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A Lifetime of Memories
by Rosebud Reed Givens Davis

Now, I’ve always wanted to write the “great novel” like Margaret Mitchell or somebody, but I can’t ever think of a plot. If I do, it has already been written or I read it somewhere. Anyway, I’m not supposed to be a writer, my son Bill Givens is, so this won’t be a novel, it won’t even be a book. It will be just what comes in my brain when I can’t go to sleep at night – which is often.

Like the time my sister Rachel and I took a little trip together to visit a cousin. We were gonna live it up. We registered at the motel and decided we should have a bottle of wine. We didn’t know one flavor from the other and while she browsed in the wine shop, I was splitting my sides laughing in the car, waiting for her to get the opinion of the wine seller.

Oh, boy, when we left, what a laugh he must have had – two old hags pretending we needed some wine for a fruit cake we weren’t even gonna bake. We musta got pretty well baked ourselves though, because the next day we couldn’t even find the cousin’s house.

Nostalgia, maybe; good ole days, no. Don’t bring them back. I, far into my eighties, have no desire for the good ole days. Now, you, the thirty- or forty-year-old reading this, how would you like to walk across a bare wood floor in 20 degree weather early in the morning (in the house, I mean) and build a fire in the fireplace, walk to school (maybe two miles), and eat a cold biscuit for lunch? Some of us did. Have you ever tried to fold long johns neatly around your ankles and pull up a cotton stocking over it so no one knew you were wearing them? Not an easy trick to do.

Those Virginia Slims ads were great. Who writes them? Must be a World War I veteran. All true. To see a woman smoking was bad –smoking on the sidewalk or in public? Disgrace, disgrace! Oh, women of today, how lucky you are. Wear dangling hoop earrings back then and you were “loose” (that is, easy with the male gender). Dye or peroxide your hair and you were “fast.” (Same meaning as “loose.”) Fully painted red lips, spike heels, and the above hair and earrings, and you were a “streetwalker.”

[Note: Street walking now is OK because that is walking for your health, but it had an entirely different meaning way back – such as looking for a man.]

Oh, no, I do not long for the good ole days. Just one thing though, I remember how nice it was to sit at the counter of the corner drugstore and order a big milkshake with real whipped crème and real ice cream. But, alas for me, calories have been invented since then. Oh, how I despise Mr. Cal Orie – you know, he’s the one who invented them.

My courtship

Now me, I never could get dates when I was young like my sister Rachel. But I finally did meet someone I thought took a liking to me. He brought me home from school a couple of times. Then one day I was already home and who should drive in the driveway but him, bringing Rachel. Well, I said to myself, she always gets them all. I knew I didn’t have a chance when he saw her. But lo and behold, who should appear in the house (stolen from the Santa Claus thing) and say “Somebody’s outside, wants to see you.” And who do you think he was that wanted to see lil’ ole me. Well, “none other” (I stole this from Jimmy Durante) than the father of my future children (Bill, Reed, and Janie).

If a certain seat at the movie hadn’t been vacant one night, well, my three children would have been 0,0, & 0. And that means nothing, no one, and nobody.

Leon was angry and I was angry, so he drives off and goes to a movie. For me, there was to be no sitting around the living room waiting for him to return or call. My future brother-in-law (Tom Givens, Sr.) obliges by taking me to town, and there, parked in front of the theater, was “the car” and the top was let down too. So, I just say to the ticket taker, I have to go in and I’ll be right back out. Lucky for me that Leon was sitting close to the aisle and no one was in the next seat. I just took my place and, you know, thoroughly enjoyed that movie. I forgot what it was about. Forgot what we were angry about, too.

When I married I was afraid to tell my parents and got my sister, Rachel, to tell them. We spent the night in Greenville, Mississippi. The next day we went to eat at my new in-laws’ house. My new husband (Leon Givens) was too timid to tell his parents that we had married. He did not say a word about it all during the meal. As we were leaving and in the car, I called his mother, Lila (Janie’s namesake), over to the car and showed her the ring. This is how his parents found out.

John Steinbeck’s novel, “Of Mice and Men,” sounds like Pop (Leon). He was scared to death to appear on a platform or make a speech. It would practically make him sick if he had to do it at a firemen's meeting. (Leon was a former Chief of the Cleveland Volunteer Firemen.)

When we married, Leon’s mother had made him several quilts for his hope chest. She had also embroidered doilies and pillowcases for him. I think he was her pet and Tom was Gangy’s pet. ("Gangy" was the name the grandchildren called their grandfather. Leon's nephew, young Tommy Givens, gave their grandfather the name "Gangy" because he could not say grandfather.)

