LESLIE CRISS: Recent trip through small town kindles memories

“The nice part about living in a small town is that when you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else does”
– Anonymous

“There’s a serenity, safety and sincerity in a small town.”
– Kathleen Spring

I love a small town. Several weeks ago on the way back from Jackson, I took a slight detour and drove through one of my favorites.
Coffeeville. (Caw’ville to those who’ve lived in and/or loved the place.)
It’s the town that was home to the Criss family. The town where I spent many youthful summertimes. And the town where I learned a lot about family ties and fun times.
The only family folks I know who still call Coffeeville home are my great-uncle Tyler’s wife, Dot and my cousin Bill.
My friend Jean Bailey Kirk, one of Coffeeville’s famous Bailey twins, spends lots of time on the family farm still. And my cousin Robert has been fixing up the family home.
There’s a whole lot of history for me in that little town, situated about 13 miles northeast of my hometown of Grenada.
My most recent and rushed drive-through brought back lots of memories of my own and of family stories told and retold.
There’s the big two-story, white-columned house where my dad, as a little boy, flung himself out a top-floor window.
It was, of course, an accident. But, it’s the stuff of family lore.
My grandmother, pregnant with her second son, had been put to bed. My great-uncle Ralph’s wife, Lima, was pregnant also. Both were upstairs when little Francis Wortham Criss decided to run toward the window.
He hit the screen, the screen gave way and he tumbled out and down. History has it that Lima made it down the stairs and outside just as my dad landed, fortunately for us all, barely injured in a bit of shrubbery.

Big Daddy’s place
There’s the house I’ve always known as the Criss house where my great-grandparents, May Helen and Ralph Jackson Criss lived.
Big Daddy, as he was known to my dad, was a doctor in Yalobusha County. He made housecalls on horseback before he ordered his Model A from the Ford Motor Company.
“It was delivered to him by a man from the company who taught Big Daddy to drive, then returned to Detroit,” my dad said.
My great-grandparents raised a doctor, a dentist, a teacher, a wife and mother, and an engineer (my grandfather).
They lost a son in infancy – Napolean Bonaparte Criss. I thought for years my grandfather was yanking my chain when he told me that was his brother’s name. Then on a visit to the cemetery near Airmount, I saw it myself. His nickname? Little ‘Poly.
Downtown Coffeeville is fairly sad these days, but at one end of the street still stands The Courier, a smalltown newspaper.
When I was at Ole Miss and would zip through Coffeeville on my way to Grenada to see grandparents, I’d stop at my Great-Aunt Georgia’s. We’d visit over a piece of homemade cake and a bottled Co-cola. The next week, a mention of my visit would be published in the Courier.
As long as it’s still publishing, Coffeeville lives and breathes.
Just like my memories of folks long gone.

Contact Leslie Criss at leslie.criss@djournal .com or (662) 678-1584.


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