prominent Ripley family. After Duke and Joe had lived in Laramie for several years, I had an opportunity to stop for a day with them as my wife and I were driving east from California. It was pleasant to renew acquaintance with these old friends from Ripley and to have President Duke show me around the campus of the university. While having lunch with them in their home, a picture came back to me of the red-faced country boy from Dumas forgetting the words of “Down by the Rio Grande,” but I thought it best not to mention that incident.

    After that visit, Duke and I exchanged Christmas cards and an occasional letter, but I never saw either of them again. Some years after Duke’s retirement, I learned of his death. That sad news caused me to think of the heights he reached in his successful career. Now in my retirement years, I am happy still to find in the alumni magazine of Mississippi State University articles referring to “the Duke,” showing how well he is remembered and respected for what he did for “State” while serving as its president. I am sure the University of Wyoming and its alumni have that same remembrance of him. Perhaps buildings on his two campuses now bear his name in addition to the one I know, Humphrey Field House at Mississippi State. If there is not a Humphrey High School somewhere in Tippah County in northern Mississippi, there certainly should be one, preferably in the vicinity of Dumas, to honor this person who will always rank at the top of the list of educators who came from that part of the state.
    There is little more of importance to record concerning my years as a student in Ripley High School as I progressed from eighth to eleventh grade. Even though there may have been events of interest, one’s memory dims after more than sixty years. I remember that during my last two years, the principal was L. H. Jobe who taught math and physics. In earlier years he had been instrumental in developing Dumas Institute into an outstanding school and had served a term as county superintendent of schools just before coming to Ripley High School. He was a fine educator and was respected by the students.

    By the time I reached my junior year I had plans and hopes of going to college, although I had not settled on the institution or field of study. Following the first formal graduation at Ripley High School in 1915, “going away” to college was becoming more commonplace. My sister Mary was attending what is now Mississippi State College for Women, and my brother Hugh had entered Mississippi A & M College in the fall of 1917.

    When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the activities of the high school students changed. Having brothers in military camps or fighting in Europe, food rationing, hearing stories of German atrocities, and our built-up hatred of the Kaiser stimulated a patriotic fervor that had us putting small amounts of money in war stamps, writing to our soldier boys, and studying the casualty lists that appeared daily in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. In general, the male students looked forward to reaching the age when they could volunteer and get into the action. With my brother Fred in a field artillery camp in Greenville, South Carolina, brother Lee in a cavalry unit in Monterey, California, and Hugh in SATC (Student Army Training Corps) at college, there were many letters to write. Receiving their letters was very exciting for me, especially those from Lee with photographs and tales of the wonders of California. Receiving a photo of Lee with Sam Vick, a professional baseball player from the Memphis “Chicks” (Chickasaws) who was on the team of the New York Yankees after the war, I believe, made me a V. I. P. with my baseball-playing friends, and I showed the picture at every opportunity.
    When the armistice was signed in November 1918, our school activities gradually returned to normal. Also, families became more settled and relieved as the servicemen returned. Because of a leg injury he received in field maneuvers, my brother Fred had been discharged when his outfit was sent overseas, and he had gone back on the road as a tobacco salesman. My brother Lee, having remained in camps in California for the duration, was discharged early because of our father’s illness and had been at home a month or two when Dad passed away in the spring of 1919 at the age of sixty-three, the first of our family of ten to go. Brother Hugh continued his studies at Mississippi A & M, holding a military reserve commission that he kept active for many years. With a few months of high school left for me, I continued planning for college and applied for a scholarship, having to wait nervously until early summer for the answer.


    During school months there were not many organized activities for teenagers, and, for the most part, we had to develop our own fun, play, and social affairs. There were Sunday schools and church organizations such as Epworth League in the Methodist Church and the BYPU (Baptist Young Peoples Union) sponsored by the Baptist Church. Some of us belonged to both because that gave more opportunities for boy and girl get-togethers at the meetings and at the groups’ occasional social affairs. Local girls’ parents  sometimes let them have evening parties in their homes. When we first began to attend such affairs, the girls were not yet permitted to date. That meant a parent, usually Mama, brought the daughter to the party and returned for her at an early hour. As we got older, boys could call for the girl and take her home after the party. However, a strict curfew was enforced, and there was no lingering along the way or spending any time with the girl after you got her home. By the time we were juniors or seniors, there were many sweetheart relationships and steady dating. We could then take our girlfriend to a party and remain a while when we returned to her home, either in the “parlor” or, in summer, sitting with her in the porch swing. With most mothers, however, those privileges were limited, and the daughter was notified at an early hour that it was bedtime for her. That meant a quick “goodnight” and perhaps a fast goodbye kiss if both parties felt safe from Mama’s eyes.
    Occasionally in summertime, one of the girls would have a house party with out-of-town cousins or other girlfriends coming to spend a few days at her home. During such times, there would be numerous parties, picnics, and occasionally an evening hayride. These were always well chaperoned and left little opportunity for boys and girls to pair off by themselves except at evening parties when we played such contrived games as Spin the Bottle, Clap In and Clap Out, etc., which permitted the fellows to “win” a girl and take her for a walk around the block. Sometimes the presence of a pretty out-of-town girl stirred up strong rivalries among the boys. New love affairs blossomed that resulted in an exchange of a few letters after the visiting beauty returned to her hometown. Soon, however, correspondence ceased, and the fellows took up again with their first loves.
    Much of the social life of my crowd in Ripley was centered in the home of my best pal, Bob Hines. His lovely parents, whom everyone knew as Miss Ora and Mr. Claude, were much younger than my parents. The eldest of their five children, Tommy, was only about five years my senior. Then came Sara, Bob, Lee, and Ada. During my boyhood, I spent many happy hours in this family’s home, and, after my parents were gone, there was kind of a mutual adoption between us. Youthful in spirit and with a love for young people, Miss Ora and Mr. Claude were in turn loved by everyone, and they gave all of us much happiness in those years. My relationships with this family was such that it would not be possible for me to describe my early years in Mississippi and even later periods without making references to these dear friends.
    Long before automobiles became commonplace in Ripley, Mr. Claude, a local merchant, purchased a truck. I think it was a visionary act on his part in that it provided motorized hauling service for the community, which up to that time was by horse-drawn dray wagons belonging to Whitten’s livery stable. Additionally, it provided a means of keeping the boys of the family occupied at income-producing jobs. There was local hauling as well as loads from the brick kiln, bottling works, and wholesale grocery in New Albany, eighteen miles south of Ripley. Bob Hines began to drive the truck by the time he was fourteen and, like Huckleberry Finn, he never lacked for young friends to make the trips with him. The novelty and excitement for us to ride such distances in that wonderful machine made us happy to go along and to help load and unload.

    I made several trips with him, but the memory of only one of these remains clearly in mind. This was the time we were returning from New Albany on a hot summer day with the truck loaded with crates filled with bottles of Coca-Cola and soda pop:  red strawberry, purple grape, yellow lemon, green lime, and pink peach—all mouthwatering flavors.

    All went well as we moved slowly along the narrow, winding dirt road that had been made a bit slick by a passing summer shower. Chugging on in low gear up a slight hill, there was a sudden burst of steam from the radiator cap, and Bob knew at once that there was a shortage of water. We came to a stop and, noting a small house a short distance away, Bob took off for it and, after a while, returned accompanied by an elderly black man carrying a bucket of water.

    After the engine had cooled, Bob poured the water into the radiator and replaced the cap. Then he took a bottle of pop from the truck and removed the cap with a quick downward blow to the top of the bottle. He gave the bottle to the old negro who, after studying it for a while, drank it slowly, one swallow at a time. Concentrating on the empty bottle, the old man looked at Bob and said, “What y’all call dat?”  

    Bob replied, “That was grape soda.”  

    Smacking his lips and trying for one last drop from the bottle, the old man said, “Dat ain’t what I calls it. Y’all knows what I calls it?”  

    To our reply, “No, what you call it?” he said with a smile, “I calls it mo’!”  He never would have asked outright for another bottle, but his “subtle” hint brought results. After he had finished the second bottle, we bade him good-bye and were on our way, leaving a happy old black man thinking, no doubt, how he had put one over on a couple of young white boys.
    In my family as in others, there were home chores to which we fell heir just as soon as older brothers or sisters could pass them down to us. In my case, and I think in most other families, there was no regular allowance and normally no cash payments for jobs done around the home. There were some arguments between family members at times as to who was to do what job, but, for the most part, our parents made it explicit as to who was to do what. The boys took care of the outside work: the daily supply of kindling, firewood, and coal, feeding of livestock, milking, and before we had running water, pumping water for household use and for the livestock. As the youngest of our family, there came a time when I was the last of five sons living at home. Thus I found myself with all the man’s work except what my father took care of. At that time he took over the morning shift on the “barnyard detail” while I had the evening shift, which involved feeding two horses and milking one cow. I had learned to milk at an early age of innocence and curiosity when my brother Hugh was delighted to teach me and pass the job on to me. I never minded caring for the horses because they were my friends, and I rode them often. The only real objection to the job of milking was my dad’s insistence that it had to be done exactly on schedule. That sometimes interrupted baseball or other activities so that I could get home and have the milking finished before Dad came home from the store.
    There were jobs for me to do around home even before I was old enough to milk or take care of the horses. Always during the summer, we had to acquire the winter’s supply of wood for fireplaces and the kitchen stove. This came either from store customers who brought it as payments on their accounts or from the tenant family on our farm north of town. My father was insistent that the wood be stacked soon after it was delivered. That not only made for neatness, but it occupied less space and the wood stayed dryer during winter rains. Adjoining the wood lot was what we called the “well house” in that it enclosed the well from which we pumped water for both the farm animals and domestic use until the town water system became available. The well house was a large room where a good quantity of firewood was kept so as to always have some that was dry. The surplus was stacked along a fence in the wood lot. Sometimes my older brothers whose job it was to stack the wood made a deal with me and would pay me a nickel or a dime for stacking a wagon load after it was delivered.

    Once when I was about ten years old, I was busy working away at the woodpile, and feeling happy that I had been promised a dime for the job, I began to sing. After a few verses of “Old Black Joe,” “Way Down Upon the Swanee River,” and other songs of my repertoire, I slid into a one-verse song I had heard some of the older boys sing without my knowing just what the words insinuated. In a loud voice I sang:
        “Come all you fellers if you want to flirt.
         Here comes a lady in a hobble skirt.
         But all you can do is to hug and squeeze,
         Cause you can’t get the hobble up above her knees!”

    My sister Laura happened to be near enough to hear me, and she angrily told me I must not sing such bad songs and that she would tell our mother if she ever heard me singing that again. Never having really understood the point of the verse, I was puzzled at her reaction, but I thought I should not ask her for an explanation. It was not until I discussed this with a friend of mine who was better informed on male and female relations that I understood why I should not sing such a song within my sister’s hearing.
    Like other early teenage boys, I was always available for paying jobs around town. During summer months we would work at any temporary jobs that became available. These included such farm work as setting sweet potato plants and picking cotton. The blacks usually did that kind of fieldwork, but on occasions farmers needed extra helpers, and we would be hired. For picking cotton we were paid by the pound, usually at the rate of about one dollar per hundred pounds. Strapping a long sack over our shoulders, we would work down the rows, usually on our knees, gathering cotton from all the opened bolls. If we worked hard at it we could pick a hundred pounds in a long day of work. Sometimes our earnings were less when working in fields where the land was infertile and produced what one of my friends described as “bumblebee” cotton. When asked why he gave it that name he replied, “On this poor land cotton plants are so small a bumblebee has to lie on his back to pollinate the flowers.”
    In the summer of 1915 when the new school building was constructed, several of my young friends and I got jobs helping haul bricks to the school grounds from a railroad siding near the station. The bricks were made in New Albany and shipped to Ripley in freight cars. The owner of the livery stable took the contract to deliver the bricks to the construction site by means of horse-drawn wagons. He took advantage of youthful labor by hiring a group of us at twenty-five cents a day to load the wagons at the freight car, ride with the driver to the school grounds, and stack the bricks where they were needed. That job lasted only a week or two, but we were glad to work at it in spite of the low pay. It provided an opportunity for a group of friends to spend the days together, and the prospect of having a new high school building made us feel that we were doing something for the community. With the prevailing wage for adult laborers around one dollar per day, we accepted our low wage as proper for kids our age although all of us on the hauling detail were envious of one of our gang who got the job as water boy at the construction site and drew the magnificent pay of fifty cents per day.
    On the family farm, in addition to cotton, my father always had the tenant plant corn and cowpeas. The white dent corn was grown primarily as feed for horses and for grinding into meal for corn bread, but before it matured and hardened it was used as boiled corn, or “roastin’ ears” as we knew it, for human consumption. Cowpeas, both black-eyed and speckled, prepared as southerners cooked them were table favorites of most families. When these two crops came in season, I harvested quantities of them and peddled them around town to make some money. The roastin’ ears sold for fifteen cents a dozen, and the cowpeas brought ten cents for as much as it took to loosely fill a water bucket. Using our black horse “Old Joe” hitched to our runabout buggy, I drove about town hawking my products and picking up spending money and occasionally something to deposit in my savings account.
    Another business venture that I engaged in with my brother Hugh or one of my friends was lemonade stands. During the hot summers on Monday trade days or other special occasions when there was to be a large crowd of people in town, we would sell lemonade. Apparently that activity had been going on for many years before my time, because the businessmen always cooperated with the young lemonade sellers. The stand was set up on the previous day, and the first step was to go to the local lumberyard and borrow five 1 x 12 planks about eight feet long. These were carried to our business location and placed on barrels, two at the front and one on the other three sides. Early next morning we tacked oilcloth over the front serving area. This extended toward the ground sufficiently to hide from view two zinc washtubs that, with some buckets and a couple dozen glasses, had been borrowed from local stores. We purchased lemons and sugar on credit from Babe McAlister’s grocery store, and after juicing the lemons and adding water and sugar along with the lemon rinds to make up our four or five gallons, one of us would go to the local icehouse owned by Mr. “Fayette” Nance with enough cash to purchase a twenty-five-pound block of ice. Because of Mr. Nance’s reputation for thriftiness, we never dared ask him for credit!  With the lemonade well chilled we were then ready for business, and as the country folks began to fill up the town square, we prayed for a blazing hot day.

    On those days of July and August our prayers were usually answered, and by ten o’clock the customers began to arrive at our stand, drawn by their thirst and our sales cries of “Ice cold lemonade, two glasses for a nickel.”  Used glasses were dipped in one bucket of water and rinsed in a second and then used again. As the supply of lemonade dwindled, one of us would squeeze more lemons and make up another batch to be poured into the iced tub. As the day wore on, if it appeared that we had more drink prepared than we could sell, we began to call out that our ice-cold lemonade was then selling for three glasses for a nickel. Sometimes other kids had their stands not too distant from us so that the time and extent of price reduction depended on what our competitors were doing. Normally business was quite good because we made a tasty drink and at the price of two glasses for a nickel, a customer could treat a friend for five cents or a father could get glasses for himself, his wife, and four kids for fifteen cents. Thus, we were able to compete with the stores that sold soda pop for five cents a bottle.
    At the close of our business day we would count our intake, pay what we owed for lemons and sugar and divide our profits. Then came the job of washing the borrowed glasses, buckets, and tubs and returning them to the merchants who had loaned them to us. Next we had the job of dismantling the stand and carrying the borrowed planks back to the lumberyard. When all work was finished and if business had been good, we would find that each of us had netted from two to three dollars. The following morning usually found me in the bank with my passbook to deposit all or a part of my earnings in my savings account.
    The Ripley icehouse was owned and operated by M. L. Nance, whom everyone knew as “Fayette” (from Lafayette). He began to have ice shipped by rail from New Albany sometime after it began to be manufactured there. The ice arrived in three-hundred-pound blocks and was buried under sawdust in a room and insulated as well as could be done at that time. As needed, a large block would be removed to an adjoining room where it would be sawed into smaller pieces and again deeply buried under sawdust. Many customers stopped at the icehouse daily for a nickel’s or a dime’s worth of ice for their noontime ice tea or buttermilk. Others with iceboxes would buy larger pieces, and sometimes when ice cream socials were planned in the country communities, the buyer might purchase larger amounts. In fact, if the ice had to be hauled several miles by wagon on a hot summer day, one would have to start with two hundred pounds if he expected to get home with half that much even with the best of protection against melting. Mr. Nance became so experienced that he could saw a small piece of ice to within an ounce of what it should be, but still he weighed each piece and charged to within a quarter of a pound. When a purchaser got a small piece, a string was tied around it so that it could be carried easily. One often saw downtown workers walking home for their noon dinner meal with a little piece of ice swinging from the fingers of one hand. The thriftiness of Nance was well known and at times was the subject of discussion and jokes. Some said that when it was necessary for him to uncover a large block of ice from which to cut a small piece, he would charge a little extra for the melting of the large piece before he got it back under the sawdust. One local punster in describing what he claimed to be a true experience said that one hot day when he stopped by the icehouse to get a nickel’s worth of ice that “old man Fayette Nance gave me such a little piece of ice that by the time I’d walked home four blocks, all I had left was a wet string!”
    Another effort to earn money involved my becoming a distributor of a Memphis newspaper, the News Scimitar. I obtained some twenty subscribers for this paper, a competitor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. However, that project did not succeed because after a couple of months I lost most of the subscribers. That came about because the News Scimitar was an evening paper, and it did not arrive in Ripley until the morning after publication and could not compete with the Commercial Appeal, a morning paper that reached Ripley within a few hours after it came off the press.

