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Eola brings back memories after 74 years

Epho McEntyre could teach us all a few lessons about the memories we hold onto in life.

When the 92-year-old walked into the Eola Hotel for lunch Thursday, she didn’t have much to say about the Natchez landmark.

“I just didn’t recognize it when I saw it,” McEntyre said.

Of course, it had been 74 years since the Jena resident worked in the Eola’s restaurant. She worked behind the lunch counter and waited on customers when she was 18 years old.

Back then, the Eola Hotel was very different than it is today. The restaurant in which McEntyre and her family ate Thursday didn’t exist as a hotel dining room in the 1930s.

“It is much more open now,” McEntyre said remarking how much smaller and tighter the spaces were in her working days.

When Eola comptroller Patti Jenkins met McEntyre and her niece Mary Ann Smith at a recent cookout in Clayton, Jenkins did not know of McEntyre’s Eola connections. When she did find out, she invited her to come back, see the hotel, eat lunch and relive some old memories.

Pulling up those memories from so long ago is hard for McEntyre. She remembers the simple white uniform, the hair nets and the cinnamon rolls. Other recollections from her days serving customers on Main Street are lost in the past.

“I don’t know the things I did last year,” McEntyre told her niece and two daughters, Bettye Davis and Evelyn McEntyre, who accompanied her to Natchez.

Even still, bits and pieces kept bubbling up as McEntyre sat listening to the conversation at her table.

“Let me tell you my most embarrassing moment at work,” McEntyre said as she recalled the time she poured an entire tray of food in her own lap in front of her customers.

“The couple was nice enough to leave a tip,” McEntyre said.

Many of her memories included occasions spent with her aunt Myrtle and uncle Audley B. Conner, who was the Adams County sheriff.

“I remember the time Aunt Myrtle and I dressed up to eat at the Eola,” McEntyre said. “She treated me to dinner. She always ordered an Old Fashioned for herself and ordered one for me, too.”

The two had club sandwiches and drinks with the influential politicians and businessmen who frequented the hotel restaurant.

McEntyre’s mother and father were jailers for the county and lived in the residence attached to the jail, now the Adams County Board of Supervisors Office on State Street. Many of McEntyre’s memories centered around life at the jail.

Other memories that McEntrye shared Thursday included those of dancing with servicemen in the ballroom in the hotel penthouse. “I had one guy teach me the polka,” McEntyre said with a smile.

When asked about what the Eola and Natchez looked like in the 1930s, McEntyre was quick to shrug and say that those days are far gone in her memory.

But watching the nonagenarian recall those long ago days dancing in the ballroom and being with her family at the jail residence, one could see a small spark light up in her eyes.

Recollections of things have faded away, while memories of the moments with family and friends remain strong.

It is a reminder that the memory of physical objects — the stuff we collect in life — has a tendency to grow fainter as we grow older, but those connections we make with people every day stay with us forever.

Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.