Tuesday, August 16, 2022

HottyToddy Hometown: Grenada, Mississippi

Photo: Grenada County Courthouse, Miss Dept of Archives and History
Photo: Grenada County Courthouse, Miss Dept of Archives and History

Behind every HottyToddy Hometown there is another important “H” word that tells the tale. The board swipe of the hand that covers the collective memories of a town’s links to the past. Its connections to the state and the South. And, its ties to Ole Miss. Its about one word…history. And Grenada, Mississippi has a long and storied place in the history that is The Book of Ole Miss.

The Talbert boys from Grenada County were many, and tough. They were an upstanding hard working Grenada family and I know this because in 1856 when the oldest boy, James Talbert, packed and left for the long ride to college at Oxford; you didn’t seek high education with laziness. After James came brother John, then Jerry. But when Jerry rode to Oxford to enroll it was the eve of the Civil War. He had graded out as a sophomore and enjoyed campus life. He pledged Chi Psi and joined the Hermean Debate Society as they argued with their cross campus rivals, the Phi Sigmas. Jerry wanted to be a lawyer and return to Grenada as Attorney Talbert. But his return to Grenada County and the end of his education came early. Mississippi seceded from the Union in January and by May most of the Ole Miss boys had left for war.

Jerry didn’t join the University Greys but instead he went back home. There he and John packed and made their way to Corinth and on May 26th they enlisted in Company D of the First Mississippi Battalion Sharp Shooters. Jerry fought his way across the South, was wounded at Peach Tree Creek, transferred to the regimental band and surrendered at Goldsboro in 1865. In 1864, while most certainly back in Grenada on furlough, Jerry married Lou McNeal. She was from an Ole Miss family too, but by the time the Talbert brothers came home the Ole Miss days were gone. Jerry and Lou had seven children and today Grenada County is home to many of their line. Jerry Talbert passed away in 1880 and is buried in Grenada. He and his brothers were Ole Miss boys who lived through the most turbulent times in the history of the University.

So now the war was over and Grenada and Ole Miss both rebuilt broken buildings, lives and spirits…and railroads. The Ole Miss records from 1900 coming forward lists many men and women from Grenada County. It was the days of train travel and most Mississippians still know today that Grenada marks the imaginary line between north and middle Mississippi. The town was the gathering place for many Ole Miss students heading to Oxford from Jackson and all points south.

Before he was Dr. Arthur Beverly Lewis, Chair of the Physics Department from 1953 to 1957 and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts from 1957 to 1969, he was teenager A. B. Lewis. An Ole Miss boy, who along with his buddies created. lived and recorded a time in Ole Miss that is long gone now. A time when the railroads ran through Grenada and played the central role in the life of Ole Miss.

“So there I was September the 16th 1919 ready to take off for the big adventure to Oxford. You traveled by train in those days. Roads were gravel and ruddy and ill marked if they were marked at all and there were few automobiles around. Students had no cars at all during the entire time I was at Ole Miss. The ideal way for me was to catch the number four that left Jackson about noon. You got off at Grenada where the depot was a mass of laughing, shouting, horse playing students. Everyone was waiting to board the number twenty-four which got you to Oxford somewhere late in the afternoon.”
–Dean A. B. Lewis

So WWI was over, and the days of taking the trains to campus lasted through the Great Depression and into the late 1930’s. But finally the Ole Miss boys at the Depot gave way to the Bus and Dad in the family car. Census records show Ole Miss and Grenada both growing through the decades and the names of Grenada’s old families are recorded many times in every Ole Miss annual. I smiled when I saw a Talbert boy from Grenada in the 40’s.

So WWII was over and the Mississippi vets came back home ready to get their lives back. They were going to college and raising families and building homes and buying cars. And its the last one that played a great part in Ole Miss history by making it possible to really leave Grenada and ride up to Oxford to see the boys play. In 1947 Ole Miss hired Johnny Vaught as Head Coach.

Aw and the Glory years began as Oxford, Grenada and Ole Miss football enjoyed growth and prosperity. The modern day list of Ole Miss sports legends was begun in earnest but there is only one name that left records, stats and history in every sport. No Rebel has ever contributed more to Ole Miss sports than Eddie Crawford. While lettering and staring in 3 sports at Ole Miss he began dating and fell in love with Ole Miss favorite and head cheerleader, Shirley Wagner of Grenada. In 1957 Shirley was honored as Miss Ole Miss. Together the Crawfords went on to work with generations of Ole Miss students in all fields.

Eddie’s Rebel sports history is well documented, but flying under the sports radar is Shirley’s years of service to Delta Delta Delta sorority and here I have a story. My mother worked tirelessly for decades right next door to the Tri-Delt house, at the Kappa Delta house. Mom and Mrs. Crawford had been friends since Ole Miss and their children had gone to kindergarten together. And so one afternoon something had gone wrong at the KD house and Mom was called and off she went. Back then chapter advisers didn’t put up with anything that could be considered unladylike, period. Mother ended up staying 5-6 hours at the chapter house and when it was over she stormed out mad. It was 10:30pm midweek and as Mom was huffing and puffing to her car she looked up to see the only other person in the parking lot. It was Shirley Crawford huffing and puffing her way toward the Tri-Delt house. Mom said they stopped and looked and smiled and then began laughing at each other. Shirley Wagner Crawford has helped shape the lives of many Ole Miss girls through the years and she continues doing so til this day.

Photo: Eddie and Shirley Crawford, Miss Sports Hall of Fame
Photo: Eddie and Shirley Crawford, Miss Sports Hall of Fame

So is Grenada, Mississippi a HottyToddy HomeTown? I’d say so. It was one in 1856 when James Talbert left his home for the ride to Oxford. Its still there in the echoed shouts of those 1919 Ole Miss boys waiting at the Grenada Depot for the #24 to Oxford. Its was alive and well on July 28, 2012 at the 50th Annual BancorpSouth Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in Jackson, Miss as Eddie and Shirley Crawford attended Eddie’s induction ceremony. The Ole Miss family knows that the honor was for both Eddie as well as Shirley. And finally Grenada and Ole Miss’ bond was reaffirmed this past weekend as fresh faced freshman from Grenada streamed up and down fraternity and sorority row forming the life long bonds that will link Grenada to Ole Miss for generations to come. Hotty Toddy Grenada!

John Cofield

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