Leon thought his mother was “it.” Probably if she had lived, I’d have been a little jealous of her, but she died of pneumonia a month after we married. Leon always gave her money, and at Christmas he gave her money to buy everybody presents. If she had lived, she would have loved sewing for my Janie.

I remember when Janie was born. I’ll never forget Reed’s face when he and Billy stood at the foot of my bed at the hospital as I held Janie in my arms. His grin went from ear to ear . . .

Remembering Mama

I remember two pillows. A German lady made them for Mama (Rosa Kamien Reed). It was after World War I. The German lady came to Merigold in the Mississippi Delta as a bride. She could only speak German and Mama went over and talked to her as she was so lonesome for someone to talk to. Mama mixed up the German language and Jewish and I guess she made the lady feel better. The lady made Mama some pretty crewel pillows, and we tossed them about a good bit.

My mother would sometimes put drapes over the mirrors in our house in memory of her parents. This was a Jewish tradition. Another Jewish tradition that she observed was once a year she would put a lighted oil lamp in a closet in memorial to her deceased parents – another Jewish tradition, but a rather dangerous one.

Childhood vignettes

Chocolate candy! My favorite. And this boy’s mother could make the best chocolate candy in our grade school class. He was always bringing some to school. One day, he timidly handed me a pretty little wrapped package tied with a pretty ribbon. When he wasn’t looking, I opened it and there was that beautiful brown chocolate candy. He went to World War II. Later I heard he was killed. I wish I could remember his name now.

One day, my first day in a new school, we were out for recess, all playing chase and games. Timid as I was, I stood by a big tree, watching the activities. A girl about my age, 12 or 13, came up to me and said, “I’m going to give this little girl some candy, because she does not beg me for some as the others were doing.” Later that day, as I was walking home through the alley, I heard a voice calling, “Wait, little girl, come home and play with me.” I told her I couldn’t until I went home and asked my mother. We were friends many years after that and then we lost touch with one another. I heard she died of an overdose in the alley!

I wasn’t ever interested in football. A boy asked me to go to a game. I said no. He came up one day with a ticket for the big game in his hand. What else? Go on to the game, see him play. I guess he played well. I saw him from a distance the other day: after World War II he won’t be playing football anymore. How could one? With one leg?

A Tribute . . . too late, much too late

This tribute is for my mother, Rosa Kamien Reed.

My mother was Jewish, but she sang “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” while washing dinner dishes. She had a good, strong voice with a contentment not many people have while doing such a menial task. But so many times, I stop and wonder why Mama liked to sing those Protestant hymns, since she was of another faith. Where did she hear them? Certainly not in her place of worship. Wish I'd talked with her about that.

I can never forget those warm Vicks-soaked cloths Mama placed on our chests at night when we had the sniffles. I once heard my dad ask the doctor if the cloths did any good toward curing our colds. The doc said no, but it helped Mama.

If Mama were living today, her cosmetic bill would be tremendous as she was always trying out a new wrinkle cream. I don’t believe any of them helped as I can’t remember Mama unwrinkled. And anyway, the little jars didn’t cost but a dime. Before I was school age, how I loved to cuddle up in Mama’s lap. She smelled so good. I guess it was that Mavis talcum powder.

We always wore pretty little dresses Mama made, but you know, I never saw a sewing machine in our home. Those large, strong hands sewed a million stitches. Once she made us some pretty little fragile Sunday School dresses with bows and ribbons and a delicate overskirt material someone had given her. The material looked like net with ruffles. Uncle Izzy (I.A. Kamien, Sr.) would come get us to go to Sunday School with Leon and I.A., Jr. (our cousins), and they delighted in picking at those dresses. Uncle Izzy had his hands full, trying to drive and keep the fights down in the backseat. I wonder if our cousins remembered that.

I remember Mama’s biscuits, too. They were so big, so ugly, but oh, so good. She would take a piece of dough, and roll it around and around in the palm of her hand and it got bigger and bigger and uglier.

Mama was superstitious. Once she was told if she put an asphida bag around our necks, we wouldn’t get the sniffles. Ask anyone how that stuff smells. We quickly discarded it when Mama was out of sight.

Oh, Mama, how innocent you were. A teeny headache, a slight stomach ache on a school day, and when we voiced it, you were so concerned that you said, “No school today, stay in bed and I’ll bring your breakfast.” Of course, that was just what we wanted to hear. How were you to know there was a test that day?

