A Love Letter to Memphis: Janeen Gordon

A Love Letter to Memphis: Janeen Gordon

Dear Memphis,

I have so much to say about our relationship. At times, it has been strained but overall it has been a roller coaster of a love story.

Memphis, my parents were born and raised here, educated here -- one a graduate of Christian Brothers University, the other Memphis State -- married and are currently living out their senior years here. Unlike my mother, who lived in Chicago, San Francisco and Saint Louis, Missouri, my father never left Memphis for another city. I asked him why and he said, “Memphis has given me everything I need ... an opportunity to be a minority business owner, access to quality schools and the low cost of living.”

Janeen Gordon -- Memphis 200

The Bluff City allowed my grandparents to start their hair care company, Gordon’s Cosmetics, in the heart of South Memphis. It allowed my uncle to own a nightclub in South Memphis on Kerr Avenue. The 901 gave my great-grandparents, neither of whom had more than an eighth-grade education, the opportunity to raise their children and grandchildren on a painter’s and baker’s salaries. Their home in South Memphis on Walker Avenue was where I ran over the floor furnace, peered out the window to see Mason Temple, sat with them in the swing on the porch, woke up to the smell of Folgers coffee and the sounds of bacon frying in the cast iron skillet.

Memphis, I was born and raised here but I fled the city several times thinking there was a better place for me. I headed to Atlanta and New Orleans but I always found my way back home to you.

I’ve called several Memphis communities home: Whitehaven, Raleigh, South Memphis and Oakhaven. Each showed me how different the neighborhoods are, but each showed their Memphis pride.

I’ve been a fast-food employee, casino dealer, sleep technician and heart monitor technician, assistant reference librarian, and then I found my love -- media.

My media career began in the halls of America’s first black radio station, WDIA. For more than 10 years I helped Mike Evans and Funnyman Prescott wake Memphis up and get them to work or school with information and laughter on the airwaves of WHRK, K-97.

I’ve eaten in some of Memphis' finest restaurants to the small neighborhood corner stores. Growing up, the corner store on Walker Avenue and South 4th Street brought me joy every time I purchased a sour pickle, peppermint stick and package of cherry Kool-Aid, only spending 45 cents.

I love Memphis barbecue and the fried catfish with spaghetti and a side of coleslaw that I can pick up any day from several local soul food restaurants.

Memphis, I’ve walked miles along Riverside Drive, Harbor Town, Shelby Farms, Audubon, Glenview to Gaston Parks, and I continue to find more reasons to love living here. It’s the food, music and people who don’t have to know you but will offer a smile without saying a word.

Janeen Gordon and her mother
Janeen Gordon and her mother

Growing up in this city, I have watched it grow. My fondest childhood memories are walking in and around Graceland before you needed a ticket and before it became the second most-visited home in American, visiting the Lorraine Motel before it was the National Civil Rights Museum, strolling along Beale Street, wandering into A. Schwab and filling my grandmother’s purse with wads of candy, riding with my great-grandmother in her 1968 Ford Classic mustang with no air conditioner in the sweltering Memphis heat, going to J.C. Penney at the Raleigh Springs Mall and Easy Way on South Cooper Street, and flying my first kite with my father at Martyr’s Park along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River.

I’m a product of the Memphis Catholic and city schools and proud a University of Memphis Tiger. I am, I feel, I know the soul of Memphis.

Happy 200th birthday, Memphis.


Find more love letters, stories and photos at wmcactionnews5.com/memphis200.

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