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Stories: Joanne Rhodes

Lina Farley Rhodes
Joanne’s mother Lina in costume for a Memphis Open Air Theater production of “The Firefly”

We recently shared Shirley Tyus’ recollections of Overton Park. One of Shirley’s closest friends since age nine was Lina Farley Rhodes, with whom she grew up performing at Rainbow Lake and the Overton Park Shell.  Lina was a WAC in WWII and often took her daughter Joanne to see the memorials at Veteran’s Plaza.  Here, Joanne remembers how her mom loved the park, and shares a few stories of her own.

I have grown up hearing my mom’s memories about Overton Park because she was in the first production at the Shell, The Desert Song, and also did a lot of the park productions as kids with Shirley, her close friend.  I do have some of my own memories as well.

When I was little, maybe 2-3 years old, we started coming to the art gallery when it snowed.  The hill of the road that goes up next to the art gallery was a great place to sled, but we had to have someone watch to make sure a car wasn’t coming.  But we had plenty of people to do that.

I also went to the pet parade when I was a kid.  I have home movies of being there with my duck.  I had a duck and I was there with a friend who had a little baby possum hanging from his finger.  It’s amazing that all those different animals could be together and there wasn’t anything bad that happened.  It was just fun.

There was a wading pool when I was a kid that never had water in it, but we still enjoyed the structure of it and running around in it.  So I really enjoyed finding a picture of my mom actually in the water.  I just loved the playground, and my cousins did too.  There were some cylinders lying on their sides that you could sit on or go inside; I’ve never seen those anywhere else but we loved getting in and on them.  The monkey bars were great, and so were the swings.  It’s part of the zoo parking lot now.  I love the zoo, but the playground was just wonderful and I do miss it.

I went to Saturday School at the Memphis Art Academy for five years.  That was only for kids up through high school.  I loved it.  The Art Academy was just a wonderful thing to have open not just to people who were in college.  I took two years of painting and drawing, two years of jewelry and metalsmithing, and a year of sculpture.  My jewelry and metal teacher’s name was Pokopoulos–he was absolutely fantastic, and I loved that class.

We also loved going to the zoo, but it was different then.  The bears were a lot of fun, because back then you could feed them peanuts and they would do tricks.  They would sit on their bottoms and hold their hind feet with their front feet, and then you’d throw them a peanut and they’d get it.  I have a picture of me in front of a grizzly bear with Alice, the person who took care of me during the day.  I know that they probably have a much better diet now, but it was a lot of fun to interact with them without being in any danger.  We fed the giraffes every time we went.   There was also a river otter in its own bowl-shaped enclosure, and it would slide around on the bowl and looked like it was having a fantastic time.  I’ve never seen that anywhere else.  I have missed that otter for a long time!

Overton is a huge park, and just in the last 10 years, I went on the tour of the Old Forest.  I had no idea that we had forest that was 10,000 years old.  It truly is amazing.  I loved it, and I love the improvements at the zoo, especially for the cat house.  I remember when the cats were in the cat house that’s now the cafe, and it was so sad.  Cat Country made my mom incredibly happy, and me too.