My father was a Corinth High School alumnus from 1947, and I loved hearing him recount stories about the illustrious Johnny Schudi riding his bicycle around town, as he hawked copies of The Daily Corinthian on the street, a stubby cigar dangling from his mouth. A year after my father graduated, my parents married at the courthouse in Corinth, the “marriage capital of the South” at the time, drawing eager young couples from surrounding areas because of the lack of a waiting period, blood test, or residency requirement in order to participate in the matrimonial ceremony.
As a teenager, my mother saw Gone With the Wind at the Pickwick Theater on Cruise Street. Her sister, two years her junior, had to walk back home to Wick Street, as she was too young to be granted admission due to Clark Gable’s use of the word “damn.” My siblings and I have since joked that Aunt Jeannie, now deceased, may well have uttered worse expletives on the walk home those few blocks from the theater.
My decision to move to downtown Corinth last summer was exciting. The apartment may have needed a little work, but it possessed what I call “character.” I liked the layout, reminiscent of a New York loft, with an open front area that would become my living room, dining room, and home office, flanked by two bedrooms and bathrooms in the back.
I now had a balcony overlooking the area where the two annual festivals, the Slugburger Festival and Hog Wild, are held. I loved listening to the trebly train whistle wail a block away into the dark night. I was also within walking distance of Pizza Grocery, Corner Slice, the newly opened Smith Restaurant, and Dilworth’s Tamales – a treat my father shared with me on many occasions at the end of a Saturday visit to Corinth.
It was not long after I moved into the apartment in June, however, that I began hearing accounts of crimes in or around downtown Corinth. An acquaintance of a friend of mine had been accosted at Trailhead Park while jogging; one of my former high school students was robbed of the only $20 he had in his possession in the downtown area. In the meantime, an assault happened at the City Park, not downtown but certainly not that far away.
With time, the downtown incidents I had heard about seemed more like petty mischief, and the culprit connected with the crime at the park had been apprehended. I felt somewhat safe downtown.
Until this week.
I never rode in the cab of 66-year-old Cleo Henderson who worked at Liberty Cabs on Taylor Street for nearly 44 years, but I sure remember that sign being there for as long as I can recall. On several occasions, as I headed to Dilworth’s Tamales or Corner Slice or just walked down to the newly renovated SoCo district on Wick Street, I noticed the sign under the overhang of the brick building, advertising the two phone numbers of the cab service, with its bench underneath,.
Early May 25, around 3 a.m., apparently, Henderson was found dead on the sidewalk outside the cab stand. At first, James Willis, the co-owner, thought he had simply fallen, and his death had been an accident. However, Corinth Police later revealed he had been shot in an apparent robbery attempt and left lying on the sidewalk with a gunshot wound. The ultimate irony is that the railroad money bag in his possession contained no money but instead carried his diabetic medicine.
The comments I saw posted on social media in the aftermath of Henderson’s death were heartfelt. I could tell that he was apparently a kind, gentle man who would go out of his way to help anyone and never in any way deserved the action that ultimately brought his demise.
However, that’s the way of life: there are no guarantees, and those who live by gentle means don’t always come to a gentle end. As frustrating and disheartening as the truth may be, it changes nothing. There are no succint platitudes we can devise that will protect us from the brutality and insensitivity of the world.
On the other hand, we cannot let ourselves live in fear of the world. The mentality of fear imprisons.
Those who knew Henderson should remember him as the gentle, helpful person that he was—and foster the idea that this is not our Corinth. It involves everyone making it a point to regularly patronize downtown stores and restaurants in Corinth; it requires all of us deciding that we will not fall prey to fear in the aftermath of violence.
It is still the Corinth I love and will continue to love.
(Daily Corinthian columnist Stacy Jones teaches English at McNairy Central High School and UT Martin and serves on the board of directors at Corinth Theatre-Arts. She loves being a downtown Corinth resident.)