    When my brother Lee Wallace went into the military service, he left a job in the local post office, and my eldest sister Nina was hired to replace him. As other employees went off to war and more help was needed, I was employed there for afterschool hours and weekends. The local postmaster, Mr. John Smallwood, like all others postmasters, was a political appointee and had been given the job when Woodrow Wilson assumed the U.S. presidency in 1913. It is my recollection that he was paid a salary from Washington and that money taken in from money orders, registration fees, and possibly from stamp sales also went to the postmaster who used it to pay any additional workers he needed. The income from money order fees—three cents on each one dollar or its fraction—was more than sufficient to pay the full wages of a clerk at the prevailing low salaries.

    One reason for the lucrative return from money orders was the numerous orders that went to Sears, Roebuck and other mail-order companies. However, even more fees were collected on money orders being sent to Memphis for whiskey. When the six rural (R. F. D.) mail carriers returned to the office in late afternoon, they brought with them unsealed envelopes containing the sender’s order, the amount of cash needed for the money order, the money order fee, and two cents for a stamp. In those pre-Prohibition days, whiskey was delivered by railway express in Ripley from Memphis distributors at $3 per gallon jug. Actually, as the Christmas season approached, the daily passenger train from the north spent more time in the stations waiting for the whiskey to be unloaded than for letting off or taking on passengers!  

    After school on weekdays, it was my job to receive the letters and money from the mail carriers, write up the money orders, and put the letters in the mail. That often required me to work for some time after the five o’clock closing of the post office windows. On Saturday and Sundays, I assisted with canceling, sorting, and then tying outgoing letters according to their destination. For example, if there were five or more letters going to the same city, these were tied with string so that the railway mail clerk could quickly get them into the proper bag in the mail car.
    I have no recollection of what my hourly wage was in the post office, but I am sure it was not more than fifteen cents. That would have been quite good pay for a fifteen-year-old in those years, and it was a job I liked. It was fun to see the rural carriers as they loaded their saddlebags or other weatherproof containers with mail, depending on whether they were going horseback, by buggy, or in the case of one of the six, a Model T Ford that he used when the roads were dry. I also enjoyed the stories the carriers often had to tell about the muddy roads, the weather, or the characters they served on their routes. As winter set in, the carriers sometimes informed us that “old man” Jones or Barkley or others on his route had done some “hog-killing” and had some good pork sausage for sale. Or we learned that a farmer was to slaughter a beef animal, and if we wished we could chip in and buy a side of beef. When we took advantage of such an opportunity, the carrier would bring in the beef, and after it was cut into steaks, roasts, etc., each purchaser received his share.
    I remember once on a cold, rainy, winter day after a side of beef had been cut up and distributed the previous day, the assistant postmaster, Bob McCarley, got the idea of using the leftover bones and trimmings to make some soup. Borrowing a large enamel container from a nearby store, he put the soup bones and leftover meat in water on top of the large, potbellied stove where it cooked for several hours. Then, purchasing cans of corn, tomatoes, string beans, and English peas, he added these along with some Irish potatoes and the necessary seasoning. After that simmered for another couple of hours, the result was a delicious, rich soup or more correctly a beef and vegetable stew. While this was taking place, the post office began to smell like a Greek restaurant, bringing questions from nearly all patrons that day. Our explanation was that we were preparing a surprise for the carriers, and the project turned out to be just that. As each cold and wet carrier returned to the office and was greeted by a steaming bowl of that delicious concoction, their enjoyment and appreciation could not be measured.
    Another reason I enjoyed working in the post office was that I got to see and visit with almost every citizen of the town each day as they came to take mail from their combination lockboxes or to purchase stamps and mail letters and packages. It was exciting also to see the letters that arrived with the mark AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) from overseas soldiers. Often the recipients of these would open them and give us the news from their soldier boys. On occasion there was great sadness when fathers opened an official War Department letter that began with, “We regret to inform you that your son, Private _________ __________ was killed in action in France on______________. “  As we saw these letters and placed them in the addressee’s box, our hope and prayer was that it would read “wounded in action” instead of bringing the final, distressing news.
    I was proud, at my age, to have such an important position, and I enjoyed the work in the post office. The postmaster, Mr. Smallwood, and Bob McCarley were both likable, fun-loving individuals. They liked to tease me whenever there was an opportunity, but I learned to hold my own with them. Mr. Smallwood liked to hunt, and because I was then the owner of a good bird dog that I had raised and trained after my brother Lee acquired it as a puppy, he would ask me to go hunting with him. I liked to go out for quail (bobwhites), and we had some good hunts. I had learned to shoot by the time I was twelve and went frequently with my brothers or friends for quail or cottontail rabbits. Having four older brothers who liked to hunt, I can recall no time during my boyhood when we did not have one or more hunting dogs.
    An incident in the post office that I can never forget involved my dog and Phil Gray, a somewhat elderly negro who worked at the railway depot. Phil also had the job of transporting the mail between the depot and the post office, a distance of four town blocks. About forty minutes before the scheduled arrival of an incoming train, he would arrive at the post office with his large-wheeled pushcart. The outgoing large parcel post sacks that closed by means of a drawstring or cord and the padlocked first-class sacks were piled on the floor to be carried by Phil Gray to the cart near the front entrance. As soon as he was let into the working part of the building, he studied the pile of mailbags in preparation for getting them loaded on the cart. Wishing to load the heaviest first, he habitually tested the weight of the large parcel-post sacks, and the heavy ones he would swing over his shoulder as he carried them outside.
    On one occasion, Bob McCarley suggested I play a trick on Phil, using my bird dog that frequently came with me to the office and slept on the empty sacks under the sorting bench. Selecting one of the largest bags, we placed the dog in it, tightened the draw cords, and placed it with the other outgoing mail. The dog seemed to know what we expected of him because he remained still and quiet. Finding that particular sack a bit heavy, Phil collected some lighter ones in one hand and with the other swung the heavy sack over his shoulder. It so happened that the dog was then upside down, and he quickly turned to right himself. Feeling the movement, Phil instantly dropped all the sacks he was holding, quickly stepped away, and said to us with a frightened look, “Lawdy me, der’s sompin’ movin’ in dat sack.”  We told him that couldn’t be, but he remained insistent and would not go near it. Finally agreeing to examine it, we opened the sack and out crawled the dog. Regaining his composure and realizing that we had played a joke on him, Phil joined us in laughter. However, from that time on when he came for the mail, he carefully felt each large mail sack before taking it out to be sure that it did not contain “sompin’ ‘live.”

    Isolated as we were in rural northern Mississippi, we saw little of active war preparations. Seeing the departure of local boys for military camps, a uniformed service man on home leave, and the arrival of a flag-draped casket accompanied by a military guard were the principal reminders that our nation was at war. There were occasional reports of soldiers wounded or killed in action in the overseas fighting, but those whose bodies were returned for burial at home were soldiers who, for the most part, had died from influenza during the severe epidemic that swept the country in the winter of 1918-19. The illness and death among the civilian population caused many to think only of the battle being faced on the home front.

    However, there were two happenings that caused excitement locally and brought the war a bit closer to us. The first of these events was a planned visit and landing of an aeroplane in Ripley, and the second was a search for and roundup of Army deserters. I am sure I could find accurate details of these in the files of the Southern Sentinel, but since that source is not available to me, I shall have to rely on my memory.

    The visit of the aeroplane was a part of the campaign to encourage the purchase of war bonds and war stamps and was well advertised ahead of time. At that time it is safe to say that no citizen of Tippah County had seen a flying machine, so it was exciting news when we learned that on a certain day a plane would fly out from a field in Memphis and land in Ripley. Everyone awaited it anxiously, and on the scheduled day most citizens of the county came to town to view this spectacle. Arrangements were made for the plane to land in a large, flat pasture about one-half mile north of town, and the arrival time was to be around ten o’clock in the morning. Just as I was leaving my home at nine o’clock so as to reach the landing place in good time, I heard in the distance a sound resembling that of a truck motor with its exhaust open. Focusing toward the sound, I spotted a tiny speck in the sky and knew immediately that the plane was coming. Quickly calling to my mother and sister, who rushed to join me, we stood in awe as the small plane drew nearer and eventually passed over at an elevation of about 1500 feet.

    For some moments none of us spoke, but when we could no longer see the plane, my mother remarked, “When I was in school I remember learning a poem by Tennyson. I don’t know it now, but in it he prophesied something about seeing the heavens filled with commerce and argosies of magic sails dropping down with costly bales.”  She was silent for a moment and then she added, “Thank God I have lived to see man fly.”  Memories of her reaction to seeing her first and only airplane have come back to me many times, especially as modern jet planes have carried me to distant places of the world at speeds of six hundred miles per hour at elevations of 35,000 feet. Memories of that incident have also caused me on numerous occasions to read Tennyson’s prophecy from his “Locksley Hall.”
    At that particular moment, however, my desire was to get to the landing place, and I took off as fast as I could run, disappointed that I would not be there when the plane came down. Suddenly I again heard the sound of the motor and looked up to see it circling back toward town. Watching as I ran, I saw it turn back toward its destination, descending as it approached. Soon I reached a point where I could see where it was to be, but I saw only the large crowd moving collectively and hurriedly away. As I caught up with some of them, I learned that the plane had landed in a nearby field. I was to learn later that as the plane approached the marked runway, many spectators rushed out onto the field and caused the pilot to decide against landing there. Finding what appeared suitable nearby, he had set down in another grassy pasture. The plane stayed about three hours during which time the crowd milled around looking it over and all trying to get near enough to talk to the flyers. Besides the pilot there was an officer who, during a short ceremony, told us something about the airplane and its role in the war while urging everyone to do his part by purchasing war bonds and war stamps. When it was time for them to depart, the motor was started and the people were moved from the center of the field. Then, with a wave from the flyers and a rousing cheer from the spectators, the plane roared along the ground for a couple of hundred yards, slowly rose above the tops of the trees, and headed back to Memphis. It had been an exciting day, and it left me with the firm decision that should the war last until I was old enough to get involved, I would join the aviation corps and be a flyer.
    The other event that brought the war a little closer to us involved soldiers who went AWOL (absent without leave) from Army camps and became classified as deserters. After the draft was put into effect, many young men living far out in the country in what we in town described as “the sticks” were drafted and sent to training camps. Some of these had never been farther from home than the county seat and had no desire to go to war. Their dislike of military training increased after they found themselves in camps as far from home as Little Rock, Hattiesburg, or some place in Texas. Their dislike of Army discipline added to their homesickness and caused some of them to take off directly from camp or else not to return after they had been home on leave. Eventually, their numbers became sufficient to cause the authorities to decide that something had to be done about it.

    Unexpectedly, several army tents appeared on the courthouse lawn one morning along with a few squads of soldiers and a couple of Army trucks. Word soon got around that the troops were there to round up the deserters. Working with the local sheriff and deputized civilians who volunteered to assist the military and their knowledge of where the deserters lived, the soldiers began the search. Occasionally one of the hunted would be found and taken without resistance. Those would be held in the local jail until a guard or military police from the camp he belonged in was sent to take him back.

    As I recall, these search activities continued for a couple of weeks without any particular trouble, but then there was a tragic incident. A search group of soldiers and civilians were either ambushed or had a shootout with one or more deserters and members of their families. I do not recall if any of the troops or deserters were injured, but two Ripley deputies, Lee Adams and Bob Green, were killed and another, Jim Conner, was seriously wounded. Soon after that the Army troops folded their tents and left town, but the shooting death of our townsmen and the wounding of another stayed with us a long time. I never learned if the Army found all the men they were looking for, and we heard nothing of the fate of those who were captured and returned to camp.
    I continued my part-time work in the post office until the war ended and a manpower shortage no longer existed. I was happy that peace had come and that the fighting men were returning but sorry to lose my job. Also, I no longer had the opportunity to take a sneak look at a package of French postcards that Bob McCarley had received from one of his overseas friends and that I accidentally discovered hidden away in the post office safe. Bob never showed these to me because I was too young to be seeing such things, and I never revealed to him that I knew they were there.

    After I no longer was needed at the post office, there remained one more year of high school and a summer before I would be leaving for college as I was then planning and hoping to do. With that prospect ahead of me, I sought other means of earning some money, and that resulted in a job on Saturdays and on the first Monday trade days in Babe McAlister’s grocery store. Initially I was paid one dollar per day, but in the summer when I had to put in about twelve hours, I was paid as much as two dollars. In the winter and spring the work in the store was not too hard, but in summer, especially in “first Mondays” when the town was filled with people, it was something else!

    On such days my work was entirely in the operation of the soda fountain located in the front of the store. Babe McAlister took pride in offering the best fountain-made drinks to be had and judging from the amount of labor I put in to provide them, they deserved that rating. The two drugstores in town that served fountain drinks bought prepared syrups and factory-charged tanks of soda water. But McAlister prepared both the syrups and the charged water tanks used in his fountain. He probably began that when these were not otherwise available, but I am quite sure he continued the practice because of the economy of it. When I worked for him, the only syrup he obtained from outside was that used in fountain Coca-Cola.

    The first step in making the syrups was to dissolve a large quantity of sugar in a tub of cold water. For what seemed like hours, I would sit with a large wooden paddle stirring the mixture as Babe added sugar until he decided the consistency was right. He would then have me funnel the syrup into glass gallon jugs labeled strawberry, raspberry, lemon, grape, banana, cherry, peach, and pineapple, after which he measured and added the respective flavors and what he considered to be the proper coloring for each. The next job was to prepare several tanks of charged water. These heavy tanks were filled with the necessary amount of water, placed on a wooden rocker, and connected to a tank of carbon dioxide. Then I would sit on a stool and begin rocking the tank while Babe adjusted the flow of CO2. On Saturdays when we were preparing for a big day the following Monday, we would repeat the process until four tanks would be made ready. With all the fountain dispensers filled with syrup and with jugs of each flavor in reserve, we were ready for business.

    On summer days when many people from the country came to town, the fountain had a steady line of customers and I, as the chief soda jerk, was busier than the proverbial one-armed paperhanger. After a customer decided what flavor he wanted, I dispensed syrup into a tall glass. One dispenser was marked, “Don’t Care” for some, especially children, who answered, “Don’t care” when asked the flavor they wanted. I then filled the glass with hand-shaved ice prepared for each drink from a large block of ice in the upper section of a wooden icebox. The day began with a block of ice that filled that section. The shaver was made of heavy metal with a blade on the bottom like that of a wood plane. It sloped at the front and had a hinged lid which, when lifted, allowed the ice to slide into the soda glass. A few strokes across the block of ice filled the shaver. Because the walls of the icebox stopped the shaver before it could travel completely across the surface of the block of ice, the block assumed a concave shape as it was used, and the operation became more difficult. I was expected to use as much of the ice as possible, but when the concavity became so extreme the block could not be shaved, Babe would send for another fifty pounds from the icehouse.

