LESLIE CRISS: Visit to Coffeeville perks up interest in family history

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
– Frederick Buechner

“It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives.”
– Mitch Albom

My family spent time last weekend tromping around among the resting places of some of our ancestors.
Revisiting a place where we’d all – my sister, my father and me – spent much time in our youth, tales were told that reminded us from where we’ve come.
Coffeeville – or Caw’ville to those who know it best – is home to nearly 900 in a Mississippi county called Yalobusha. Coffeeville shares the title of county seat with its just-down-the-road-a-piece neighbor, Water Valley.
On its official website Coffeeville is called the place “where old friends gather.” New friends, too.
We were invited to this place – called home by a slew of Crisses – by our friend Jean Bailey Kirk, who lives in Tupelo but is one of the famous Bailey twins born and raised in Coffeeville.
She’s the daughter of world-renowned hunter and conservationist John Provine Bailey, but that will be another story for another Sunday. Sure as shooting.
We all dined sufficiently and fellowshipped fondly in the lodge that rests on a portion of the Bailey family’s 2,000 acres of beautiful earth.
On Saturday morning, we drove in to Coffeeville proper, each of us remarking as we remembered places along the way: the Criss family homeplace; my friend Cheryl’s grandmother’s homeplace just across the street; Coffeeville High School, where my great aunt was one of the best – and toughest – history teachers around; the clinic where our great uncle Ralph practiced medicine until the very last day of his life – in his late 80s; the house where Jean’s grandmother had lived; and more.
A drive out to New Hope Cemetery took us even further into our family history.
My grandfather used to talk about his brother who died in infancy. He said his name was Napoleon Bonaparte Criss and they called him Little Poly.
Granddaddy also used to tell us Jesse James was our great-great-great-grandfather. So, why would we have believed his tales?
But he spoke the truth about his brother, born Aug. 16, 1916, and died Oct. 10, 1916. On his marker – Little Poly.
He told the truth, too, about another long-ago Criss who promised his beloved wife he would never let it rain on her. When she died he built a small white house over her resting place, where he now lies beside her.
Ever moving forward in this life, we find it helpful and hopeful to slow down, from time to time, and take a backward glance at where we’ve come from.
And remember those who’ve made us who we are.
Last weekend, I did that.
In a place called Coffeeville.

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