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People Of America, You Need To Lighten Up

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, I hope you’re having a good week.  It seems incredible that another  Watermelon Carnival is two weeks away. As usual I’ll reprise the beginning of that starting in next week’s column.  If any of you have anything to contribute, let me hear from you.

I would also like to thank those of you who contributed information about the country stores and particularly Eva Kimzey Williams for her detailed account of her family’s O’Tuckalofa store. The town stores also have interesting stories.  

R.R. Pate had a general merchandise store on Main Street, located north of Turnage Drug and across from the Bank Of Water Valley. He had an artificial leg. Before Town Creek was channeled the streets would flood. Pate was once observed holding an umbrella over his head with a sand bag in the othe hand.

At one time he was the Studebaker wagon dealer, but chose not to handle the Studebaker cars when they were introduced.  

A popular story about Pate was that he had a clerk that sold a saddle to someone and forgot his name. So Pate sent bills to several people he thought might have bought a saddle.  Two people came in and paid for saddles.

Another store operator in Water Valley was Jim Anderson who had a grocery operation on the north end of town. He was married to Papa Badley’s sister, Annie.

Once a lady came in to order some pickled mackerel that came in kegs.  When Jim reached in and pulled out a dead rat the lady said, “I don’t believe I want any mackerel today.”  

Anderson had two sons, George Lee and Charley Frank. When the depression started, the boys started hoboing across the country as did many young men.

Charley Frank told me about another young man he met on his rounds named Eric Sevareid, who later went on to be a distinguished CBS News correspondent.  

Another Water Valley businesss, The J.W. McLarty Company, stocked groceries, dry goods, and furniture. The furniture lineup included coffins which families would buy and handle their own funerals. This offering ultimately led to  McLarty offering funeral services, resulting in the start of McLarty funeral home.

Trains In The 1920s

In the 1920s when railroading was at its peak, boys would go to the railroad and watch the passenger trains pass. In the morning #23 would go south at 10:30, and in the afternoon #24 would go north. In between freights  would go north and south.

The most exciting trains to watch pass were the berry and fruit hauling trains, as they had priority and traveled at a high speed through town. During my first two years of school, we lived across the street from the main line through Oakland and we would watch for the block signal which told us a train was in the block.  

It was a thrill to see them speed though with their six-foot tall driver wheels.  Sometimes a particularly long freight with a double header would pass. Today many long trains come through with a pusher engine and a double header as well.  

The last passenger train I remember coming through Water Valley was really a passenger coach attached to the rear of a freight on #23.  

    Once at the end of World War II, the City Of New Orleans came through because a bridge was out on the Main line.  

My Dad told me a story about inviting an old engineer to eat dinner with he and Mother. Dad said it was a great meal and the old man enjoyed it.  

Later he overheard him telling someone, “Cooper invited me to eat and all I got was light bread heels and nubbin tomatoes.”  

Dad said he told the engineer, “I don’t mind what you said, but it really hurt my wife’s feelings.”  

Dad was a six-foot, four-inch fireman with a short temper. He was looking down on this small engineer, and the old man said, “Take me to the little woman so I can apologize in person.     

Dad said she didn’t even know about his remarks, he just wanted to pick on the old man. I’m afraid in this age of political correctness we’re losing something important, the ability to laugh at ourselves and trade harmless jibes with each other.

The late Dudley Wagner once wrote that he put a monocle in his eye and went into the dining car of the train and was treated like royalty and was even addressed as “Sir.”  Martin Boylston said that Dudley would come out on the upstairs of his Aunt Jessie Wagner’s house and blow reville on a bugle.  

People of America, you need to lighten up. 

My email address is or write P.O. Box 61189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.

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