To hear some Memphians talk, our city has already arrived via hand basket at a very hot place. Whenever a violent or undesirable event takes place, the hand basket crowd sees nothing good about our community. It’s THOSE people, they say. Those all- bad people who make Memphis a hopelessly inferior all- crime- all -the -time- place where no citizen can ever be safe. Make sweeping generalizations much?
Recently there was another deplorable incident in Memphis. A large group of teens attacked some people at random in a grocery store parking lot. Of course this is bad news. The behavior of the teens was unacceptable. Eleven persons were arrested, and will hopefully make appropriate amends for their crimes.
In the wake of such an occurrence, what is a person to do? A first impulse may be to harden one’s heart, and to add to the suffering with pejorative remarks about our citizens and city administration. But negative talk does not solve problems. The social ills which contribute to violent crimes are way too complex for simple solutions. I do not claim to have the answers, but I know Memphis is more than crime, hatred, and judgement. I know that Memphis is also friendly, kind, and quirky, just like that relative you all have that everyone agrees is a “character”.
As an individual I try not to harden my heart against the perpetrators, their families, and the trash talkers, and ponder what more I can do to make Memphis a better place. I am not the only one to take this stance, as evidenced by the “Love Mob” that gathered a few days after the incident in the grocery parking lot. The “Mob’s” purpose was to express their support for the victims but also to display their love for Memphis, most of whose citizens are hard working law abiding people.
I had all this in my mind last weekend when I set out for the annual Cooper Young Festival. After all the negative press and hateful talk around the city, how would Memphis rebound? Would this last round of senseless violence render us unable to come together, unable to mourn our losses and heal our wounds?
I set out early Saturday morning for the one day neighborhood festival. The weather had become cool, causing me to walk briskly from my condo to the festival to warm up, as I had worn a thin shirt with no jacket.
And there was the festival, my old friend, with its music, food, and family activities, just getting underway. I was glad to know Memphis had such a welcoming event planned.
Here was my favorite junk shopping booth. I bought two items here which I cannot show because they are gifts. May I leave my items here and pick them up on my way out, I asked the saleslady. In typical Memphis fashion, the answer was of course you may. We’ll remember you.
Next was the vintage clothing booth. I needed to stop in there to buy something to wear because I was cold! After I picked out this highly appropriate sweater, I stayed to help two young African American ladies pick out a jacket.
And speaking of cold, these two young men were freezing over their water bottle concession stand. For the price of a bottle of water, they agreed to pose. And since there has been a lot of talk about poorly behaved youth, let me say that giving them the price of a bottle of water was my idea. I am sure they would have posed without it, but they were here to make money.
In just a few minutes I fell into a comfortable stride at the festival. With my companion I wandered in and out of booths, shopping, listening, and feeling the vibe of my fellow festival goers. I didn’t always buy, but maybe I should have.
Then the Choose 901 booth, full of Memphis-proud items.
I paused at one booth and renewed my membership to the Memphis Heritage Society, where the director took the time to speak with me about some ongoing projects. After all this meandering, I found I needed to stop for refreshment at Growler’s, a beer tasting garden that was not open this time last year.
From our spot at the window we could watch the crowds which were now streaming in – folks in costumes, families, couples, all mingling and having fun. Yes, this is Memphis.
Next we stopped into Celtic Crossing for some lunch. The hostess showed us to a table beside a loud beer truck, but cheerfully moved us when we objected. We sat on a back patio, enjoying a sandwich while people watching. Across from me several young woman were lunching. I approached their table. “Excuse me dear, but your purse is on the ground behind you; I didn’t think you would want it there.” Grateful, she scooped her purse up. It felt good to be helpful to someone.
I must share that if I drink beer it is best for me to have food with it. Since Growler has no food, I was in just the right shape to accidentally call our male server “ma’am.” But he let it roll off his back, even as he was run right off his feet serving the patio crowd.
Back on the street, I was able to resist the enticing aromas of the food trucks, as I had already had a sandwich.
The crowds were gathering to listen to the music on several stages. I heard the Memphis Brass Band playing, but couldn’t get very close through the dense thicket of people. Taking pictures was becoming more difficult, so for some time I gave that up and simply flowed on with everyone else.
Spying Goner Records, I made a beeline to their one dollar album display. Guess what I found? YEEEES! Jeanne C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. ! I was thrilled because one of my biggest problems when I was taking care of my new grandson was that I couldn’t remember the words to this priceless tune. What kind of grandmother can’t sing “Harper Valley P.T.A.? But… oh no, there was no record inside the sleeve. I marched right inside the store and explained my whole sad predicament to a very nice clerk who came out from around the counter and found me a copy of Jeanne C. Reilly’s Greatest Hits. Crisis averted. And he threw in the empty album cover for free.
Having come early, we were ready to make our exit. We would have stayed longer but we had a commitment for later in the day. We won’t make that mistake next year. On the way out we stopped for my two gifts, still safely held by the ladies at the booth. They were a little thrown off by my new sweater, but they remembered my red hair.
Turning off Central onto Cox, I heard someone call my name. Oh, what delight for my feet! It was a neighbor from a zero lot line close to our condo, offering us a ride home. We squooshed ourselves straight into her back seat. Could she come in and see our condo? Well, not today because her husband was waiting on her, but on another day, certainly.
We got upstairs and I put up my poor little feet. I mused upon how almost every single person I had come across had been welcoming and willing to go beyond just the basics in service or compassion. Memphis has social problems, no doubt. I would never be so naive as to try to sweep poverty, crime, and an uneducated populace under the rug. But I felt encouraged by what I had seen and felt at the Cooper Young. Just as I thought, Memphis is more. More friendliness, more diversity, more hospitality, more hope.