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Johnny Jones, 23 January 2004

I met several people during the past few days who said, "You're Johnny Jones? The one who writes for the paper? I thought you were a man!"

So I thought it might be a time to introduce myself to those of you who don't know us.

I was born the oldest of four daughters to John and Era Parham in Mobile, Alabama. Daddy was away fighting in WWII, and he wasn't sure he would come back, so he wanted someone named after him.

We were raised in Semmes, Alabama, which seemed a long way from "town" (Mobile) when I was growing up. Our family lived on forty acres, and we had chickens and cows and gardens and dogs and cats and pastures and mules and woods. The big industry was the nursery business, for raising azaleas and camellias.

My Dad would encourage my sister Jo and me to visit old Mrs. Roberts or Mrs. Wulff, elderly widows. Mrs. Wulff dipped snuff. Mrs. Roberts lived in a house that had tarpaper instead of siding, but she and her brother owned a lot of the property around us.

I don't remember whether they appreciated our riding up to their homes on our bicycles, over the oyster shells that kept our lane from turning to mud, and around the sandy curves that made us walk our one-speed bicycles.

Jo and I walked to school, which was one mile away. The schoolbus wouldn't pick up anyone who lived closer than two miles, and I remember how jealous we were of the kids who got to ride the big yellow buses.

I was excited when I was in 4th grade and Daddy came and picked us up on the way home from school to announce that our baby sister Yvonne was born. When I asked how she was, he replied, "There's nothing wrong with her lungs." Then, a couple of years later, my youngest sister, Fran came along.

Fran never knew she was the youngest. We used to call her "Fran Ma" or "Fran Landers" because she was always giving advice. When she was 3 years old and I was 14 we got into some kind of fuss, and Fran's take on it was, "I'm big enough to argue with a teenager!"

When Fran got into scrapes, it was usually because Yvonne put her up to something. Even as teenagers they would play tricks on their friends, elaborate ruses that involved props and planning. Once one of their friends came sobbing to Mama, "Mrs. Parham! Mrs. Parham! Com quick! Something's wrong with Fran!"

Mama told her, "Stacy, don't you know they're just playing a trick on you?"

"Oh no, ma'am, they're not!" she cried and ran away.

But they were.

Their standard shtick was that Yvonne was innocent and persecuted, and Fran was treating her badly. They played this out for our grandmother one time, with Fran demanding that Yvonne serve her a glass of water, put ice in it, finally change her clothes! Nanny was outraged, and my sisters thought it was hilarious.

We made our own fun. I taught myself to read when I was three, learning the letters of the alphabet by asking Mama about the headlines of the Mobile Press Register: "Mama, what dat letter?" Then I asked, "What dat word?" 

The local teachers thought my reading early was a bad idea, since they were afraid I be bored in school. So did the lady at the bookstore (or was it the library?) where Mama and Daddy took me to get some books on my level. I remember her stern disapproval of them, and of me.

Mama fudged my birth certificate to make it say "September" instead of "October" to get me in school a year early, when I was 5 instead of 6. The cutoff date was the last of September.

I would come home from school and read from our World Book encyclopedias when I wasn't playing with my dolls or my little sisters, or later, practicing my clarinet.

So if you don't know me, Hi! I'm Johnny Carole Parham Jones.