Half and Half

I’ve been to some beautiful Christmas programs and enjoyed them thoroughly, especially the audience singing along with the Christmas carols (even though I can’t carry a tune, much less sing one). Coming home from the programs, I thought of the Christmas seasons seventy plus years ago in the elementary grade school years.

In those years, we moved many times from town to town and changed groups of friends at every move. Because we children were half Jewish and half Gentile, sometimes our best friends were Jewish, other times Gentile.

A few weeks before Christmas, the songs of Christmas and Jesus’ birth were always sung in class. The class would stand up and sing several of the carols. I always dreaded this time. My Gentile-half wanted to stand up and sing and my Jewish-half felt I should stay seated and not sing as my Jewish friends did (since Christ was not meaningful for them).

I was glad to get out of grade school. In high school we did not sing at Christmas time. I feel good standing up and singing now. I love my Jewish-half – my Gentile-half isn’t fighting it anymore. I am me, a Jewish-Baptist person.

The Poor Christmas – 1931

We are the generation who grew up in the “Great Depression” of the 30’s. It was real tough for some. Some people did not have enough to eat, but we did and we were poor. Our friends were of better means as some of their parents were merchants. Our friends talked of things they were going to get for Christmas, but my sisters and I didn’t plan on anything. We just listened. We knew we were poor and there was no money for things to be left by Santa Claus on Christmas night. Mama told us to put a chair by the bed and we would find something on it the next morning.

I remember hearing Daddy come in late that night. The store where he worked had stayed open late and by the time he got off, everything was closed except the drugstore (then, a drugstore was exactly that). Our presents were unusual that year: combs, brushes, mirrors, a billfold. Daddy made sure something would be on the chairs that Christmas morning.

The following is a story I wrote about the above incident.

The tall, thin man buttoned his coat against the night’s cold and hunched his shoulders against the wind as he walked down Main Street of the little town. Doors were locked, but lights twinkled in the wind-rattled windows. It was midnight, Christmas Eve, and a long time ago.

At their simple home, his wife told their three little girls to put a chair by their beds and maybe, just maybe, Santa Claus would put something on each child’s chair for Christmas morning. The girls were almost teenagers and they knew their father didn’t have money for Christmas gifts, but they didn’t want their parents to know that they really knew just how poor they were. They went along with their mother’s little fiction – not really expecting any gifts, but dreading the time when they had to tell their friends from more affluent families that Santa couldn’t afford to visit them this year.

As the thin, graying man came to the corner drugstore, he saw that the storekeeper was still at work, hunched over his books. In a small town, in the Thirties, the drugstore sold mostly drugs – not like today’s stores where drugs are but a small part of the drugstore’s business. Tucked away among the bottles of pills, nostrums (a quack medicine or remedy), sponges and remedies, he spotted a pink, a blue, and a white dresser set. They stood out from the busy array of merchandise in the window. The sparkling dresser sets had somehow escaped the Christmas gift buying rush – and he knew his girls would love them.

He had but a few dollar bills in his pocket – money his boss had given him to help buy groceries. He knew that groceries were much more important than dresser sets – but he wanted his little girls to have something on those chairs on Christmas morning. He tapped on the window, and the druggist came to the door. He held out the few bills. “This is all I have,” he said. “Can I get those dresser sets for my three little girls?”

The druggist looked at the money. It wasn’t enough for all three sets, but he knew the man and his family – and he knew how much the gifts would mean to the little girls. He handed the three sets to the man, who thanked him, tucked them under his arm, and disappeared into the cold night.

That was a long time ago. The man and his wife are dead now. The little girls are all grandmothers. But just now, as I was dusting my dresser, I picked up an old celluloid mirror – flanked by a matching comb and brush. In the mirror I saw my father walking down a cold, deserted street – lit only by the glow from an old-fashioned drugstore window – heading home to his three little girls with three dresser sets tucked under his arm.

Somehow, the night didn’t seem to be quite so cold, the street so deserted. And somehow that old mirror glowed.


Rosebud Givens Davis, eighty something years young, was a longtime resident of the Mississippi Delta. She now lives near her daughter Janie in Memphis. Write Rosebud in care of Janie at Lilajane1.

~~Related articles at USADS to enjoy~~
A Story of Breast Cancer Survival by Janie Givens Miller

Kamiens by Macklyn Hubbell

Memphis and the Delta by Tom Givens


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