    After the syrup and ice were in the glass, I held it under the charged-water spigot. When I pushed the handle of this backwards, the water came out in a soft, bubbly flow, and then when I pulled the handle forward, the water came out as a fine jet, mixing the ice and syrup and forming a top foam. Even though I felt that some unnecessary work went into preparing these drinks, I have to admit that they were quite special. From the comments of the farm folks I served and the enjoyment on their faces as they relished the sodas, I came to feel that all the hours I had spent stirring the sugar and rocking the tanks had been worthwhile. I was certain also, that in the hot, humid summer days to come as they walked behind their plows or did other farm work, their labors would be a bit easier as they remembered the sodas and anticipated another trip to town and a visit to Babe McAlister’s soda fountain.

    The name of this employer suggested a Scottish ancestry, and he lived up to the legends of thriftiness of the Scots. I soon learned that except for the occasional piece of candy, a drink, or a hastily consumed cracker and piece of cheese on days when there was no time to stop for lunch, he expected me to pay for whatever I took from the store. An exception was on Saturday nights when the store closed at eight o’clock. At that time he would close the doors and remark, “Well, I guess it’s time to have something to eat.” At that, we would go to the back of the store to an oilcloth-covered lunch counter where, during the day, dishes and utensils were supplied to customers who wished to sit and eat foods purchased in the store. Popular canned products were tomatoes, pork and beans, deviled ham, sardines, and fruits such as peaches and pears. Cheese and crackers were favorites of many, and one could purchase as little as a “nickel’s worth,” a fairly good amount of cheese and a few large soda crackers. There was a large wheel of yellow cheese mounted on a turntable with a hand-operated lever set to advance five cents’ worth of cheese each time it was moved forward and released. A hinged, cleaver-type blade was attached to this equipment that was raised when the cheese was advanced. When forced downward, the knife cut off wedges according to the amount ordered. Plates, soup bowls, knives, forks, and spoons were provided, and after use these were washed in a tub of soapy water and rinsed in another tub and wiped for the next customer. There were only infrequent changes of the water and dishcloth. This eating establishment never would have received an “A” rating, but if anyone ever got poisoned there we never learned of it.

    After suggesting that we have something to eat and asking what I would like, Babe would proceed to the shelves and select cans of certain products other than what I chose. I knew some of these had been on the shelves a long time, and I am sure he took these opportunities to dispose of merchandise that was not moving fast. After finishing our late supper, I was free to go home, but after locking the front door Babe always went next door to the barbershop for his Saturday night shave.

    Because opportunities to work for pay were limited during my high school years and jobs were temporary or part-time, I still had much time left for play, especially during the summer months. While it was up to us to plan and organize how we would entertain ourselves, we managed to find many things to do. There were our swimming holes in nearby Robinson’s Creek east of town where we swam always in our “birthday suits.”  In recalling that we called them “wash holes,” I have concluded that they were called that not because it was where we washed our bodies but because they were deep holes formed at flood time where the bed of the stream was blocked by large trees whose root systems held the soil in place and forced the water to sweep around, “washing” away the opposite bank and leaving a wide, deep pool. Along this creek there were other deep spots where we fished and sometimes caught small sunfish and perch.

    Occasionally, too, we would hike to White Springs, about four miles northwest of town. There was a spring at this location with an abundant flow of water high in iron and sulfur. The water seemed to flow from two separate places, and we had been told and as I recall we believed, that one carried iron and the other sulfur. Prior to 1900, citizens of Ripley had given some thought to building a hotel there to develop a “watering place” to which people would come for the curative properties of the water. That dream never materialized, and White Springs, as I knew it, remained undisturbed and apparently saw few visitors other than a group of young boys who went there for an overnight campout.
    At different periods of our youth, we built and flew kites and made slingshots with which we pestered the jaybirds that robbed the nests of other birds. We played “railroad” by constructing locomotives mounted on boards or with wooden wheels that could be pulled through the lanes that led from one’s house to that of a railroad partner. We made a game of top spinning by removing the metal point, substituting a screw that we filed to a sharp point or wedge, and taking turns trying to spin it down on the opponent’s top and damage it. We played croquet, marbles, tennis, and sandlot baseball. Sometimes we would get enough kids together to organize a baseball team and would challenge a team of our age from Blue Mountain, six miles from Ripley. Having no other transportation, we made that round-trip in a mule-drawn wagon. This was owned by a schoolmate, Landrun Criswell, who we called “Lantern” Criswell. I seldom missed a game of baseball between our town team and teams from neighboring towns. When some of my pals and I were very young and did not have the price of admission, we would sit on a limb of a large sycamore tree near left field for free. Nearly all the men in Ripley were great fans of baseball, and each summer there were many well-attended games. The negros liked baseball very much, and they, too, had teams. Their games were attended by many of the white citizens and were always worth the price of admission. Some were excellent players, and I am sure that I saw some black players who, had they lived at a later time, could have made it to the major leagues.
    A few of my friends and I made an effort to organize a Boy Scout troop. We obtained a Scout manual and a catalogue of uniforms and other Scouting supplies, and some of us ordered certain articles. With the promise of help from a young Presbyterian minister, we were making some progress toward a troop, but before accomplishing that, our helpful friend moved to another church. After that we made no further efforts to become affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America but continued to study the manual and to do some of the things we knew Scouts did.
    As youngsters we roamed the fields and woods and learned the name of every plant, animal, snake, and lizard. We knew every bird and where and how it nested. We collected their eggs and preserved them by puncturing each end and blowing out the contents. Hours were spent reaching the eggs of the redheaded woodpecker, the sapsuckers and flickers, or yellowhammers in their hollowed-out nests in dead trees or high on telephone poles. Sometimes we would follow a kingfisher until we saw her enter her nesting tunnel deep within the bank of a creek. After working for a while we always decided we were not going to reach the nest and would go home without eggs for our collections. We captured baby rabbits and brought them home to raise as pets. In evenings we caught fireflies, placing them in glass jars to marvel at their power of illumination. When the large, shiny June bugs began to buzz around the fruit trees in springtime, we tied long threads to one of their legs and watched them circle above us in controlled flight much as today’s youngsters manipulate model planes. With BB guns we shot at rats hiding in stacked lumber or organized rat hunts with our dogs in barns or corncribs.
    In summers we gathered wild plums, blackberries, and dewberries and brought them home to be made into jams and jellies. Sometimes the fruit-gathering excursions would be family affairs, and throughout the following winter we enjoyed the delicacies made from our harvests. In the fall after there had been some frost, we scoured the woods for chestnuts, scaly bark hickory nuts, black walnuts, persimmons, huckleberries, fox grapes, and muscadines. When old enough to hunt, we took our single-barreled shotguns and went to the fields for quail and rabbit, drinking water from springs and, when hungry, locating sweet potatoes, turnips, peanuts, stalks of sorghum cane, or other edibles left in recently harvested fields or, if necessary, taking such things from fields not yet harvested!
    When I was twelve, a group of us decided to put on a circus when we learned that a local citizen owned a sizable tent that he would loan us. With help from some adults, we put up the tent on the Wallace lot, and we began to plan and rehearse for the circus. Enlisting boys and girls ages eight to fifteen, we planned the circus acts and a street parade to precede the performance. For a band to lead the parade, we found a real bass drum, a medium-sized horn, and a cornet, survivors no doubt from the original Ripley Cornet Band some of our fathers played in before the turn of the century. Other instruments were toy drums, kazoos, and a harmonica. Except for Chess Hines’ harmonica and some semblance of a tune from the kazoo players, the band was mostly for appearance. But with the entire cast taking part, the parade before the afternoon performance was probably the most entertaining part for the spectators. Nearly all of us had horses, so there were many riders, cowboys and cowgirls, Indians, and even a bareback rider who could stand on his horse. There were clowns pulling small wagons carrying dogs, and dogs hitched to wagons or dressed in clothing and led by clowns. We had distributed printed circulars about town, and that brought out a good crowd, some of which, especially parents and family of the circus kids, followed the parade to the tent for the performance.
    The circus tent was supported by two strong poles to which we attached a timber at the top to support a trapeze. One of the boys could hang by his knees while swinging and do some other tricks, so he was our trapeze artist. The ring or center area was large enough for a horse-riding act. Numerous clowns went through their acts, and we put on a short stunt that my dad wrote for us, probably recalling something from his younger days. The performance ended with a Wild West flavor that involved the capture and hanging of a horse thief.

    Everything went well until the hanging. We had designed what appeared to be a neck noose from which a rope could be hooked to a rope the “thief” wore around his chest and under his arms, more or less hidden from view by a loose coat. In rehearsals this had worked well as we raised him from the ground. Unfortunately, in the actual performance, after the thief had been lifted from the ground and the rope had been tied to one of the tent poles, he became so energetic in his efforts to put on a good act, the connection to the rope around his body became loose, and he was no longer acting. Noting a marked change in the sounds he was making, we realized something had gone wrong and quickly got him back to the ground. Luckily, except for being frightened, he suffered no injury. When the circus was over, we counted the receipts from the low admission price and found that we had cleared eighteen dollars. After a discussion of what we should do with the money, we decided to donate it to the three town churches. Consequently, the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches became richer by six dollars each.

    In my early youth there was no movie theater in Ripley, but once a year there was excitement when a traveling movie came to town. This was known as “Crouch’s Moving Picture Shows.” The shows were put on in a vacant upstairs floor of a downtown store. Pictures consisted of one reel “Perils of Pauline,” westerns, train robberies, etc., and were “talking pictures” although the talking came from Mr. Crouch himself as he turned the crank of the projector. The movies had subtitles, but probably because they were shown in rural communities where many of the viewers read poorly or not at all, Crouch took care of all the conversation or other titles shown on the picture. Additionally, he added other sound effects, Indian war whoops, cowboy yells, guns firing, whistles blowing, or whatever was needed. It was worth the price of admission to see and hear him in action. Also, he was a one-man band, and before showing the pictures, he entertained with his music. His instruments consisted of a bass drum and cymbals operated by a foot pedal, a guitar, and a harmonica held in place by a wire arrangement that rested on his shoulders. He was quite proficient, and the audiences enjoyed his renditions of such songs as “When You and I Were Young, Maggie,” “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” “Turkey in the Straw,” and “Listen to the Mocking Bird.”  Admission price was ten cents for kids, and we saved our money for months ahead so that we could take in all of his shows.
    Usually every year a real circus came to town for an afternoon and night performance. The one I remember was Sun Brothers. It had quite an extensive animal show, the usual sideshows of fat ladies, wild man from Borneo, dog-faced boy, or other faked freaks, and the big tent where clowns, acrobats, trained horses, elephants, and pretty ladies performed. There was always a street parade through town with the band leading the way and a steam calliope bringing up the rear. The coming of the circus was always advertised ahead of time by means of colorful posters wherever the advance agents could find a blank wall on which to put them. Consequently, long before the circus train arrived, hundreds of people were gathered near the railroad siding where the circus would unload. That was a great day for both grown-ups and kids, and we followed every operation from the arrival of the train to its reloading and departure after the night performance.
    Another exciting time was when a traveling stock company, the W. I. Swan Shows, came to town for a week each summer. This resembled, and was probably a predecessor of, summer stock companies that began to become popular throughout the United States about that time. Old-time favorite plays were presented from a stage at one end of the company’s tent that was put up on a conveniently located vacant lot. The troupe included a small group of musicians that accompanied singing by the audience between the acts. The actors found rooms in the homes of Ripley, and one year when the tent was set up on the Wallace lot, one of the male thespians roomed at our home. He proved to be a very nice person, and we engaged him in much talk about all his travels and the places he had been. That year I saw all of the plays because, as part payment for use of our lot, the Wallace family had free passes.
    On occasion, the young men of the town put on minstrel shows. Once when my brother Lee was to be in a minstrel show, I went with him for several evenings to watch the rehearsals. Apparently because of my interest, the director decided I should have a part. The result was that I became a black-face minstrel boy and sang a song entitled, “Somebody Done Me Wrong.” The song was that of a negro preacher who was telling his congregation that he was leaving because of all the bad things that had been done to him, including questionable relations between one of the church deacons and the preacher’s wife. Later, when I was working in the post office, Postmaster Smallwood, who had attended the show and liked the song, prevailed on me several times to sing it for him and some of his friends. Because of all the practice I had, I remember most of the words to the present day.
    It was a special treat to go to Memphis to visit my brother John and his wife, Julia, during summer vacations. I usually went there by train. John would meet my train and take me by streetcar to his home. When I made my first trip to the city, the busy, large railroad station, streetcars, taxis, skyscrapers, movie theaters, the Mississippi River with its steamboats and barges were a new world to me. In subsequent visits, there was a “little Julia,” my first niece, to enjoy. Once when I was about twelve years old, John took me to a public golf course near his home and taught me something about the game. I liked it so much that soon, on days he worked, I would take his clubs and go to the golf course and play a one-some. That was my initiation to golf, a sport I have played throughout my lifetime. Once just after the Hines family had purchased their Buick car and were driving to Memphis to visit relatives, they took me with them. That was a thrill to have such a long trip by automobile even if the 110 miles did take most of the day on the rough dirt roads that extended from Ripley to within ten miles of Memphis. At that point we reached a graveled road permitting us to travel at a speed of at least forty miles an hour.
    Other boyhood experiences in Ripley included sitting among the spectators at a murder trial of a well-known man from a nearby community who had shot his brother-in-law in self-defense. That time, or at similar trials, it was interesting to observe the proceedings and to hear “Captain” Spight, a Civil War veteran and prominent local lawyer, with tears in his eyes, plead the case for the defendant to the jury.
    I remember that the churches in town, especially the Baptist and Methodist, held “protracted meetings” once a year when an outside evangelist would come for a week to preach morning and evening sermons. Sometimes these bordered on the hellfire and damnation theme. Except when we were let out of school for a special morning service for young people, I did not like to attend because I felt embarrassed remaining in my seat while the preacher pled for all sinners to come down and receive the Lord! There were some other church services that some of my friends and I enjoyed attending. Occasionally a traveling Holy Roller-type evangelist would hold tent meetings, and we would go to watch the actions of some who “got religion,” or pretended to do so, and began to speak in an unknown tongue. Actually, I think the trancelike state displayed by some in the audience and their speaking in tongues was an act put on by permanent members of the leader’s retinue. I felt that those actions combined with the “Come you sinners” sermon by the preacher were contrived deliberately to get the listeners in an emotional condition so that they would support “the Lord’s work” more generously when the collection plates were passed. At any rate, we young fellows thought these meetings were more like traveling shows than church revivals.
    Other enjoyable boyhood experiences were visits to homes of families who lived “out in the country.”  Sometimes with my father and mother we would drive in the two-horse surrey for a weekend stay with these friends. Other times I would return to the homes of friends who had come into town by wagon for supplies. Such visits were always to homes where there was a son near my age. One of my favorites was the farm of the Bob Jones family a few miles east of town. There was a son named Mansel whom we knew as “Manse.”  He was about two years older than I, but we were good friends. He liked to show me how things were done on the farm and to keep me entertained. We rode horses, roamed the fields and woods, fished in a small creek nearby, and carried melons from the watermelon patch to the spring near their house to replace the chilled ones we took out to eat. The family had what was called a springhouse, a wooden box hinged on top and sunken into the spring to protect tins of milk and butter kept there under “refrigeration.”  

