One of my four cousins, Laurence Mellen, of Cleveland, Miss., called me recently with an enticing invitation. His brother, Arthur, who lives in Virginia, would be here a few days. They proposed the three of us go on a search in Clay County for our grandparents” house. The reason we had to search for it was that, years ago, our grandmother sold her property to Dugan Nursing Home. Because they wanted to expand, they sold the house, but not the land.
Whoever had bought the house from Dugan had moved it, in three pieces, somewhere way out in Clay County. Years ago, when they were alive, my mother and theirs had rambled around until they located it. Of the grandchildren, only Arthur had enough information for us to go on the same hunt.
It was a bittersweet adventure. We remembered the house that sat about midway on a long lot that stretched through the entire block, next door to Mr. Dugan”s house. (Coincidentally, West Point had two banks. Mr. Dugan was president of one of them. He had never married. Our grandfather was president of the other, so the two bankers lived next door to each other.)
We recalled the trees, the long front sidewalk, with a rose garden halfway to the street. It had a gazing ball in its center. As children we had all ridden tricycles down that long sidewalk at one time or other. We had sat in the swing on the wrap-around porch. When I was little, that swing was unstable. I was always tipping it over backward and falling out.
The house was not a showplace, but it was comfortable. We remembered Christmases with a tall tree glowing in the bay window of the “parlor.” There was another bay window in the living room. Our grandmother had put glass shelves there and filled them with colorful glass bowls and vases and green plants. It was simple, but I thought it was the most beautiful sight in the world.
Road to the past
Of course, we knew we would not find that house of our memories, but we were surely going to find, we hoped, what it had become. With the vaguest of directions we drove west of West Point, then turned north. Before long, we were in desolate country. I didn”t know there was so much uninhabited land nearby.
We made several wrong turns on country roads. The only vehicle we passed, and we did that often, retracing our path, was some kind of high tractor. We stopped. Arthur got out, flagged down the tractor, and climbed up into the cab with the driver. He came back with at least some directions, so we were able to narrow down our choices. After getting lost in a community called Una, we finally got on the right road and drove past the house. We backed up. Sure enough, there it was — greatly changed, but recognizable.
No one was home, so we just walked around it. The side porch had been replaced with a wide deck that extended to the back. We couldn”t resist peeping in the windows. That was when the owner came home!
Laurence hurried over to introduce himself and us to the owner and to explain why we were looking in his windows. Mr. Jackson, the owner, was gracious enough to invite us in; we prowled around, pointing out what we remembered, commenting on the many changes. It had been empty and neglected long before he bought it. They had added a stairway to an attic we had never seen. The floor plan was now unrecognizable in most places, but it was indeed the same house. We were glad to see it.
As we left, nostalgia was almost palpable. Laurence mused, “I wish I could buy it back, maybe use it for a vacation spot, maybe move it again, this time to the Delta.” But that would be a big, expensive undertaking, and he already had a camp house near Yazoo City, between East of Eden and Nod. Did you know there are two communities in Mississippi bearing the names of the places to which Adam and Eve had been driven out of the Garden?
That”s going back to roots much older than those we were seeking, but I guess in our own way we were searching for those relatively carefree days of our youth, before we were driven out of the Eden of childhood.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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