Thursday, January 27, 2011
The Preacher’s Corner
Remembering one of Holly Springs’ characters
Mark Miller put it well last Thursday when he remarked that not many men get to choose their children, but he added with some satisfaction, “Daddy chose us.”
We said good-bye to Graham Miller, Mark’s dad, in a heartfelt gathering at our church on Sunday afternoon. It seemed as if the whole town attended, but Graham was such a positive, good-natured man that, of course, people would want to honor his memory.
There is a story in the Miller family that when Graham and Sandy were married in our church, the four children attended the ceremony. Afterward, Donnie was crying. When asked, Donnie said through a four-year-old’s tears and gesturing to all his siblings: “Mr. Miller only married Mama. I thought he was going to marry all of us!”
When Graham adopted Sandy’s children, four-year-old Mindy asked that her middle name be changed to Graham.
We offered our thanksgiving for the life and witness of a most remarkable husband, father, businessman, and church leader. I have sometimes observed that some people make it difficult for the minister to say good things about them when they die!
But Graham Miller left behind plenty for the minister to work with. Each person reading this, I am sure, has memories, stories you could share. I look forward to hearing some of them.
Graham was first of all a family man. He was that in the best sense of the word — even though a thread of — what shall we call it — financial conservatism? — runs through many of the tales!
I am told that one of the children exclaimed on Christmas morning that there had to be a Santa Claus because Graham Miller would not have bought so many toys!
Tom Finley told a story that when the public school burned, all the other students rejoiced with visions of play and time away from school, but Mr. Finley — who lived across from the school — saw Graham Miller — then just a lad of seven — digging through the burned remains of the school.
Graham told Mr. Finley that he was looking for his desk, hoping that maybe he could find his pencils and pencil box, so he could still use them.
Graham did lots of things behind the scenes. Once during a period of local tension — I do not remember what the issue was now — I saw Graham walking with Mayor Smith on the square. They were deep in thoughtful conversation.
Graham was the kind of person who often helped work things out, and I will miss stopping by his little office hutch behind the sales floor to discuss the affairs of the day.
Graham was a consummate churchman. Not only was he present every Sunday that his health permitted, he also greeted visitors and made them feel welcome. Several persons who worship with us now are members, perhaps, because Graham pointed them our way.
There is a generation of Holly Springs children, with surnames like Doxey, Warren, Jones, and McIntosh, who remember Graham very fondly. One, who is grown up and middle-aged now, remembers that Graham was superintendent of the Presbyterian Sunday school for many a year.
He would come to each class, ringing his bell, to gather the nickels and dimes the children had brought as their offerings, and before departing, he would have a genial chat with each child, and make each one feel noticed and appreciated.
This meditation would not be complete without noting that the Miller Store was the oldest mercantile establishment on the town square and one of the oldest in the state.
It was established in 1921 by Graham’s father — one year before Graham was born.
They sold lots of things, changing the merchandise with the times, but my favorite was that they had the first soft-serve ice-cream machine in North Mississippi.
It was a sad day for all of us when Graham turned the key for the last time in his store at the corner of Memphis Street and Van Dorn. There was little ceremony. It was as he wanted it. He sold his inventory down to the last pair of shoes, and then he retired. I felt a part of him and indeed, of Holly Springs, died that day.
Graham and James Houston, with their father Ernest G. Miller, sold just about everything that could be sold. They had appliances and radios — there was a car dealership out behind the store where a parking lot remains. Graham and James Houston divided their father’s business and Graham concentrated on the clothing and shoe lines.
Graham kept a lot of unsold merchandise and outfits for several “good old days” parties came out of that attic. So did most of the 1950s wardrobe for the actors and actresses in the movie Cookie’s Fortune that was filmed here several years ago.
When the movie company insisted on paying for these items, which they recognized as valuable, Graham demurred, but finally agreed to accept a modest amount — he charged what was on those old 1950s price tags.
Graham was not only “Mayor of the Square,” he was a clothier to the stars!
Linwood’s at the corner of Van Dorn and Market, operated by Graham’s wife Sandy and his son Joey, was an outgrowth of the original store. The old I. C. Levy department store was in the same building, so Linwood’s carried on an old tradition of fine clothing at that location.
Of course Graham’s proximity to the barber shop was a great boon to his business. The barber shop had the drink box, Graham had the phone, and Dr. Hale’s dental office maintained the coffee pot.
Harmon Walker, Bennie Howell, Dr. Hale and his staff, and Graham, all looked out for one another. It was not uncommon to make stops at all three locations in the course of a day.
I have been grateful for Graham Miller since the first day I met him. He was one of the kindest, most considerate men I have ever known; a true Southern gentleman. I think I speak for his family; I know I speak for our community, that his passing leaves a terrible void, and we are sad to think about it.
But he ran an iconic business, honestly and well, served his church devotedly, lived to see his six grandchildren grow up, and achieved a good, old age.
So we are sustained by the lessons of faith and faithfulness he lived out among us, and if it were said of us someday, that we were like Graham Miller, then we would known we had been paid a compliment, and that our lives, too, had been well-lived.
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