    My visits there were filled with fun and excitement, not the least of which was the time Manse took me possum hunting. They had two hounds, commonly described as possum or coon dogs. Sometime after dark we left the house, Manse carrying a lighted lantern and a gunnysack, with the dogs leading the way. For a while we kept close to the dogs, but after a time they took off at a high speed. The cadence and sound of their baying told Manse that they had picked up a trail. Calling for me to follow, he ran after the dogs, stopping occasionally to wait for me and to urge me to run faster. Through the fields and woods we ran, jumping ditches and crossing gullies, following the sounds that drifted back to us from the dogs. Finally we seemed to hear them better, and their rapid, excited barking led Manse to shout, “Come on, they’ve got him tree’d!”  Moving on in the direction of the racket we came upon the two dogs. They were wildly circling a large tree barking, snarling, and making occasionally charges toward its base. When we circled the tree to the side where the dogs were concentrating and Manse held the lantern to give some light, there was no possum. Instead, a big tomcat was backed against the tree fighting for his life against every pass the dogs made. It was evident that my friend Manse was angry and embarrassed. Finding a stick he shouted and threatened the dogs until he could seize each one to attach a rope to its collar. Then, with some unfriendly words to the dogs, he turned to me and said, “Well, I guess we better be gettin’ home.”  In the immediate years following that incident, I saw Manse on occasions, and he gradually reached the point of smiling after my greeting, “Hi, Manse, have you caught any tomcats lately?”

    Bob Hines and I had a special negro friend, “Crick” Jones. He must have had another name, but everybody knew him only as Crick. He worked on the railroad section crew, and after coming home each day on the handcar with the crew that worked on the tracks, he passed Bob’s house walking to his own. Sometime in our youth we had developed a friendship with Crick that lasted until long after I had grown up and no longer lived permanently in Ripley. He was a big, strong fellow whom we thought must be the strongest man in the world. When we were quite small we would ask him to let us feel his muscles. He would roll up the sleeve of his right arm, flex his bicep, and we would try to make a dent in it. That led to his teasing us about our size and strength, and became a ritual that we regularly went through whenever we met. He would harden his stomach and let us punch away at it as hard as we could swing. That made us marvel even more at his strength.

    Because he liked to tease us, Crick came up with a stunt that we caught on to immediately but played along with it. Every time he saw one of us alone, myself for instance, his first remark would be, “Have you seen Bob lately?”  Then he would proceed with a story that Bob was looking for me—that he was mad at me and was going to “beat me up.”  When he saw Bob alone, he would switch the story accordingly. That went on for several years and became such a routine that even when I would encounter Crick during summer vacations from college, he would greet me with a smile and ask, “Have you seen Bob?”  As I shall relate, Bob left us tragically as a young man, and I have just learned that friend Crick died last year in his nineties. Now as I think of these two friends of boyhood years, the thought comes to me that if by chance they have met, it is certain that the first thing Crick has said to Bob is, “Have you seen Me’ll (Merrill)?”

    If I had the desire and time to do so I could fill many pages with my experiences with the black people who lived in Ripley just as anyone could who spent his boyhood when I did in a small town of the Deep South. There could be stories of many good relationships between the races as well as some not so good. There could be humorous anecdotes such as that of Margaret, the wife and mother of the family living on our farm, whose only experience of working in a white household came when she helped my mother with big company dinners. On one of those occasions she saw and tasted fresh celery for the first time and once told me,” I sho’likes to come he’p yo mama wid dese celdridge dinners.”  Or the story of Jim Pate, the hotel porter who claimed he learned a new word from the dictionary each day. When we encountered him we always asked, “What’s the big word today, Jim?”  He would reply with something like, “The big word today is symptomatics incandescence and familiarity of the overindulgence.”  He learned many big words and even though he didn’t remember their meaning, the next time we asked for the day’s big words, he would come forth with some different ones.

    An account of my boyhood would be incomplete if I did not mention a black family with which my family had many associations. That is the family of Dave and Letha Vernor. Dave was the only cobbler in town, and in his shop on Main Street he took care of everyone’s shoe repair. Additionally, he was the pastor of a negro church. Letha came close to being my “Negro Mammy,” although she wasn’t that in the true sense. Dave and Letha had a family of several boys and girls who had come along somewhat in the order of the Wallace kids. During those years, the Vernor family did the Wallace laundry, or “washing” as it was referred to, and at times Letha and her girls helped in the Wallace household. Letha took care of me enough in my baby years to cause her to feel that I belonged to her, and I grew up with an affection for her. This family lived conveniently near us, about two blocks distance, and there seemed to be a mutual understanding that help was available from either direction when it was needed. For the weekly laundry and household work, members of the Vernor family were seldom paid in cash. Instead, they were supplied with milk, butter, and sometimes eggs when their few hens were not laying. My mother kept records of these barter transactions between the two families. Visions still come back to me of teenage Hermie at our back door with a tin pail saying, “Miss Kittie, Mama said you could spare a nickel’s worth of buttermilk and a ha’f-a-pound-a-buttah?”  

    Also, I can recall being sent by my mother to ask Letha if one of the girls could help with some housecleaning or other work and finding Letha and the girls “doin’ the washin’.”  That meant boiling the washables in large iron pots over a wood fire in their yard, working the clothes with broom handles until they were ready for transfer to galvanized tubs of hot water where they were scraped and scrubbed vigorously on a washboard until brightly clean. After that the clothing was rinsed free of soap in other tubs, filled each time by drawing water from their nearby well and then hung in the sun to dry. Or, if I arrived after all of those steps were finished, I often found the garments being starched and ironed inside the house, the flat irons heating on the fireplace hearth or on top of the cook stove. If it was my luck to get there about the time some tea-cakes or muffins were ready to come from the oven, I would wait to have some and then leave for home carrying a cloth-covered plate containing something for “Miss Kitty.”

    Many years later in the summer of 1934, I took my wife, Adeline, to Mississippi and Tennessee to meet my family for the first time. While visiting in Ripley, I took Adeline with me to see Letha. I always went to see Letha whenever I got back there, but it had been several years since my last visit. This time I had Adeline select some nice material for a dress that I knew a daughter could make for Letha. Learning that Letha still lived in her old home, we drove there and were greeted at the door by Jamie, one of her daughters. I introduced Adeline and asked if we could see Letha. Jamie said, “That will make Mama awful happy, but she won’t be able to see you ‘cause she’s blind.”  I handed Jamie the package as she led us into a room where Letha was sitting in a rocker. Jamie said to her mother, “Mama, you never would guess who’s come to see you. It’s Mister Me’ll and his wife.”  After a moment Letha feebly held her hands in our direction, and as we each took one and held it, tears rolled down Letha’s cheeks. Jamie then brought chairs for us, and after we had talked a while, she unwrapped the package, placed it on Letha’s lap, and told her we had brought her some pretty dress material. Letha thanked us several times as she stroked the material as if trying to see the pattern of the cloth through her hands. Then she began to ask questions:  where we lived, how long married, number of children, etc. Finally Jamie said, “Mama, I sure wish you could see Mister Me’ll’s wife. She’s awful pretty.”  Reaching out to take Adeline’s hands in both of hers and with a smile on her wrinkled face, she said, “Oh, I just know she would be pretty “cause Me’ll was always a pretty boy.”

    We had a good laugh at that remark as we have on other occasions since when Adeline has described that experience to others, but I still recall the feeling I had a moment after I heard her words. I heard her refer to me not as “Mister Me’ll” but just “Me’ll,” the only name she had ever used for me, and I felt that her sightless eyes were bringing her a vision of a small boy, his mother “Miss Kitty,” and her own departed husband, Dave, and others she had loved in years gone by. I know that I had similar visions as I bade my last good-bye to this old friend.

    In my last year of high school the social life of my crowd did not change much from what I have already described except that the mothers permitted their daughters to date more freely and to stay out later. By that time, the Hines family owned a Buick touring car. There were no places of interest to go to, but Bob and I sometimes took our girls for a ride into the country on Sunday afternoons or evenings. Like whiskey and poker, dancing was frowned on and preached against in the churches of Ripley. There was no dancing. Picnics and home parties remained the principal planned group entertainment. However, as couples we found many ways to spend time together unchaperoned. Our girlfriends were permitted to stay out later, and walking home from church or parties, we stopped at such favorite places as the schoolhouse where we would sit for a while to carry on some light petting. I am quite sure that among my close friends, things did not go further than that.

    Although I went “steady” at intervals with two other girls, my favorite sweetheart was Ruth Giles, a cousin of Bob Hines. She was a pretty brunette with a sweet disposition and as nice as they come. She had become an accomplished pianist and was the organist for the Presbyterian Church. Although our affair was on again, off again at times then as well as during college years, our friendship continued and had become rather fixed and serious until after I was in graduate study.


    An account of my early years would be incomplete without a report of an involvement in Mississippi politics in 1915 when I was in my thirteenth year. This came about through my father’s interest in politics. In his earlier years he served a term as sheriff of the county, and I think he remained a frustrated politician for many years afterward. At the local level he took an active part in state politics, especially in the campaigns for the offices of governor and US Senate. He was a supporter of James K. Vardaman, a Spanish-American War veteran and a colorful newspaper editor who failed in two races for governor but on his third attempt was elected to serve from 1904-08. In 1912 Vardaman was elected to the US Senate for a six-year term but failed to get elected in two subsequent races.
    For several decades after 1900, politics in Mississippi became strongly Democratic. Candidates for both county and state offices waged their campaigns on issues rather than on national party affiliation. There was never a lack of issues, phony or real, to be put before the voters, and opposing candidates waged bitter battles. Many voters were illiterate or nearly so in some sections of the state and could be swayed by the candidate who could make the most noise, tell the biggest lies against his opponents, or out-promise them. Often it came down to trying to choose the least objectionable of two candidates.

    I now know that was the situation with my father and A. C. Anderson, our local weekly newspaper editor whom I mentioned above. In 1915, they chose to support the then lieutenant governor, Theodore G. Bilbo, who was running for the office of governor. For his support, Bilbo had promised my father he would appoint him superintendent or warden of the state prison system. I do not know what Anderson was promised, but since he had served in the state legislature and was to try for Congress and the governorship later, I think it is safe to assume that Bilbo pledged to help him attain one of these higher offices.

    At any rate, they both were in Bilbo’s camp when the lieutenant governor was ready to schedule his one major political speech in Tippah County. Consequently it was Mr. Anderson’s job to plan and publicize the visit and to make necessary arrangements. I am sure that it was Anderson’s idea that a different and perhaps interesting procedure would be to have a young person introduce the lieutenant governor. I am certain this was discussed with my dad, because I was chosen to give the introduction. I objected strenuously when I was told about it, but after much persuasion and being assured that I would only have to memorize and speak a short introduction written by Mr. Anderson, I reluctantly agreed to do it.

    Shortly thereafter my speech was composed and given to me for memorizing. Almost daily I practiced before family members, but as the big day approached I became less and less enthusiastic. On the other hand, my father outdid himself in his efforts to keep my spirits high. He returned from a trip to Memphis with a new suit for me to wear on the occasion. This was gray herringbone with a Norfolk-style belted coat and knickers. It was at least one size too large for me, but no sensible parent was going to buy a new suit for a runt of a son who at thirteen and a half could grow up very quickly once that process began. I liked the suit, and it served to assuage my growing nervousness to the point that I continued to rehearse the speech Mr. Anderson had written for me.
    The big day finally arrived. Dressed in my new suit, a shirt with attachable stiff collar, a necktie, long black stockings and ankle-high laced shoes, I went with some of my family to our downtown store. As I saw the large numbers of people already on the streets and more wagons, buggies, and the occasional Model T Ford crowding into the town square, my courage began to sag. By the time we reached my father’s store I had decided I couldn’t make the introduction. With tears of fright in my eyes I announced to my parents that I was not going to face that large crowd of people.

    They were concerned, but with patience and help from friends who had gathered there, persuaded me that I should not disappoint Mr. Anderson and others who planned the program and had selected me to introduce the lieutenant governor of the state who surely would be the next governor. I do not recall if any promises were made or bribes offered, but eventually I dried my tears and agreed to suffer through the ordeal.

    I was then taken to the nearby courthouse and through the upstairs main trial room to a balcony on the east side where Mr. Anderson and some local gentry were gathered with Lieutenant Governor Bilbo. After being introduced to the guest speaker and while final arrangements were being completed there, my nervousness returned when I gazed on the hundreds of people assembled on the lawn below, occupying all available chairs and benches, sitting on the grassy lawn, or in their vehicles drawn up to the fence. Eventually Mr. Anderson took charge, and after some preliminary remarks introduced me. While I was too scared to remember much of what occurred during my remarks, my proud family told me later that I had sailed through the introduction with flying colors and that I was given a warm applause. If so, that was probably more a gesture of politeness because it is doubtful that many in the audience actually heard the unamplified voice of a scared, thirteen-year-old boy.
    Later that day my picture was taken by the local photographer with a result that gave the family something to discuss and laugh over for a long time and kept me busy trying to find and destroy all the prints my parents had made. I am now happy that one of my sisters managed to keep one print that came into my possession later in my life when I could appreciate it as a souvenir of an interesting event of my boyhood. The photo shows me in my slightly oversized Norfolk suit, spindly black-stockinged legs above ankle-laced shoes, standing with one hand resting on a wicker table before a painted background. The humorous item in the picture is there because Jim James, the photographer, decided the table looked too bare, and to take care of that, he placed on it near my hand his hard straight-brimmed hat that was old, discolored, and slightly fly-specked. The contrast between the size of my head and that of the hat made its presence even more out of place.
    The next issue of the Southern Sentinel carried the photo and a complete text of my introductory speech. These were preserved in a family scrapbook. Because I wish to record more regarding the political career of the candidate I helped to elect to the office of governor, I shall include my words here. They were as follows:

“Ladies and gentlemen:  You can plainly see that I am a very small boy, but I am big enough to introduce a governor—that is, a man who soon will be. The office of governor is the highest position in our state government, and it ought to be filled by a man who will be true to the people. Such a man, I believe, we have with us today. He was born in the piney woods of Pearl River County and worked hard to educate himself, receiving a good education in the public schools of our state and in Vanderbilt University. He was elected to the state senate in 1907 and served with distinction in that body. There he exposed the dirty methods of the secret caucus and because of that he was severely criticized, even at times bitterly abused, yet he has many friends and has found a large place in the hearts of the people. In 1911 he was elected lieutenant governor, and in that position he has made good. He is now a candidate for the high office of governor, seeking this larger field of usefulness that he may serve the people of his native state. I take pleasure now, my friends, in presenting to you, your present lieutenant governor, your next governor, the Honorable Theodore G. Bilbo, who will now address you.”

    The address of the lieutenant governor that followed was an oratorical report on what he had done and would do for the people when he became governor. His criticisms and sarcastic remarks concerning his opponents brought forth acclaim and shouts of “Hurray for Bilbo” from his supporters. I remember little of his actual words, but one of his promises was so absurd I never forgot it and I can still repeat it almost verbatim. He was speaking of road improvement, and here in a county where roads were so bad at times in the winter that people in the country could not reach town with loaded wagons, that subject struck a responsive chord. Bilbo told what he would do about that problem, and as I recall his words they were:
“You folks here in Tippah County need a state-supported road improvement program. Here you are without one foot of paved roads and you who live out in the country can’t get into town in the winter time except on horseback, and then you take a chance on getting drowned crossing creeks and rivers where bridges have washed away. You know what I’m gonna do when you elect me governor?  I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna build some factories for making bricks. Then I’m gonna take this natural brick clay that God has given you and the convicts that the devil has put in the State Penitentiary and we’re gonna make millions of paving bricks. With all those bricks and convict labor the main county roads and the town streets are gonna be paved. Then you folks away out in the country can come to town in rain or shine. That will bring progress to all of you because then these all-weather roads will be filled the year-round with wagons and trucks hauling lumber, cotton, and other goods to market. Yes, my friends, these roads will mean a bettah life for evahbody in Tippah County, and these roads I promise you will last just about forever. If and whenevah the top half of these bricks wear out, we’ll bring more convicts up here and we’ll just turn evah one of the bricks over and use the other half!”

