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Drugstore Job Gave Witness To Main Doings

Margie Williamson

Drugstore Job Gave Witness To Main Doings

By Alexe van Beuren

    Time hasn’t faded Margie Williamson’s memories of moving to Water Valley. “From the state line, the roads were not paved. Well,” she amends, “they’d tried to pave the road from Oxford to Water Valley, but it was more pot holes than anything.”

    Mrs. Williamson’s father was a traveling salesman, and after living all over Tennessee and Kentucky, he moved his family to Water Valley in the summer of 1944. “We got into Water Valley late in the afternoon. It was Father’s Day. When we came in, we passed the old Baptist Church, then the little Episcopal Church, then the old Methodist Church. When you went into the Methodist Church, the floorboards would creak.” Mrs. Williamson sighs. “I loved that church.”

    Beginning at the north end of town and moving south, Margie Williamson then lists every business on Main Street. She tells me about the Kraft cheese plant, the boarding house, the Masonic temple; she mentions the RC Cola plants, the hardware store, five grocery stores, a haberdashery, and “the love of my life,” French’s Drugstore.

    And then she returns to where the Wallace family ended up on her first day in Water Valley: the Blackmur Hotel.

    “The lobby had a beautiful wide staircase,” Mrs. Williamson recalls. “I thought, ‘the rooms are going to be so nice.'” She pauses. “Wrong!” Her room had a transom for air conditioning, which meant she could hear people going down the hall, and there was no window. “It was a dump!”

    After two days in the hotel, her family moved into a big white house on Dupuy Street (where the Weeks live now). It didn’t take long to feel at home.

    “I would walk down the street and people would say ‘hello, Margie.'” Mrs. Williamson pauses, and says, “I loved that. I loved that because it gave me a feeling of belonging.”

    In those days, people didn’t tend to move their families around, and so Mrs. Williamson was always the outsider at whatever school she was attending.     

    “People do not accept you easily. But Water Valley was different. It was like they just took us in; I don’t think I ever had anybody to be ugly to me like they had in other places. By the time school started, I knew girls.”

    Those girls dubbed themselves the Big Eleven and include women who still live in town. The Big Eleven spent their time eating ice creams in the drugstore and playing games or dancing in the teenage canteen. “We would talk about everything,” Mrs. Williamson says.

    After a time, Mrs. Williamson took an after-school job at French’s Drugstore. She worked behind the counter for three years and witnessed the daily life of Water Valley’s main street.

    “They’d bring the field hands to town on Saturday,” Mrs. Williamson would recall. “The field hands would give their children a nickel a piece. I dipped ice cream all day. The only flavor they’d eat was vanilla.” She tells me more stories about the rural workers; “they would buy live chickens from the country store and sit in front holding the legs of the chicken,” she recalls, and then mentions a story she heard about a local merchant who would marry the field workers and then hand them the label off a pair of jeans as a marriage certificate.

    Mrs. Williamson’s memory of the past also includes the group of men who would sit with their backs against a wall, talking and chewing tobacco. “You’d have to be careful,” Mrs. Williamson recalls. “They’d spit on you. They fascinated me, though.”

    Through her work in the drugstore, Mrs. Williamson also got to know the local sheriff, who was friends with the owner of the drugstore. “He wore a Stetson and had a gun on his hip. Sort of John Waynish. On Saturday night, he’d go on raids, and then he’d bring the whiskey to the drugstore and put it in the refrigerator. I thought here I am, with a sheriff and his deputies,” Mrs. Williamson says, and sighs. “He was something else.”

    Though there were more girls than boys in the high school, the influx of men when World War II ended meant that getting a date was easy. “It was heaven,” Mrs. Williamson says, chuckling. “You could pick who you wanted.”

    Margie picked Taylor Williamson, who was four years older and had served in the South Pacific in the Navy. “Sailors had a name for having a girl in every port,” Mrs. Williamson says, explaining her mother’s reservations, but she dated him anyway. They married in January of 1949, when Margie was eighteen, and proceeded to move to Memphis right after their weekend honeymoon in Jackson.

    But they didn’t stay gone for long. The Williamsons moved back to Water Valley after several years, and their three sons and daughter graduated from Water Valley High School.

    Though Margie Williamson is a long way from the wide-eyed thirteen year-old girl she was in 1944, she still remembers. “I had never seen a town like this,” she says. “Every place we had ever lived was so much bigger than Water Valley. There was no square. I tell you, it was like going back in a time capsule.” She smiles. “I fell in love with it.”

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