V. KAY JAMES McCRIMON
Mama John had flair. She was pure rhapsody! Her cooking, her music, her stories, her love are the jazz of my memories and the food of my soul...
John Eva Dabbs Cooper-Wilson was my grandmother and was known by everyone in our family as “Mama John.” Mama John was born October 11, 1915 in Vicksburg, Mississippi and lived there most of her young life, into adulthood. My grandmother had eight children, three girls and five boys. My mother is the oldest girl and second oldest child. As a little girl, my siblings and I would spend most of our summer vacations with Mama John in West Memphis, Arkansas, where her family moved in the early 1960s.
Our days would be filled with playing in the sun and eating the day away with fresh fruit and snacks. We had dinner (which is what we know as lunch) and supper (which is dinner to us); at night, after supper, we would sit on the front porch listening to funny stories about our family history and laughing the night away. This was a time when we could stay up as late as we wanted, but everyone would always rise early when the aroma of coffee, eggs, toast, and sausage drifted into our nostrils. My grandmother was a very talented lady; she was the best cook ever and she would bake cakes and cookies and apple pies (her favorite) that would melt in your mouth. She made clothes that would put Edith Head to shame. But she loved her music the most, and passed this love onto her children, who in turn, passed it on to their children.
Over the years, my grandparents operated several restaurants in Vicksburg. In downtown Vicksburg, they had The Busy Bee and The Cave; then in an area known as “Martha’s Bottom,” they had The Red Dot and The Melody Lounge. These restaurants served good food and, according to my mother, the juke box never stopped playing, especially blues and jazz. These eateries are probably where my mother and aunts and uncles acquired their love of music.
Mama John was 87 years old when she died on May 5, 2003. I miss her terribly, but I know that her spirit and love for music and culture lives on within our family through the oral histories that she left behind. Mama John will always live among us, for there are many more stories to tell.