    Bilbo was elected and served as Governor for four years, 1916-20. He became a controversial figure, immediately replacing persons in high positions including state college presidents with those of his choice. World War I may have been partly responsible, but the records show that during that term as governor, Bilbo lowered the standing of the state’s educational institutions rather than improved it. Bilbo was elected again to serve as governor for the 1928-32 term when, as I have mentioned earlier, our hometown editor, A. C. Anderson, would surely have won but for a late entry of a third candidate that split the vote. Immediately upon assuming office, Bilbo set out on a campaign of revenge against those who had opposed him, handpicking a state board of education which began a purge of faculty members and in a single day fired the presidents of A & M College, the university, and the State Teachers College. These actions brought on serious repercussions, A & M being threatened with loss of land-grant funds and most of the state’s public senior colleges were suspended and/or put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and a number of professional organizations. It was a number of years before the state institutions recovered from these actions directed by Bilbo.

    In spite of this record, he was elected in 1932 to the U. S. Senate where he served one six-year term. I have no knowledge of anything good or bad that he accomplished as a senator. I can only state that the few Mississippians I have heard from in regard to his character and his political life class him as a demagogue. I know personally that before my father passed away in 1919, he had learned that Bilbo’s word meant nothing, and I am sure that by the time A. C. Anderson ran against him in the race for governor in 1927, he had learned the same bitter lesson. As for myself, I was left with only a story to tell, a story that gives me no pride but one to put on record with the hope that some may find it amusing.


    I recall nothing of special interest or importance during my last months of high school other than the fact that I was a senior who would be graduating in May. Finally that longed-for day arrived, and with the other nine graduates, I marched across the stage to receive my diploma from the principal, Professor L. H. Jobe. I remember nothing of the graduation ceremony, but I can recall that I was pleased with the gifts which came to me from friends and family, one being a Bible with my name on it in gold letters. That was from my mother who had then given a Bible to each of her eight children as they left home or when they graduated from high school. After the morning ceremony, we assembled on the front steps of the school building for a photograph of the Ripley High School class of 1919. That photo shows us, seven girls and three boys dressed in our finest and proudly holding our diplomas. It was a special occasion for me because I was wearing, for the first time, a long-trousered suit. That photo also records the final assembling of this group of classmates and the last time I was to see some of them.
    The scholarship I had applied for was one of four given each year by the Mississippi Delta Pine Lands Company—one each for study at the four state institutions:  Mississippi A & M College, University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), Mississippi State College for Women, and State Teachers College. For each scholarship holder a check of $125 was sent annually for four years to their respective institutions. When my brother Hugh finished high school in 1917, he had applied for one of these but got no closer to winning than being appointed an alternate. By the time I applied, my father had died, and it was felt that should improve my chances. Thus, I made an application and had prominent townspeople write supporting letters. In early summer I received the joyous news that I was the winner of the scholarship to A & M College. That was a time of excitement and happiness for me and my family as well as for many of our local friends. The necessary applications were forwarded to the college and when, notified of my acceptance, I continued preparations for that great adventure.
    The following September, with my brother Hugh who was to be a junior, I went by train with stops and changes at New Albany, Tupelo, and Artesia along the way. A branch railroad from the latter station took us to a station directly on the college campus a mile east of the town of Starkville. The distance from Ripley was only about 100 miles “as the crow flies,” but with all the changes and waits for trains it was an all day-trip. Late in the afternoon we arrived, along with our suitcases and our trunks, and after making arrangements with students who had the campus job of transporting trunks for a small fee from the station to the general vicinity of the two large dormitories, we headed for the registration center to get checked in and assigned rooms.
    Before proceeding very far we encountered Ed Stanley, a classmate and friend of my brother Hugh. Just as soon as I had been introduced he said, “Why Wallace, you brought us a real peewee.”  Although sixteen at the time, I was still quite small, and I knew why Ed had described me as a “peewee.”  I was to learn later that the very small fellows and the huge football-player types were immediately dubbed “Peewee” and “Baby” respectively when they arrived on campus. Thus I was to be known for four years there as “Peewee” Wallace even though I grew to a height of six feet during my sophomore year.
    The dormitories consisted of two very large, four-storied, square cornered, U-shaped old brick buildings with their side wings almost meeting except for wide passageways between. The original unit had been constructed around 1890. The other was somewhat newer but was identical in arrangement of student rooms, shower rooms, and hallways. There being no elevators, one reached the upper floors by stairs. Centered in the space surrounded by the three wings of the older dormitory unit was a separate smaller brick building, also four floors high, in which all members of the band were housed. I was to be distracted by the practice of these musicians for two of the next four years when I was assigned rooms on the inside. A driveway through one of the openings to the central court led to the loading area of the kitchen and mess hall. The activity there, especially the early morning rattling of milk cans, was an additional disturbance to students occupying inside rooms.
    After getting registered, finding that my scholarship money was already on deposit for paying my entrance fees, and getting assigned a room, we located our trunks and got them to our first-floor corner room of the older dorm section, identified by all students as “polecat” alley. The reason for that was that on occasion a family of skunks took up residence under the floor of that wing.

    Our room for three students was equipped with a lavatory with mirror, two small desks, three straight chairs, a curtained enclosure for hanging clothing, and a triple bunk, metal-framed bed with mattresses. There was a chest with a drawer for each occupant; the remainder of our belongings had to be stored in the trunk or locker we brought with us. These and the lower bunk served as seats when other students dropped in. The bunks were assigned on the basis of seniority but in reverse order, i.e., the lower one’s class standing, the higher his bunk. When occasions demanded, they were assigned by the flip of a coin. On my second day, we were joined by Tom Kimbrough, a transfer from VMI who claimed the sophomore standing, so I drew the bunk near the ceiling. Tom was a two hundred pounder trying for the football squad, so I did not argue much with him as to who was to get the middle bunk.

    My brother Hugh had worked as a hasher in the mess hall his sophomore year and had put my name on the list for a similar job. When we checked in we found that both of us had these jobs, so I went into immediate training learning what my duties would be. Soon I was assigned two tables of twelve settings each. Nearby was a cupboard containing glasses, cups, saucers, silverware, two enameled pitchers, two galvanized water buckets, and dish towels. As hashers, we reported early and after getting plates from the dishwashing room and putting them in place along with the silverware, glasses, and/or cups and saucers, we assembled at tables in a separate room off the kitchen and had our meal. We then got napkins from the linen room, put them in place, and waited to hear calls from the kitchen helpers, “Get your bread . . . get your butter,” or when the truckloads of large milk cans arrived from the college dairy, “Get your milk.”  We would rush as fast as we could make it to line up for whatever was being dispensed. With these preliminary preparations completed we waited until the bugle sounded for formation and roll call and then scurried back and forth from table to kitchen as we heard the calls, “Get your spuds . . .grits . . .biscuits . . . beef . . .vegetables . . . ,” depending on the meal and the menu for it. We usually had everything on the table by the time the students marched in or at least by the time they had all reached their assigned table and were given the order, “Be seated” by the cadet regimental lieutenant colonel.

    Dishes of food and pitchers of milk were emptied as quickly as those at the table could pass them around in hopes that the hashers could get back to the kitchen in time to get some seconds, and the twenty-four students at our tables judged us on the basis of how frequently we succeeded in getting something extra. That rating possibly had an effect on the total amount of the Christmas tip the tables customarily collected for their waiter. Often there were no seconds of certain items, but the students learned to expect that and to accept that the farther their table was from the kitchen, the less likely their waiter could get there in time to get second helpings.

    After the students were dismissed from the mess hall, we stacked the plates and carried them to the dishwashing room where black workers placed them in racks and sent them through a large dishwasher and others wiped them. We filled one bucket with soapy water and one with hot rinse water from a source there, carried them back to our table stand, and washed and dried the glasses, cups, saucers, and silverware. These were stored away for the next meal, and if the tablecloth needed turning or changing, that was taken care of. Breakfast was early enough to permit us to make eight o’clock classes without too much of a rush, but if we had “one o’clocks,” there was no time to linger following the noon meal.

    Including the time we spent eating, we hashers spent close to six hours each day in the mess hall. That made the days very short for other activities. It cut down on the available study time, and in the spring months restricted the time I could spend toward making the baseball squad. Freshmen were not eligible for the varsity team, but if one could demonstrate his ability and make the frosh team, that would give him a chance later. I had come from a high school with no reputation as an athletic power and was in a position where I would have to compete with players known by the coaches and possibly recruited by them. In spite of my small size, I made the frosh baseball team but limited my basketball efforts to class or intramural teams.

    I worked as a hasher for two and a half years, receiving my room, board, and laundry. At that time those amounted to an average of about thirty dollars per month so that my hourly wage was around twenty cents, an acceptable wage when one knew that students who swept sidewalks and dormitory halls were paid only fifteen cents per hour. In spite of receiving what would now be considered less than slave wages, I managed well financially. With scholarship money sufficient to pay all fees and the cost of textbooks and other school supplies, occasional small cash gifts from family members made it unnecessary for me, for the most part, to draw money from my checking account in the bank at Ripley. With our uniforms and shoes supplied and being reasonably well stocked with underwear, socks, pajamas, etc., there was little expense for clothing.

    Prior to reaching campus, I knew that the college was a bit strong on military training, but I had to get settled in there before I realized that we were attending a “little West Point.”  The college president, vice president, registrar, departmental chairmen, faculty, librarians, and employees of lesser stature were civilians, but other than classroom instruction and athletic programs, we were under military discipline. A regular Army colonel served as commandant and he, with a couple of captains, a lieutenant or two, and a group of army noncommissioned officers pretty much ran the place. Cadet officers were responsible for room inspections, lights out, roll call at formations for meals, drill, parades, and formal retreat. Different rule violations carried varying numbers of demerits, and when the total reached a certain number, a student was subject to dismissal. Everyone got some demerits, but unless someone got into real trouble, few were in danger of being dismissed from school. That happened on rare occasions, but most dismissals were for only one quarter, and the guilty party could then return to school. Nevertheless, we did not like to have too many bad marks on our reports and took advantage of the regulation that permitted us to “walk” them off. That was accomplished by extra close-order drill or shouldering our rifle and marching around the statue of General Stephen D. Lee, the first president (1880-89) of the college.

    Army rifles were issued at the beginning of the year, and we kept them in our rooms for use in drill exercises, regimental reviews, parades, guard duty, and other occasions. The Army sergeants assisted with drill instruction, and the commissioned officers taught military tactics in the classrooms and on field maneuvers.

    All the emphasis on military training resulted from the fact that our institution was a land-grant college where by law military training was compulsory for the first-and second-year students. Entering college in the fall of 1919 as I did, there was an abundance of war-surplus uniforms and other supplies available, and I was pleased to find that the supply sergeant could find Army breeches, shirts, shoes, and overcoats small enough to fit a “peewee.”

    Enrollment totaled around 1,600 students, all male, but about 300 were ex-servicemen who were classified as “war students.” Some of these were returning students, while others were entering freshmen. These was also on campus a sizable number of ex-servicemen who had not finished high school, and a staff of teachers, mostly women, were provided to instruct them and, in some cases, to bring them up to college entrance level. Many of the war students were older than average, and some were married. These were permitted to live off campus, and unless those taking the regular college courses preferred to take military training (ROTC), they were exempt.

    Sometimes when I think back on my freshman year and what a drastic change it was for me, I wonder how I survived it. At times I was very homesick, and the regimentation we were subjected to did not lessen that. In looking over the study program for my first quarter (preserved in my college memory book), I note that my schedule included the following classes and units:    
Animal Husbandry
Mechanical Drawing
Military Science
    * 2 hours drill plus 1 hour classroom         

    That totals twenty units of course work plus military and gym, and this becomes more impressive when I note that five of the twenty units came from laboratory instruction requiring two hours’ work for each hour of credit. Carrying that load of classroom work along with around 35 hours work per week in the mess hall and trying to show up for baseball practice during the spring months left little time for anything other than study and was not really sufficient for that. However, I managed to keep up on the work I had to complete outside the classrooms and, by forcing myself to be attentive at lectures, I made passing and, in some courses, reasonably good grades. I was not the best student in the history and animal husbandry classes, but as I have mentioned, I had no problem with English, a subject that bothered many of my classmates. From the beginning I enjoyed botany and my excellent teacher, Professor Beal, and I am sure that the inspiration I received from him directed me toward a career in botanical sciences that was to come later.
    The longest three months of my life were from late September 1919 to the Christmas holidays when I could get home for the first time. That ten-day vacation was a joyous time but passed too quickly. Soon I was back in school with a long six months of work and study ahead before I could again return to my family and hometown friends.
    I do not remember if our roommate, Tom Kimbrough, returned after Christmas. I know that he left school either at the end of the fall quarter or after spring quarter because of scholastic problems, his dislike of school, or both. If my memory serves me correctly, Tom was from a respected family in West Point, Mississippi. His father, I believe, was a judge. However, Tom was a bit of a playboy, and from some of his comments we felt that he had been “kicked out” of VMI. Too many years have passed for me to remember in detail the circumstances under which he re-entered our lives some years later, especially that of my brother Hugh, but I think it is of sufficient interest to recount here.
    After Tom left A & M College, even though West Point was very close by, neither of us saw him again in Mississippi. However, in the midst of the Depression years of the early 1930s, my brother Hugh, then living in Davis, California, was in San Francisco and passed a poorly dressed individual on the street whom he first took to be just one of the many panhandlers or down-and-outers one encountered on city streets at that time. But, as Hugh told me, he got the sudden thought that this person looked like Tom Kimbrough. After taking a second look and identifying him for certain, he forced himself to return and speak to him. While it was evident that Tom was “bumming it,” he characteristically pretended that he needed no help and that, temporarily out of work, he was just knocking around looking for some suitable job. After a visit they parted, and neither of us ever heard more of the roommate we had in “polecat” alley.

    On our campus there was a large YMCA building with a secretary and staff sufficient to provide an active program of social activities that also included Sunday school classes. Its reading rooms, bowling lanes, and other facilities, plus the fact that the college post office and a privately operated coffee shop were located in the building made the “Y” the social center of the campus. I became active on some of the student committees of the “Y,” and by the spring of the year I was being enticed to attend a ten-day YMCA Conference in Blue Ridge, North Carolina, the following summer. My brother Hugh had attended this one summer, and he encouraged me to sign up for it. The chief obstacle was that I would have to pay all expenses: railroad fare round trip from home to Ashville, North Carolina, all board and room, $20 for ten days, for the time spent at Blue Ridge.

    After much thought as to whether or not I could use that much from my meager savings, I decided to participate. The program, known as the Southern Students Conference, was organized under the International Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association in cooperation with ten southern states. Throughout the summers, groups of students from colleges in these states went to Blue Ridge for the ten-day sessions. Although it was under the direction of the YMCA, it was coeducational, and at each session there was a mixture of boys and girls. The meetings were held in a lovely campus-like setting in the Blue Ridge Mountains. All of these features and especially the coeducational aspect made attendance especially attractive for me. The group attending from A & M consisted of the “Y” secretary, eleven students, one professor and his wife, and football coach Robinson and Mrs. Robinson. After two weeks at home, I met the group in Memphis where we took the Southern Railway train for Asheville. To save money, another fellow and I shared an upper berth, my first experience in a Pullman car, and after a night in such cramped quarters, I was not too impressed. But it was fun and included a stopover in Chattanooga with a trip up Signal Mountain where we had an interesting time and saw many Civil War memorials.
    After reaching the Blue Ridge campus, we got settled in our cottages, learned something of what we would be doing, and got acquainted with other students. We knew our stay there would be enjoyable after we had our first meal in the dining room where starchly dressed black waitresses served us delicious southern-cooked dishes. I especially enjoyed that service after a year of waiting on twenty-four hungry students in the college mess hall.
    Mornings were devoted to lectures from prominent churchmen and discussion groups with some separation denominationally, on the basis of subject matter, or special study interests the upper classmen. After lunch there was a one-hour study or relaxation period. The remainder of the afternoons were used for mountain hikes and athletic contests. Several schools were represented that had large enough numbers to have baseball teams, namely our school, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Auburn, Washington and Lee Universities, Millsaps, and Southern YMCA College, all of which had brought their school uniforms and equipment. These schools also had basketball teams, and during our stay we were able to complete round-robin tournaments. For the girls there were contests in swimming, tennis, and volleyball.

