In 1961, our family lived in segregated Memphis, but we did not feel anything but happy and content. We lived on Benford Street and our street was lined with loving families on both sides of the street. There were the Brumleys next door, the Miles on the other side of the vacant lot, the Drapers behind us, the Guys and Bryants across the street alongside with the mysterious Mrs. West.
As children, we walked and enjoyed everyday life and often visited the sundry stores often held in people’s homes. They sold pop (soda), candy and other goodies that made small children smile for miles. We always crossed the street to avoid passing Mrs. West’s home because rumor had it that she washed down her front steps with urine to keep the evil spirits away. We shunned that as kids and found it quite comical.
One day, my sister and I were walking down Benford Street, and we found a letter as we walked home. We started reading it and every line begin with ‘So susta.” We giggled as we read it and to this day, we often greet each other with those words, so susta. It is our private joke and happy remembrances of times gone by.
We lived in a small duplex and the six of us seemed to fit in there just fine. My father used to fill our family station wagon with us and as many neighborhood kids as he could get in the car. Then, he drove us around the town because he knew that some of them had never left Benford Street before, so it was a real treat. My mother was the school librarian at Riverview School which was a few blocks up the street. That is where I fell in love with the little blue biography books of famous people.
There was also a huge vacant lot right next to our duplex. It served as our neighborhood playground. Whenever, Mrs. Miles came to the porch with a pan of hot pound cake, all playing ceased immediately. We ran to her front porch to make sure that we got a piece of that delicious cake. Those were the days!
On Saturdays, we had to do our chores such washing, hanging out the clothes on the clothesline, mop and clean our tiny house. Afterwards, we were allowed to eat popcorn and drink Kool-Aid as we watched Tarzan and Shirley Temple movies. One cousin had her hair curled in Shirley Temple curls. Boy, did we envy her! When the local show called Pride of the Southland came on, we usually called it a day and went outside to play or do other things. Playing jacks on the front porch was also a comforting pastime for me and my three sisters.
On Sundays, I used to go to church with my friend Herdestine who lived next door. I was allowed to wear stockings or what we called nylons since I was dressed in my Sunday best. That was a highlight for me as I tried to figure out what the moaning bench (mourning bench) meant though she tried to explain it to me.
On weekdays at the school, we had one classmate who showed us how to take a penny and turn the date upside down and it would still say, 1961. That is how I remember the year. It was also a time when we would run up and down the school yard when we heard that the green men were sighted. (An era to be researched) They supposedly had come to earth from outer space with the astronauts. I know. Kids, right?
My mother’s sister, my aunt, and her family lived at the other end of Benford Street. It was a very long street and especially if we were walking. Once the sisters were having a feud over some thread and a needle or something. They were exchanging hot letters and we had to deliver them, but we did not care. We enjoyed the long walks and the cool breeze as we talked and sang along the way.
It was on Benford Street, that I made up a name for my daughter. That did not happen, so I borrowed it for myself and used it as a pen name. When, I fondly reflect on the time spent on Benford Street, the lyrics come to mind, “Precious memories, oh how they linger.”
March 5, 2022