My parents were Olean and Carl Mayo. They ran a small grocery store on D Street in Bemis for thirty-five years, working long hours, six-and-a-half days a week, with no vacations because they had a dream of sending all five of their children to college. In our small house, the seven of us learned to share one bathroom, two bedrooms, and chores both at home and at the store. Our parents’ business was not only our livelihood but the key to our future, so we did our part to make it successful. We were encouraged to do our best at everything we did, be it schoolwork, sports, or even musical pursuits, as we were expected to earn a scholarship for college.
The mill town of Bemis was an ideal place for a child to grow up in the 1950’s. There was a park, a swimming pool, a baseball field, a skating rink, a YMCA and YWCA, all built by the Bemis Cotton Mill founder and town designer, Judson Moss Bemis. But even amidst this children’s paradise, I was sometimes bored.
Around the age of eight, I learned the remedy for this boredom: downtown Jackson.
Downtown became “my special place” to retreat on a cold Saturday or a hot summer afternoon. I would pack my lunch, get a dime from my mother, and board the Bemis bus that took me to the front of the County Courthouse where it was just a short walk to the Carnegie Library on College Street. There I would hide among the tall bookshelves and read all day about places I wanted to visit someday and about people I wanted to grow up to be like.
Sometimes I would take a break from my reading and walk the streets. As a child, I was a people-watcher. I grew up watching people in Bemis work their gardens and cotton fields. Once in the fourth grade my class toured the cotton mill, where I saw people working at large looms, spinning cotton into thread and weaving thread into domestic cloth that was rolled onto large bolts. That was all fascinating to watch but not something I thought I would ever like to do myself.
But downtown Jackson was different. I watched men in dark suits and colorful ties going to work in important-looking buildings: banks, law offices, government buildings. I admired women in beautiful dresses and high heels sitting behind desks as secretaries or working in one of the many dress shops that lined the streets. Downtown was the perfect place for a young girl in the 1950’s to ponder her future and dream big. What would I do someday in this exciting city?
At some point, I became intrigued with one particular building on East Baltimore; we called it “The Grand” New Southern Hotel. Sometimes after a movie at the Malco or Paramount Theaters, my girlfriends and I would wonder down to the building with the bright lights around the glass entrance. If you were lucky, you might see a sleek car pulling up to the door and a handsome couple stepping out with lots of fancy luggage. We were always hoping to see a celebrity, for we knew that this hotel was where the rich and famous stayed when they came to Jackson.
I always wanted to see inside the lobby. When I became a senior at South Side High School, I finally got my chance. That year the senior prom was held there, and I knew this would be the ultimate experience of my young lifetime.
I had my eye on a black cocktail dress worn by a mannequin in the window of Kisber’s department store. Mother had given me some money for the dress, but it was more expensive than I expected. Fortunately, I had saved money from my part-time job at Bond’s Shoe Store on Main Street. I walked in like a grown-up and bought the dress, along with a white, faux fur cape to match. I was ready.
My date was a tall, handsome soldier, just home from a stint in Korea. He escorted me through the glass doors and into the most beautiful room I had ever seen. It was lavishly furnished and had a rich wood check-in desk with what looked like a marble top. Winding stairs led up to a grand ballroom where the prom was held. It was a beautiful evening—just the kind that young girls of that day recorded in their diaries.
I still have my diary. This is what I wrote:
Tonight, Hix Foote, Jr., and I were a shining couple . . . all dressed up and ready for a night on the town . . . in a beautiful building, where everything seemed magical . . . and in downtown Jackson, where anything seemed possible.
I graduated from South Side, married my prom date, went to college at Union University, and got my first teaching assignment at my alma mater teaching high schoolers history and English and later becoming a counselor.
My husband and I were married fifty-four years before his death in 2018. We raised two daughters in Jackson, owned a car business on North Highland for a few years, and retired from Jackson-Madison County Schools on the same day in 2005. Traveling was always our favorite hobby, and we were fortunate to visit forty-three states and sixteen foreign countries, but we were always happy to return to our town—our Jackson. Even after inheriting a farm in Mercer and acquiring a retreat on the Tennessee River, there was never a time when we considered leaving the city we loved—the place where memories were made, careers were launched, and futures were forged.
The Bible says, “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). Jackson has given me so much, and I have spent many years trying to give back—as an educator, a school board member, a city council representative, and currently as vice mayor. But I feel the need to do more. Jackson deserves more from me. That is why on February 6, I announced my candidacy for mayor of the City of Jackson.
A special announcement requires a special place, and I, of course, chose The New Southern, a place that has been a symbol of endless possibilities for my future since I was a child. I have seen Jackson evolve into a city where women are not only secretaries and seamstresses but entrepreneurs—where, yes, they can even run for mayor. Jackson has educated me and my children, provided job opportunities that bred success, and given me unique experiences that have enriched the quality of my life and the lives of my family. From my childhood to the present, Jackson has been there to help me realize my dreams with an environment that encourages my desire to make a difference in the lives of others.
To learn more about Vicky Foote, visit her Facebook page.