    I was a member of both the basketball and baseball teams for our school and helped to win the baseball championship by hitting a homerun over the center field fence in the ninth inning of the championship game. We had an edge over other teams by the presence of Lefty Stovall, one of our best varsity pitchers. I played third base, but in some games that we had well in hand, I relieved Stovall and did a fair job of pitching. Coach Robinson was assisting with the athletic program, and after he saw me perform at baseball and hit the winning homerun, he talked with me and encouraged me to continue to go out for the team when I returned to A & M. While he had nothing to do with baseball there, he told me that he would speak to the baseball coach when we returned to school the next fall. That made me feel that I would be given some consideration and a good chance to play varsity ball in the coming years. Unfortunately, during that summer, coach Robinson left A & M to go to Mississippi College and never had an opportunity to put in a good word for me. Thus, to my disappointment, I was kept on the reserve or “scrub” team and never earned a varsity letter.
    Those ten pleasant days at Blue Ridge passed quickly, but they remained in my memory for a long time. During that short time, some unscheduled things happened. I know nothing of what occurred among the delegations from other schools, but in our group, at least three of the fellows found their future wives, all of the girls, I believe, being from our neighboring institution, MSCW at Columbus, Mississippi. Interestingly, one of the girls involved was Mary Street from my hometown, who later married Dan “Preacher” Humphries, a classmate of mine. With three out of eleven of our delegation finding their life mates at that conference, it is certain that in addition to all other activities, Cupid was also in action!
    The remainder of that summer I spent in Ripley having fun and working at odd jobs that came along. In the fall I returned to A & M for my sophomore year and my job in the mess hall. Probably because it was thought best that I get out from under the wing of my big brother, I found myself rooming with two other sophomores, Bill Carroll and Jack Harris, both ex-servicemen who had entered with the war-student group.

    They were good guys, and we got along fine except when Jack captured a large nonpoisonous snake and insisted on keeping it in our room. It escaped from its box frequently, and once it disappeared, presumably having worked its way through an opening in the floor through which the steam pipe passed. Bill and I were happy that the snake was gone, but that did not last. Three days after its disappearance, there was a pounding on the door of our room and an excited voice calling for Jack Harris. When we informed the student that Jack was not there the voice said, “Well, you tell him just as soon as he comes in to get down to my room and get his damn snake!”  The snake had made its way under the flooring and down two floors before finding an opening leading into another room. Jack went down, gathered up his pet, and returned with it to our room. Plugging the escape hole and getting a stronger box for it, Jack kept the snake under control. Sometime later when he looked in on his reptile, he discovered it had produced about a dozen eggs. At that, Bill and I ordered him to get both the snake and its eggs out of the room. Seeing that we meant business, he released it in an open field near the campus along with the eggs. We were never to learn if Mrs. Snake became a mother from any of the eggs she produced in Room 415.

    Life that sophomore year was much as the year before except that I was no longer a freshman and subject to demands from upperclassmen as in my first year. I was particularly pleased with one development that affected me personally during that year. Sometime in the early fall months I began to grow taller and proportionally larger, and I must have established some kind of record by reaching a height of six feet, an increase of ten inches during that nine-month session. However, in spite of my significant growth, I remained “Peewee” Wallace.
    My work in the mess hall and my studies kept me occupied, but I still had some fun. The excitement of the big football games and other sports contests and student shirt-tail parades through the town of Starkville in the evenings following some important victory helped to break the monotony of work, study, and military discipline. Campus movies, amateur plays, professional musicians, lecturers, and other scheduled programs made for enjoyable evenings.

    Two very happy days each college year were the reciprocal visits of the student bodies of A & M and MSCW. For many of us at A & M it was a little bit of heaven to spend a day on the MSCW campus surrounded by several hundred girls, or to meet their special train at our campus station and gaze upon all that beauty. These were full days of planned activity, sometimes ending with a street dance, and it was always with a feeling of sadness that our student body boarded the return train in Columbus or gathered at our station to bid farewell to our lovely guests. Many on our campus knew a girl or two at MSCW from high school days and vice versa, so that with a bit of planning ahead of time and blind date arrangements, most guys and gals were paired up for visiting days. Usually five or six couples would stick together for the day, and although there was little opportunity for more than some surreptitious hand squeezing and mild smooching, those get-togethers were enjoyable and exciting. With both schools strictly non-coeducational, I am certain the girls were just as hungry as the fellows for some association with the opposite sex. On our campus it was commonly believed that saltpeter was added regularly to our food to suppress our sex drive, and some student jokingly started the rumor that for a week before our visits with the girls, the kitchen manager was instructed to add a double dose!  Other than those exchange visits, most of our students had no boy-girl socializing on campus during the school year. Sunday school, class picnics, YMCA Cabinet, and class banquets were stag affairs. In its earlier years, the college had been coeducational to an extent, but no dormitory space was provided for girls. In 1913, following a student uprising that began over a protest against poor food and unsanitary kitchen operations, many of the senior class were expelled temporarily. Because the few coeds had supported the revolt, the Board of Trustees voted to discontinue coeducation, and the girl students disappeared. The absence of women students, strict military discipline, a student body comprised largely of farm and small-town boys, and the necessity for a large proportion of students to at least partially earn their way contributed to the lack of social activities on campus in the 1920s.

    Fraternities at state colleges were banned by law. The nearest thing to fraternities at A & M were two invitational clubs, George Rifles and Lee Guards. These had existed for many years by having their principal objective the development of close-order precision drill teams. Each of these clubs put on one or two big dances annually with music provided by “big-name” bands and female guests coming from near and far. In 1920, when students at A & M and Ole Miss again raised the question of having fraternities, the newly elected governor, Lee M. Russel, was militantly anti-fraternity. He was supported by the A & M College president, D. C. Hull. Not only was the ban on fraternities continued, but the George Rifles and Lee Guards were abolished. However, in 1925, after D. C. Hull had left the campus presidency and a new governor was in office in Jackson, these clubs were reorganized, and a year later the State Board of Education authorized fraternities and sororities on the state college campuses.

    In the fall of my sophomore year, the most exciting extracurricular activity was when I joined some three hundred students for the annual “Hobo Trip” by rail to an out-of-town football game. These annual escapades were organized by a student identified as “Hobo Bill,” who publicized the trips by announcements in the mess hall and on campus bulletin boards. That year the group was to travel from nearby West Point to Greenwood for the A & M-Ole Miss game. Surprisingly, my conservative brother Hugh decided to join me and some of our brother hashers, including little Felipe del Rosario (Philip) from the Philippines, who had become a good friend of mine. There was no problem for a number of the hashers to get away, because with so many students going to the game, many tables would not be set up in the mess hall. All students going to the game had to obtain an official leave permit from the office of the commandant. That was obtained without difficulty, although it was evident that the college officials knew that most of us were going to bum our way on a freight train.

    After classes on Friday, the students made their way to West Point as they chose. Many of us bought tickets for travel by passenger train, and by evening all had assembled around the railroad yards. There we were instructed that the freight train would arrive around eleven o’clock and after some switching would leave sometime before midnight. After the train was made up for departure, there was a rush to find open boxcars or spaces to ride where we would have some protection from the chill of the November night. Although the train crew was not overjoyed, they were outnumbered and raised few objections other than instructing us that sealed cars were not to be opened. Hugh, Phillip, and I joined some others in a flat car with a partial siding so that we had some protection. Having worn our woolen ROTC uniforms and overcoats, we were reasonably comfortable on the hundred-mile ride to Greenwood. Arriving there around five in the morning, we made our way downtown and sought cafés where we could get some breakfast. Some students caused trouble by immediately slipping out or attempting to leave the eating places without paying for their food. With students roaming about town during the morning, there was a build-up of excitement and football fever and a few incidents of rowdiness, but these were overlooked by the businessmen and police. At noon our group assembled at a main intersection for a pep rally and then, led by the college band, marched in a “snake dance” formation to the football field. After other activities there on the field, we settled in our seats to watch our Aggie Bulldogs trounce Ole Miss by a score of 21-0.

    When the game ended, we rushed onto the field to push down the goalposts and revel in victory. For the next few hours, the students more or less took over the town. By evening I am sure some had obtained enough moonshine whiskey to cause them to get rowdy, but as far as I knew there were no serious incidents.  Wishing to be good hosts for the many visitors, the town of Greenwood had planned some evening activities, primarily a street dance. This was attended by many local girls, mostly of high school age, and a lot of their parents to make sure the “wild college boys” behaved properly with their daughters. At eleven o’clock an announcement was made that the A & M Hoboes should proceed to the depot, and we made our way there accompanied by a couple of police. The latter stayed with us until just before time for our train to depart, and they cleared the way for us with the train crew. While there had been only minor problems for them, it was evident that the police wanted us to get out of town.

    The night ahead promised to be quite a bit colder than the preceding night, and Hugh, Philip, and I felt very fortunate when we joined a large group of students in a boxcar loaded to about two-thirds its depth with sacks of freshly ground cotton seed meal. The heat from the sacks of meal made it very comfortable, and we settled down with the expectation of remaining warm and possibly getting some sleep. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

    Sometime before the train was to leave, one of the crewmen began to check on where the students were getting located. When he found our group on top of the sacks of cotton seed meal, he warned us that this was not a safe place to ride. He told us that in the bumping of the car during switching there could be some shifting of the heavy sacks which could cause some injuries, and additionally, he said, the car was overloaded. Some ignored his warning and rode in comfort to West Point, but Hugh, Philip, and I left our snug quarters to find a place between two tank cars, sitting on the platform ledge of one car and resting our feet on the ledge of the other. Hugh and I could manage that, but diminutive Philip could barely touch the opposite car when stretched to the maximum. For safety we placed him tightly between us where he rode for four hours with his feet dangling or sometimes in a semi-prone position propped against one of us and his legs across the “lap” of the other. Our chief worry was sleepiness, and we agreed that we had to remain awake. We kept talking or singing, and if we observed evidence of drowsiness on the part of others, we immediately began to rough them up to awaken them. It was a cold ride, and we were happy to reach the town of West Point around daybreak.

    The first desire of most of the group was to get warm, and at that hour the only chance of that was to get a fire going. We set out to find anything that would burn: scraps of wood, paper cartons, or small pieces of coal around the tracks. Soon we had a good fire going, but as our fuel became depleted, we made a search for more. It was then that some of the scouts found a large supply of long bamboo poles alongside a nearby store building. These were to be sold as fishing poles, but the students, thinking they would provide some fuel for the fire, appropriated them. Some of these were well dried, but others had been cut more recently and were still quite green. As the latter were placed in the fire and became heated, the moisture accumulated under pressure in the individual joints of the canes and then exploded with the noise of a loud firecracker. Soon, as many as could gather around the fire were engaged in feeding the canes into the fire to explode them joint by joint.

    When the store’s supply of fishing poles had disappeared, we discovered that a restaurant in the neighborhood had opened. It was a small place that normally could not serve more than fifty customers. By the time a hundred or more students had jammed their way inside, the owner was overwhelmed. He and one waitress attempted to take orders, but mostly they were pouring coffee while students were helping themselves to sweet rolls, doughnuts, or anything in sight. In the confusion, many students sneaked out without paying, and that did not improve the service for those of us who intended to pay. But with more than an hour before our passenger train would leave, some of us waited until the situation improved and were able to order food and eat it at our leisure. Sometime later we boarded the train for the trip back to our campus and a chance to get a bit of rest before going back to work and classes the following day.

    At the noon meal on Monday, an order was read from the student commanding officer’s table to the effect that all students who returned by way of West Point Sunday morning were to assemble in the chapel at five o’clock. There we were faced by the college president and commandant who informed us that charges had been brought against the college for damages and unpaid restaurant checks. The owner of the fishing poles had set a price on them, and the restaurant had calculated the amount of unpaid bills. The president gave us a lecture and suggested that it was up to us to pay these bills. He stated that he was sure not all of us were guilty, but since there was no other way to handle the matter, all should pay equally. The result was that those of us who showed up at the meeting had to pay thirty cents each and have our names checked on the list before we left the meeting. Other than that small charge and the sermon from the president, there was no further disciplinary action. For me personally, I needed nothing else to discourage me from such escapades in the future. When such a trip was being planned and publicized on campus the following year, I jokingly suggested to my little Filipino friend that we should ride the “Hobo Special.” He replied, “Hell no. Philip never been so damn cold in his life!”

    When I went home in June 1921 for summer vacation, some of my friends hardly recognized me with my newly acquired ten inches of height. Some of the older fellows teased me by stating that I must have started to grow after getting situated where I had three meals each day. While I never found an explanation for the delayed growth, I was happy that I was then a “peewee” in name only.

    After a couple of weeks I got a job at a sawmill north of town where a neighbor friend, Atkins Duncan, was working. The pay was three dollars per day working from seven o’clock to five, with an hour off at noon. With my friend Atkins, I left home at six in the morning to walk along the railroad until we reached the sawmill. With another young fellow, my job was to stack the eight-, ten-, or twelve-foot two-by-fours as they traveled on a belt from the planer to a railroad boxcar on a siding. When the planing machinery operated at maximum speed, the pieces of timber arrived at the boxcar at a rate that kept the two of us very busy, especially when working on the first stacks at the ends of the cars. Alternately handling the pieces as they reached us, we were able to keep up, but we had to work at a fast rate. We were always happy when some problem arose in the mill to give us a little time to rest.

    After I had worked there a couple of weeks and just when I was wondering if I could take it much longer, an unexpected development brought relief. As I have already mentioned, the town of Ripley usually had a summer baseball team, as did a number of towns in the area. There was no regular organization behind the small town teams, and having a team any given summer depended on how many local players were available and a pledge of support from devoted baseball fans in the community. Normally there were enough local players to make up a team, and these played for the fun of it. However, a pitcher or a particularly good hitter from the outside would be paid a small amount per game from the gate receipts and donations from local fans.

    In late June of the summer of 1921 when I was asked if I could play on a team being organized, I replied that I couldn’t because I needed to make some money before going back to school in the fall. The manager-to-be then asked me how much I was being paid on my job, and when I told him, he made me an offer of five dollars a game if I would join the team. It was expected that the schedule would average four games per week so that I could earn more playing ball four afternoons than I could in six days of hard work in the planing mill. Such an opportunity was like a pardon from prison for me and made the rest of that summer really enjoyable. Our team played numerous games at home and made frequent trips to neighboring towns, sometimes playing a three-game series against a given team before returning home. In some of these towns our players stayed in homes of members of the opposing teams where we, as guests, were treated to the usual gracious southern hospitality at all times except when the opposing teams met on the baseball diamond. I liked those weeks and made some contributions to our team. If I established any claim to fame that summer as a baseball player, it was getting two hits out of three at bats against a pitcher whom many considered good enough for professional baseball. Those two hits became much more important to me within the next year or two when the pitcher, Guy Bush, became a successful pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and other teams in the major league.

    Thinking back on my summer of baseball, I am reminded of our general all-around helper, a local negro man who helped prepare the field before the games, served as water boy, took care of bats and other equipment and any additional jobs, all because of his love of baseball. This man’s name was “Spute” Hughey. I think he must have had another first name, but if so, I never knew what it was. I never thought to ask him about his nickname, but I can imagine him being given it as a child by his mother or an older member of his family with a comment such as, “Boy, you always talkin’ back, arguin’ and ‘sputin’ (disputing) what I say to you. I’m gonna name you ‘Spute’.”

    In his younger days, Spute had been an excellent baseball player. I don’t remember what his working profession was, but I recall that as an expert mandolin player, he was a member of a black string trio. His group often strolled about the downtown streets on Saturday nights, playing whenever they could attract some listeners and some cash contributions. If music was Spute Hughey’s first love, baseball was his second. When our team was winning he was very happy, but if we were losing he became excited and used all the baseball superstitions he knew to try to put a hex on the opposing team.

