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  • My Memories of growing up in Artesia, Mississippi

    My mother and step-father's family lived in Artesia and as far as I knew when I was little, they always had lived there. It was just a given in my mind that the little town was our family's hometown forever and that things would always be the same. Idealistic child's view of life, I now know.

    When I was just a little girl in the early 1950s, probably around 3, my first memories seemed to come alive. My parents and my grandparents both ran stores in the "downtown" part of Artesia, which was a sleepy little railroad village. The GM&O (Gulf, Mobile & Ohio) railroad came right through Artesia, on its north-south run from Mobile to Chicago. On Saturday nights, my family would take my sister and me over to the depot to watch the passenger train come in. It was very exciting for me to be able to look "wayyyy" down the track and see that circular light getting bigger and bigger, closer and closer, to the depot.

    Of course, I was held tightly back away from the actual tracks by whomever had the child duty that night, I guess. It was just exciting to see the train come in and see the passengers who got off the train. I always imagined that they came from a far off exotic place and were going to equally exciting places. Probably to that big city of St. Louis or Chicago, wherever they were. I wondered if I might see them on my View-Master!

    I remember there was a picture show (movie theater) of sorts in the downtown part of Artesia that showed a movie every Saturday night. I cannot remember what movies were shown, but I do remember cowboys on white horses and cowboys on black horses. It seemed that the ones on the black horses were the bad guys. My most vivid memories of that "picture show" was the popcorn and sno-cone machines! I do not remember who ran the picture show, who owned it or anything more. It was in the building next to my Uncle Emmett's hardware store.

    Sundays were the days we dressed in our finest clothes and went to church. My grandparents went to the red brick Methodist Church, which was located next to the red brick schoolhouse not too far from our house. We went to the brown brick Baptist Church, located down the street because that was the denomination that our step-father belonged to, so my mother converted and we were raised in the Southern Baptist Church. We went to Sunday School, Worship Service, and evening Baptist Training Union and then another Worship Service. We also went on Wednesday nights. My mother was the pianist and my step-father was the song leader. Some of my best friendships were made at the Baptist Church, ones that still last today.

    Some events that stand out in my mind from my childhood are fires: The first major fire I can remember was the Methodist Parsonage burning to the ground. I remember a preacher and his family living there named Cook and the preacher Cook had a hook for a hand. That was a really nice house. The second fire I remember was Mr. Bill Cook's store catching fire and burning. That store building had at one time been owned by Uncle Jim Roberts. And the third fire I remember was Uncle Jim's old home burning down. It was such dry wood, that you could hear it crackling blocks away. Whenever there was a fire in town, the trains blew their whistles loudly to wake everyone up. I read that back in the late 1800's there was a fire in the downtown of Artesia that spread to most all of the businesses and destroyed the downtown. I guess that is why the trains blow their whistles.

    Some names of families I remember from when I was very young were: Hendley, Harvey, Roberts, Peterson, Cox, Capes, Banks, Fikes, Hill, Halbert, Dawkins, Smith, Shanks, Medlock, Lummus, Gentry, Hairston, Brown, Thompson, Langford, Busby, Shook, Butts, Prichard, Cook, Gray, Pilkinton, McIlwain, Combs, Boozer, Johnsey, Hamm, Foster, Gillespie, Bailey, Evans, Miller, Stuckey, Sykes & White. Later came the Poole, Potter, Doss, Denton, Williams, Rickman, Smith, Meyer, Blankenship, Ellerby, Crocker, Heflin, families. I'm sure there were more, but my memory can't pull them up right now. Many of these were railroad employee families.

    My mother and stepfather married when I was 3. I remember the wedding. It was held in my grandparents' living room. I was the flower girl, I think, and I remember walking past the lady playing the piano, which was in my grandparents' dining room. I think her name was Miss Ophelia Busby and I think she was an airline stewardess.

    We lived in a rented house, that later became the home of the Potter family. (I, of course, at age 3, did not know what a rental house was, it was just a house). We stayed there about a year, I guess, and I remember hearing that we had bought a house up near the schoolhouse. It had belonged to a widow named Mrs. Banks. I was excited to be moving to a house near the school where my sister was going every day. I couldn't wait til it was my turn to go to school, whatever school was! ;-)

    My grandfather loaned my parents the money for the house and I remember that they paid him back $50 a month for quite a few years. That was a lot of money back in 1951. When we moved in, the light fixtures were lights that dangled from the ceiling and you pulled a string to turn them on and off. My sister and I shared a room for the first 5-6 years til she became a teen and wanted her own room. I guess I was a pest, being 3.5 years younger. They gave her the third bedroom, which til that time, had been the guest room. We didn't often have guests, tho, because all of our relatives lived within driving distance of us. But when we did, my sister had to give up that room and sleep in my room, which I don't think she liked.

    Our next door neighbors were the Gillespies, step-cousin of my step dad. Lots of "steps" in my family. Silas Gillespie worked for the Freight Company down at the railroad and his wife worked for the bank. They had a son, Charlie, who was about 3 years younger than me and he became my playmate.

    On the other side of us was a wonderful black family, Tom and Julia "Chile" Johnson. I loved going over to their house and sitting on the porch swing with Chile. She would sing and talk to me. She had a beautiful front yard, with flowers and trellises. Tom had a huge garden between our house and their house and he often brought my family fresh vegetables. They were a fine family and I still miss them.

    Straight across the street from our house, was the huge lot (a whole town block) with a house in the center, that belonged to the Pritchard family. I would see Mr. Buddy Pritchard cutting the grass in the lot with his tractor. There were giant oak trees in one section of this lot, leading from a cattle gap up to the house. I am sure that many decades ago this was the entrance to the front of the house, although at the time when I was young, to get to the house, you came in a gravel driveway to the back of the house from the street behind it. Later in my life, I learned that this house had originally been built in the Civil War era by Dr. Oscar Columbus Brothers. Mrs. Pritchard's maiden name was Brothers, so when she married, she and her husband bought this house from Mrs. Locke, who was a widow. This was in the 1920s. I wish I had asked more questions of my grandparents and parents when I was growing up, about my little town and about my ancestors. Now, I have to dig to find answers.

    More, next time.


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