    Once after he had exhausted his tricks and we were still behind by three runs in the last of the ninth inning, he made a statement I could never forget. As our last turn at bat progressed, we found ourselves with a runner on each base and two outs. The player approaching the batter’s box was not one of our strongest hitters. Spute knew that when he turned to me and said, “Lawde-ee Lawd. Now if they’d jes’ whitewash me and let me pinch hit.”  I understood he was boasting that if he could bat he would hit a home run and win the game. I knew, too, that he was jesting, but a moment passed before I caught the significance of his use of the word “whitewash.”  He was simply stating and acknowledging that there was no chance in the world for him to participate in that game unless he could change his color to white. I’m sure that Spute has gone to his reward long ago, and I hope he found some ball games wherever he went. If not, then I have a vision of him floating around on a heavenly cloud with his mandolin in company with the other two members of the trio playing “Are You From Dixie” or possibly teaching some harp-playing angels the rhythm of “St. Louis Blues.”

    That summer ended, and I returned to A & M for my junior year. My roommate was Jesse Lide, a sophomore from Corinth, Mississippi. We were lucky to get a two- student room. Jesse was one of the college cheerleaders, a popular, likable fellow, and we got along fine as roommates. He did some part-time work in the coffee shop located in the “Y” basement, while I went back to my job in the mess hall. As I began my junior year, I had to select a major for my two last years, and I chose agricultural education. That would qualify me to teach in one of the agricultural high schools which by then had been established in nearly every county of the state. It was my plan to teach agriculture and coach baseball and basketball.

    Work and studies kept me occupied that fall. The football season was always exciting, and I went with more than half the student body on a special train to Memphis to be saddened when the University of Tennessee defeated our Aggies. Back on campus I tried to get out for practice with the basketball squad. With my newly acquired height, I drew more attention from the coach, but having to leave early for my hashers job worked against me and eliminated any chance I had of making the varsity.

    My social life was practically nil. There were regular Saturday night movies on campus and occasional professional entertainers and lecturers. Among these were Irwin S. Cobb, whom I enjoyed very much. Sometimes there were minstrel shows and plays put on by local student groups, and occasionally, class plays by girls from MSCW. In that time when student-owned autos were extreme rarities, there were few opportunities to get off campus. Even though my home was slightly more than a hundred miles distant, the time required to make the round-trip by train with three connections and waits to be made at each change left little time to spend at home over a weekend. So I had resigned myself to long periods of separation from my family and hometown friends. Letters from family and girlfriends, along with occasional home-baked cakes, candy, or cookies fed our stomachs but not our lonely hearts!

    Although returning students and other friends in Ripley planned the usual festivities during Christmas of 1921, my vacation was not a happy one because of the illness of my mother. After she was examined in a Memphis hospital, it had been determined that she was suffering from cancer. She had been taken back to the hospital for some radium treatments in hope that these would arrest the progress of the disease. Unfortunately, there had been no improvement, and she told me that Christmas that she felt she could not go back for more treatments. Her religious beliefs helped her to accept the fact that little could be done to prolong her life, but she mentioned frequently that her one desire was to live until she had seen her “baby” graduate from college.

    Returning to school I had difficulty in getting back into the routine there and applying myself as I should to scholastic work. I decided that I had served enough time working in the mess hall. After checking my financial condition at the end of January, I found I had enough money to carry me through the remaining months of that year and made the decision to give up the job waiting tables. I put in some irregular hours at the coffee shop where my roommate Jesse Lide worked, but having had that kind of job for almost two and a half years, I began to look for other kinds of work.

    As letters from my mother became less frequent and with information from my sister Nina becoming more and more discouraging, I was somewhat prepared when I was called home in early April. Mother was weak and in much pain except when under heavy medication, but occasionally was conscious and alert enough so that we could converse. However, her condition worsened rapidly, and she passed away on an Easter morning at the age of sixty-three. Soon after her burial in the Ripley Cemetery next to the grave of my father, I returned to school to gradually adjust to the fact that my last strong tie with my birthplace was gone.

    My busy program of study, other school activities, and occasional work in the coffee shop helped the months to pass. Having signed up for advanced ROTC for my junior and senior years, I was required to spend six weeks at military camp the summer following my junior year. Thus, there was no need for me to think of summer jobs, but my brother Hugh wrote that there might be some work for me the last half of summer vacation in a malarial laboratory at Mound, Louisiana, where he had been located since his graduation the year before. I requested that he have me listed for a job there.

    Around the first of June, I went by train with a large group of classmates via Montgomery to Anniston, Alabama. There we were loaded into buses with cadets from other southern colleges and taken to Camp McClellan. Most of this Army camp had been abandoned after the end of World War I, and our group of about eight hundred students were the first to use it as an ROTC camp. A number of mess halls had been renovated and weeds scraped from company streets and parade grounds. Tents with wooden floors had been set up, each to house five cadets. I was assigned to a tent with one classmate and three students from Presbyterian College in South Carolina. Soon after signing in we were issued uniforms, rifles, canteens, and other gear, and we stored our “civvies.”

    My Presbyterian College tentmates and the others from that institution were a lively bunch of fellows. Although they were from a church school, they knew the dirtiest songs of any of the groups. Soon we knew their songs also, because the PC boys sang them over and over as we marched along the Alabama roads while on maneuvers or hiking to and from the rifle range. Although there was some time for recreation, for the most part our six weeks there put us through a condensed program of military training. The camp was dry and dusty, and the weather was hot and sultry. There was no transportation, and that meant that during the week we spent on the rifle range some five miles from camp, we had to hike back and forth each day. After a sweaty day there, part of the time firing from a prone position on the bare red-clay firing line, it was a long way back to camp each evening. To keep up our spirits, we all joined the South Carolina boys in singing “Bang Away on Lulu” and other songs they had taught us.

    The part of the camp occupied by ROTC students was a far cry from a country club, and other than company baseball games there was little to do in the way of entertainment. On the night of the Fourth of July, we assembled on the fringes of the camp to sit on the ground and watch fireworks. These consisted mainly of large skyrockets launched by a regular Army crew. Each rocket was placed by one soldier in a sloping, upright wooden trough and ignited by a second soldier with a torch. Occasionally the fuse of a rocket would be pushed up into the cylinder so that it did not ignite. It was evident that the regulars wanted to get the show over, because when a rocket did not ignite and take off, they waited a moment and then tossed it aside.

    After the show, one of my tentmates, “Bones,” suggested that we take one of the duds with us to our company street and see if we could not create a bit of excitement. We managed to get one to our tent. After “Taps,” we fished out the fuse, sneaked down to the end of the tent row, leaned the rocket against a rifle cleaning rack, and fired it. Not having a launching chute to hold it upright until its power was sufficient to carry it on an upward flight, the rocket reached about twenty feet, turned horizontally, and took off over the tents. As soon as the fuse had shown signs of ignition, Bones and I had taken off for our tent some fifty yards away without anyone seeing us. The last we saw of the rocket it was soaring dangerously close to the roof of one of the mess halls. Soon the company streets were filled with pajama-clad cadets with everyone asking, “What the hell is going on?”  Bones and I were also in pajamas, so we could join the group innocently and ask the same question. No one ever learned where the rocket came from or who set it off, but our prank gave the camp something to talk about for a few days.

    Besides spending time on the rifle range, we learned how to handle and care for Army pistols, rifles, and a bit about machine guns. There were some field maneuvers and training in military mapping and strategy, and other things the regular Army instructors believed we should know if we were to become second lieutenants. For me personally, that rough six weeks convinced me that when I graduated with a reserve commission, I would not have any desire to keep it active. My four years of college ROTC and that summer camp in Alabama were enough military life for me.

    In attempting to review this period of my college life I have had to rely largely on my memory, but among my souvenirs, I have found a list of names of the eighty-two cadets from A & M College who fought “the battle of Camp McClellan” in 1922. One of these is John C. Stennis, the well-known, longtime US Senator who is life secretary of the A & M Class of 1923. On the other hand, it is with sadness that I find on checking against a list of surviving classmates as of 1978, only 26 of the ROTC group survive. I have no information about the military service of others, but I find that among the 26 survivors, there are two generals and one colonel. Thus it can be concluded that the heat, humidity, long hikes, and sweaty days on the rifle range in Alabama that summer of 1922 did not discourage all of the cadets from a military career.

    On July 26, 1922, I was happy to leave Camp McClellan for my home. While in camp I had received word that there was a job for me at Mound, Louisiana, for the remainder of the summer. After a short three days in Ripley, I made my way by train to Vicksburg and across the Mississippi River to Mound. There my brother met me, got me settled in, and introduced me to the staff at the laboratory where I would be working.

    Mound was a small plantation community where everything in the town and all the land surrounding it belonged to the Yerger family. Some years before, with financial support largely from the Rockefeller Foundation, a research laboratory had been established there for the study of malaria. There was a permanent staff of perhaps a dozen and a number of temporary summer employees. Studies included laboratory examinations of blood samples taken regularly from all individuals living on the plantation; monitoring populations of the malaria-carrying anopheles mosquito in the waters of the bayous and swamps; trapping mosquitoes in the cabins of the workers; dissection and examination to determine the percentage carrying the malarial protozoan; and keeping records of persons suffering from malaria and their response to quinine treatment.

    With other temporary employees, my job was to collect samples of mosquitoes from the workers’ cabins. We did this by working through the different rooms with a flashlight and a one-way conical shield at the top of a test tube containing chloroform. Normally the anopheles mosquito is inactive during daytime and is found resting on walls, under tables, or in other hiding places. Because they were seldom disturbed by the flashlight, when a mosquito was located, quickly positioning the cone over it caused it to fly backwards through the shield opening where it was immediately overcome by the chloroform.

    All of the black people living on this very large plantation knew by then what the work at the laboratory was about or knew, at least, that they had to cooperate, and there were no problems when we arrived to capture mosquitoes from their premises. However, there were problems from the youngsters when blood samples had to be taken. When that was done, all family members had to be assembled and a sample of blood obtained from each. For that we used a needle pushed through a cork so that only enough of its point extended to break the skin when the tip of the finger was stuck with it. A drop of blood was smeared onto a microscope slide, labeled, and placed in a container for carrying back to the laboratory. The youngsters never overcame their fear of having the samples taken, and whenever they saw any of the cars from the laboratory arriving they began to scatter with cries of, “Here comes the skeeter doctor!”

    The technician whose job it was to collect samples of water from the bayous had some exciting tales to tell of the snakes and alligators he encountered in his work. There were some alligators, but I am certain he enlarged on some of his experiences. I never saw a single alligator in the several trips I made to the swamps. My visits were made with two of the Yerger boys, George and Maxwell, when they took me duck hunting. Summer, or wood ducks, were plentiful in that region, and although the season for shooting was closed, the Yerger boys thought nothing of that. It did not occur to me to ask about the legality of shooting these ducks when they invited me to go with them. They provided me with a gun and taught me how the hunting was done. Driving to the cypress swamps a little before sundown, we waded into the midst of the cover of lily pads where we stood with water up to our waists and waited for the evening flight. Almost by the clock the flight began as the ducks returned from their day of feeding to the wooded areas separating the lakes. Crouching and hiding as much as possible, we fired away when they came within range. As darkness approached and the flight allowed, we would gather up the kill and wade to shore. There we were always met by hordes of mosquitoes which we fought off vigorously as we rushed to our car. Usually we would have as many as two dozen ducks, and when we arrived at the Yerger home, we turned them over to one of the negro servants for picking and preparation for a duck dinner the following evening. Others from the laboratory would be invited, and these occasions were enjoyed by all of us. Mr. Yerger, the father, presided at the table, and for me it was an experience to see him manipulate his silver-handled duck shears as he artistically split each duck in half and placed the two pieces on the plates of the guests.

    I had gone on three or four of these hunts when my brother learned that anyone taking wood ducks out of season, if caught at it, was subject to a heavy fine. That alarmed him, and he ordered me not to do any more shooting. I agreed with him that I certainly was not in any financial condition to pay a big fine, and I did not want to go to jail which, according to Hugh, was the alternative. When I told the Yerger boys I could not hunt anymore with them, they had a big laugh. They told me that there was no danger that we would be caught at it. They explained that their family owned most of that parish and stated with assurance that game wardens knew better than to come there and try to stop them from shooting. Nevertheless, I thought it best to stop while I was ahead, and I did not shoot any more ducks there.

    From Monday through Friday there was nothing to do in Mound in the evenings except for a poker game begun by some men of the permanent staff of the laboratory that continued as long as enough of them had money left. I could not take a chance of losing my hard-earned money, so I did not get into the poker games. Social activities were limited largely to Saturday nights when we loaded a couple of cars with fellows and girls from the laboratory and went to Tallulah to a public dance place or, on occasion, to private dances at homes of the Yerger boys’ friends. I enjoyed those parties because only barely had I had the pleasure of dancing with girls. Never having danced in my hometown, I had been glad when I got settled in college to find friends who were interested in learning to “trip the light fantastic.”  Consequently, with an old windup Victrola and a few fellows who could teach us, we often practiced in the dormitory halls. These lessons and practice paid off for me that summer in Louisiana, and I learned that dancing was a lot of fun with a pretty girl in your arms.

    The workday evenings became more interesting and enjoyable for me the last two weeks I was in Mound when a pretty eighteen-year-old cousin of the Yergers arrived from Monroe, Louisiana. Being the youngest of the fellows and nearest her age, I quickly took advantage of her presence, and we dated regularly throughout her stay. Alma Potts and I did not fall in love, but for the following year while she attended Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans, we kept up a correspondence. But, with the passing of time, Alma, like her cousins the Yerger boys and other temporary friends I made that summer in Louisiana, passed from my life.

    In September 1922 I returned for my last year at A& M College. Bob Hines and his cousin Chess Hines from Ripley entered as freshmen that fall, and we arranged to room together. As a senior with two frosh roommates, I should have been in a position of power with my every wish attended to, but I was not able to demand too much from these two hometown friends. In other words, they did not respect my seniority as much as was customary. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our year together, and all went well.

    With the new college cafeteria in operation and frequent boxes of food, candy, and cakes from our respective families, we managed quite well, although some students complained that the cost of eating in the cafeteria was much more than the old mess-hall system. The variety of foods was much greater, and of course the amount a student spent in a month depended on the quantity he consumed as well as the particular items he chose as he passed through the line. Prices were low generally. Basic foods such as bread at one cent per slice and milk at two cents per glass became favorite appetizers for heavy eaters. The administration was insistent that a student could eat well without spending more than $30 per month, but when some continued to disagree, the president himself made a test run. He took all three meals in the cafeteria for a month, vowing that he ate nothing at home, and reported that he had spent slightly less than $30. I do not know if that helped, but as students learned the system better, there were few complaints, and all of us agreed that the nice cafeteria was far superior to the old system.

    In the fall of 1922, my roommates Bob and Chess and I had an interesting trip by car with my friend and classmate Dan Humphries. I learned about some of Dan’s activities, which, along with experiences we had on that trip, seem worthy of inclusion here in some detail. Dan had entered the freshman class in 1919 as a war student, having served overseas during the war. He was a likable, fun-loving fellow who soon became well known and popular on campus. Probably because of his maturity, the students living in the same part of the dormitory as Dan gave him the name “Sheriff.”  Although I knew him during our first year, our close mutual friendship began while we were at the YMCA Conference in North Carolina the summer of 1920 when he met Mary Street, a girl from my hometown. Mary was a student at MSCW in Columbus, and the following year through correspondence and rare get-togethers, it became evident that “love had bloomed” for the two of them. Early in their courtship, Dan had visited Ripley where, according to him, he was not received too enthusiastically by Mary’s family. His analysis was that her staid, religious family thought he was not good enough for them. I could understand how his easygoing personality could have caused that family to have some doubts concerning him, and, too, I imagine they conjured up some of those sinful acts committed by American soldiers while serving in France. He was not discouraged by his reception by the prospective in-laws and, in fact, became more determined to marry this girl with or without the approval of her family. However, as I was to learn, he took some interesting actions in an attempt to improve his standing as a suitor for Mary.

    I knew nothing of Dan’s financial status except that as a war student, his college expenses were being paid by Uncle Sam. Possibly he drew something over and above his educational expenses, because by the end of his junior year he had acquired an automobile. This was a “Star,” a small model then being manufactured to compete with the Model T Ford.
    In October, my roommates and I decided to drive with Dan to Jackson for a football game. The distance was no more that 50 miles, but to cover that on the Mississippi roads in the early 1920s required more than several hours. We left the campus after supper on a Friday evening. As the night wore on, Chess and Bob, in the back seat, were able to get some intermittent sleep, but I sat with Dan to ensure that he did not doze at the wheel. Searching for a subject I thought would keep him awake, I inquired as to his love affair and the situation between him and Mary’s family. That proved to be a good conversational subject, and I was given many details that I found to be interesting as well as entertaining when told with the humor that Dan added to his comments. I knew he was serious when he stated that he wanted to improve his standing with Mary’s family, but I was unprepared when he told me that he had recently taken a job as pastor of a country church out from Starkville. I did not take him seriously until he announced that we would have to leave Jackson early enough on Saturday night so he could brush up on the sermon he was to give on Sunday morning. Even then I could not resist kidding him a bit.
    “What the hell, Dan,” I said, “you’re no more a preacher than I am. How d’yuh ever get into that racket?”
    “Well,” he replied, “it was an opportunity to make a little money and help pay for my car.”
    “But,” I added, “how d’yuh fool those church people?  You’re no preacher!”
    “Aw, that was easy,” Dan replied. “When I was growing up I learned to quote a lot of Bible scripture, and here in college I took that course in biblical literature. You remember how Prof Butts made those Bible stories so interesting. Well, I found that I could build sermons around those stories that held the attention of the congregation even without too much hellfire and damnation.”
    “I can see you could do that. But,” I asked, “are you now an ordained minister?”
    “No,” he answered. “There wasn’t any official ordaining. When I learned the church was in need of a preacher, I informed them that I was considering going into the ministry and would like to get some experience. I told them of my association with the YMCA and the religious training I had gotten at the summer conference in Blue Ridge, and they decided to give me a shot at it. Then they asked me to conduct a Sunday service. For that I worked up a sermon or lecture from the book of Matthew based on the teaching of Jesus in Galilee, you know, the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. I guess they were satisfied, because they hired me.”
    “How big a church is it, and what kind of a turnout was there for your trial sermon?”
    “About a hundred members, I guess, and most of them were there.”
    “But Dan,” I added, “in a little old country church like that you know the preacher never gets much cash for his services.”
    “That was the first thing I took care of. I told them right off that I wasn’t no molasses preacher.”
    “Whad’ yuh mean by that?”
    “Aw, you know,” he replied, “a load of firewood, a dozen eggs, some sweet potatoes, a couple of chickens, or a jug of sorghum molasses. I told them that I was going to school and needed cash.”
    To that I could only say jokingly, “Dan Humphries, you’re a bigger scoundrel than I thought. I’m sure money was not the only consideration back of your religious activity.”
    His good-natured reply was, “Maybe, but those people were looking for a preacher, and in taking that job I figure that instead of two I’m really killing three birds with the same stone. First, I’m giving those people the satisfaction of attending Sunday church. Secondly, I’m picking up a few needed dollars. And lastly, I think I’m making myself more acceptable to Mary’s family.”
    “You are somethin’ else, Preacher,” I remarked as we drove into the town of Canton, Mississippi, early that fall morning to look for a place to get some breakfast before driving the remaining twenty miles to Jackson.

    Finding a café that was open for business, we parked in front and went in for breakfast. As we were concluding our meal, a large man in a uniform that identified
him as “the law” entered with a cheery greeting to the café workers as he came directly to where we were seated. His first remark was, “Hi fellers. You-all belong to that Star car out front?”

    “Yes-suh,” Dan answered politely, with all of us wondering if we were going to be charged with some traffic violation.
    Our suspense ended when he added, “I just noticed those A & M College stickers on it while I was driving by and figured it would be somebody going to the football game.”  He then continued, “I got a boy goin’ to school up there. This is his first year so maybe you-all don’t know ‘em.”  He then gave us a name and seemed pleased when one of my freshman roommates indicated that he knew his son.
    “If you boys ain’t in too big a hurry to get to Jackson,” he said, “I’d like to show yuh around our town.”
    When we indicated that we would like that, he instructed the waitress to pick up our checks and put them on his bill. He had a cup of coffee with us and then led us to his official car outside and told us to leave our car where it was—that he would bring us back there later. As he drove us around town identifying the different business buildings, churches, and schools, we learned that he was the police chief, and it became evident that he was a popular figure. He had a hearty greeting for all the townspeople within hailing distance, including the schoolchildren who, in turn, called or waved a greeting to him.
    Having shown us much of the town, he announced that he wanted to take us to his home. Arriving at a somewhat ramshackle large house on the fringes of town, he stopped the car on the driveway, and after unloading we were taken inside through a side entrance. A loud shout brought forth his wife who was halfway introduced to us by his announcement that we were students at A & M College and knew their son. We noted an expression of displeasure on her face when he stated that he had brought us to the house for a “little refreshment,” but we did not interpret her reaction until he led us into a hallway off the kitchen where he proceeded to partially fill a pitcher from a five-gallon carboy of moonshine whiskey. Locating some glasses, he began to pour about “three fingers” of whiskey into them and offer it to us. When Chess and I both told him we did not drink, and Bob poured most of his back into the pitcher with the remark that it was too early in the day for him, it was left up to Dan to show appreciation for the chief’s hospitality. Accepting his glass, he studied it a moment and then, trying to give the impression that he was an experienced drinker, downed the contents in one movement. As soon as he could speak, he made some comment regarding the good quality of the whiskey. That seemed to satisfy the chief, who told us that he and his officers kept a tight rein on the local bootleggers and confiscated a lot of their goods. Then he added, “By law, any whiskey we pick up has to be poured down the drain, but we always sample it first, and when we find some high-quality stuff, we hold out some for our personal use!”
    Soon we were driven back to our car, and after thanks and farewells to the chief, we were on the road to Jackson. I remember few details of that day except that our Aggies defeated Ole Miss, and in the evening I went to the home of Gertrude Barrett, who was home for the weekend from her job at the laboratory in Mound, Louisiana, where I had worked the previous August. Dan drove me to her home, but I took a taxi back to town to an agreed-upon meeting place for departure at eleven o’clock.
    We reached the campus in early morning, when three of us sacked in for some much-needed sleep, but Dan had to polish up the sermon he was to give that morning and drive out to his church. I never asked him how things went, but if he was as exhausted as we who spent those two nights on the road with him, I am sure his message that Sunday was briefer and less inspirational than normal.
    I never learned if Dan’s temporary church work improved his standing with Mary’s family, but I know that they were married sometime during Dan’s senior year. As I think back on it, I believe Mary graduated a year ahead of us, and she must have been teaching school in some other town, because I never saw them together around campus. After my graduation and departure for distant points in 1923, I had no contact with Dan. I know that he spent some time at the University of Tennessee in entomological work and possibly some graduate study, but our paths never crossed again. Only recently I learned from a class newsletter that this good friend of college days passed away within a year or two following the fiftieth anniversary of our class in 1973.
    During the fall months, Philip, my little friend from the Philippines, had gotten well acquainted with my roommates Bob and Chess. As Christmas approached, we decided to take him home with us and give him a good time. Having remained on campus three previous Christmas holidays, Philip was thrilled, and by the time we were to leave by train for Ripley, he had asked many questions and knew much about our hometown and many of the people who lived there. He was an immediate “hit” with our families and friends. Few citizens of Ripley had ever seen a foreigner of any kind and certainly no one from the Philippine Islands. Brown skinned and only about four and a half feet tall, he drew the attention of everyone, especially the black people. Working in the mess hall at A & M where much of the kitchen help was black, Philip became familiar with the American black people, their way of life, and their characteristic happy ways. Thus, when some of our negro friends would see him and be introduced to him, Philip talked, laughed, and joked with them, perhaps not realizing that to these black people he was a real curiosity. For two weeks there was a constant round of parties at which Philip was the honored guest. He liked the social life and the American girls, and he entertained both young and old with stories of the Philippines. He was sad when we had to go back to school, but I know he never forgot that wonderful Christmas in Ripley.
    A requirement for graduation with a degree in agricultural education was a two- week period of practice teaching during the senior year. Arrangements were made for me to spend my two weeks at the Jones County Agricultural High School in Ellisville, Mississippi. In March I went by train and arrived in Ellisville around four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. There was no one to meet me at the station, so after getting some information there, I took off with my suitcase to walk to the school where I would have living accommodations. As I approached the school, I began to meet some pedestrians who were strung out singly or in groups for a distance of two blocks. Most of these ignored me, while some stared blankly at me with open mouths as I went by them. As I approached these people, I had assumed that they were students from the school, and after getting a close look at the first ones I passed my thought was, “My god, what kind of a backwoods school have I chosen for my practice teaching?”  Soon, however, it became evident to me that this group of people was from an institution other than the Agricultural High School. I had simply encountered a group of mentally retarded patients out for their Sunday afternoon walk, not the most pleasant experience one would wish to encounter upon arrival in a strange town!  

    My two weeks at the school were spent largely as an observer in classrooms and umpiring baseball games, and I was glad to complete my time there and return to campus.
    The spring of that year I began to look for an after-graduation job. I listed my name with a teachers’ employment agency and soon was receiving notices of openings for the coming fall. I made applications for some of these and, prior to graduation, had lined up a job teaching agriculture and coaching baseball and basketball. At that time, I had not found a job for the summer. With some part-time work on campus and a bank loan, I had gotten through my senior year. The loan for $100 was from a bank in New Albany where my sister Laura worked. I had asked to borrow the money from her, but she suggested that I get it from the bank. She indicated that it would be good experience for me to handle a loan on a businesslike basis, but I am sure she also felt that it was safer for her to avoid a family loan. The work on campus that I had began after Christmas was with Dr. D. C. Neal, plant pathologist in the State Plant Board. The work involved assisting him with research studies on diseases of cotton, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes, and the identification of disease specimens sent in by inspectors scattered over the state. At the beginning of the calendar year another plant pathologist, H. D. Barker, came to work in Neal’s laboratory. Barker had just completed all Ph.D. requirements at the University of Minnesota and was to go back there in June to receive his degree.
    In my botany courses I had received an introduction to plant pathology but had no laboratory training. On this new job, it was like a one-student-one-teacher class. Dr. Neal taught me many laboratory techniques, symptomatology of many diseases, and how to isolate and identify the causal fungal organisms in the disease specimens that came to the laboratory. Additionally I learned to create artificial epidemics of diseases in field plots and to select for disease resistance in plants. At times Dr. Neal suggested that I might be interested in going to graduate school and training for a profession in plant pathology. He had taken his degree at Missouri Botanical Gardens, and he mentioned that he would inquire there to learn if an assistantship would be available for me. I expressed some interest in that, but nothing further developed. I was to learn later that after he had discussed this matter with Barker, it had been decided that when Barker went back to Minnesota in June, he was to see what might be available for me there.
    In late May, graduation day came. I remember few details of that important day except that when I was handed my diploma it was announced that because I was not yet twenty-one years old, I would not then receive my reserve commission as second lieutenant. Incidentally, I never did receive that commission because when it was offered me after my twenty-first birthday, I was in graduate school and I felt that the requirement of two weeks’ summer camp would interfere with my study plans. I am sure I was also influenced by memories of that six weeks at Camp McClellan.
    Prior to graduation, Dr. R. W. Harned, chief of the State Plant Board and professor and chairman of the department of entomology, asked if I was interested in a summer job in nearby Starkville. This was to be a one-man mosquito control operation. I investigated this, and having nothing else lined up for summer, I accepted. Reporting to the town mayor, I agreed to begin work when the school year ended at a salary of $100 per month. I was instructed that it would be my job to walk the town searching for mosquito breeding sites and to treat these with kerosene. The city fathers had publicized the program, and the citizens were happy that, at last, something was going to be done toward eliminating the summer mosquito nuisance.
    On the day following graduation, I began the work and found, according to the prearranged plan, barrels of kerosene placed at numerous points around town from which I could fill two-gallon sprinkling cans. With the filled cans, I worked out from the supply stations, searching for open water. Although I inspected the premises around homes, most breeding locations were drainage ditches, an occasional small stream, and sometimes open ditches carrying sewage from residences. Wherever there was quiet water, mosquito larvae were present. When a small amount of kerosene was applied, it formed a thin surface film that killed the larvae when they came to the top to breathe. After a while I had the town quite well mapped and learned the required frequency of treatment of many locations. Following summer rains, there were more inspections and treatments to be made, but during dry weather I knew that open ditches that received water and sewage from homes and drainage ditches that held other runoff water were the principal sources of the mosquitoes.

    As the summer progressed, the mayor informed me that he had received many favorable comments from the citizens and that he was very pleased with the job I was doing. After hearing that, I took the opportunity to tell him that I thought the area surrounding the town and outside the city limits should be included in the program, because mosquitoes breeding there could be invading the town. He agreed to my suggestion and also gave me some additional help—two summer-school students who had some free afternoons.

    With these helpers, we spread out onto farms and other occupied sections around the town. We found a number of places where mosquitoes were breeding, but our greatest discovery was on what had once been a dairy farm. There we found two concrete silos empty except for about two feet of water. Both of these contained so many larvae as to make the surface of the water appear dark. We applied far more kerosene than was necessary because we knew that these two silos could breed enough mosquitoes to infest the entire county. A week later, when we stopped to check on this location, the odor from the millions of dead larvae was as unpleasant as that from a long-dead animal. After eliminating that source, our regular inspections and treatments kept things well under control.
    Sometime after the newly titled “Doctor” Barker returned from Minnesota, I received word that he wished to see me. When I called on him, he told me that Dr. Stakman, head of the department of plant pathology at the University of Minnesota thought he could arrange a graduate assistantship for me and that as soon as this was determined, we would hear from him. Around mid-July I was asked to send my college transcripts, and shortly afterward I received word that I had been accepted in graduate school at the University of Minnesota and that an appointment as instructor was available at the salary of $50 per month. With that, I turned down the teaching job I had been offered and began plans for graduate study.

    In a letter to my brother Hugh who was still working in Mound, Louisiana, I let him know my plans. He replied immediately that he would like to go to Minnesota to study in the department of entomology under Dr. Riley and that he was sending in the necessary papers and transcript. In late August, he wrote that he had been accepted and that I should let him know my travel plans so that we could make the trip together. Wishing to spend some time in Ripley before I left for that far northern “Yankee” country, I resigned my job in Starkville as of September 1 and left for home. Two weeks later, Hugh joined me there, and as we were making final departure plans, he began to impress on me that we were going to a place where the winters were extremely cold. On his insistence, we shopped the stores of Ripley buying the heaviest underwear, suits, and overcoats we could find. I think Hugh must have been studying some weather records, because he seemed to know all about the blizzards and subzero weather we would encounter. At times he had me thinking that perhaps I should not go to such a terrible part of the country, but then I figured it probably was not as bad as he pictured it and decided to give it a try.
    So it was that on September 18, 1923, two small-town boys from Mississippi caught a train to Memphis to take a day train to Chicago and a night train to the Twin Cities, possibly the first students from Mississippi A & M College to enroll in the graduate school of the University of Minnesota.

This memories addition was sent in by Jane Wallace, Grandaughter of Dr. Wallace, if you have additional questions please contact her. 

© 2008,  by Melissa McCoy-Bell.  All rights reserved..

( pictured above  is  Tom Hines and Hugh Wallace sitting on the front porch of the Wallace House in Ripley, MS. The house stood at the of Union and Pine Streets.)