As I drove from Pyland to Houston I saw on the horizon the dark tower of smoke rising and standing out like a lone pine tree in a pasture. Suddenly all my hopes for a miracle were shattered. From then on I expected the worst.
When I was years five year old, the new house at 687 North Pontotoc Street became my home. It was my daddy and mother’s only house, a house where they spent the rest of their lives. It was built from short leaf pine cut on red hill land belonging to my daddy and his daddy in Calhoun County. Some of the lumber was not planed, but craftsmen carpenters built a solid house from it. My dad designed the multi-gable dwelling and the best brick mason around, Mr. Hal Reese, laid the brick with carbon black mortar. I think often of the care they put into that house. This was the days of board walls and a thin fabric called cheese cloth that held wallpaper to walls. My mother hand washed the cheese cloth and hung the wall paper while watching after me and my sister who was less than one year old.
The neighborhood was sparsely settled, but it was a neighborhood of many children. Mrs. Mitchell, a high school teacher, lived across Dulaney Street. Across Pontotoc Street lived the Eastridges and beyond them the Tabbs. Close by on Dulaney Street were the Farrishes, the Rays, and the Hancocks.
The unpaved streets were dusty in summer and rutted in winter. Our drive was graveled by pieces of brick and concrete debris. Daddy had bought some cows in 1950 and for a short time a young bull was kept in what is now the office building behind where mother’s house stood before the fire. Shortly after it was put there the bull got out and ambled down Dulaney Street, this caused concern so it was put in Mrs Mitchell’s pasture across Dulaney where Rex Sanderson later built.
Several years after my sister and I started school, my mother, to whom this article is dedicated, resumed her career as a second grade school teacher. After my father’s early death, the house at 687 Pontotoc Street was known as Mrs. Ellard’s House. The many hours of upkeep and the flowers she put there symbolized her love for the community as well as her feelings for students, friends, and family. After her death, the house at 687 Pontotoc was for me a symbol of her legacy.
Arriving at 687 Pontotoc just after 1 p.m., I walked the long walk to the flashing red lights, the parked cars, the crowd, and the billowing smoke. My mind flashed to the things of youth, of the precious memories and to my mother and father. In an instant they were real again, inside the house, the furniture still much as she had arranged it, the pictures of five generations of the family on the walls, pictures of my childhood, the memorabilia of a lifetime in Houston. Then I looked again to see the flames of destruction inside the brick walls that my daddy planned and that Mr. Reese so skillfully crafted.
For a number of hours friends came by and told me what she meant to them in the community, in her school room, and in her church activities; and what the symbol of 687 was to North Pontotoc Street.
To the many who never knew her, the change on the lot at Dulaney and Pontotoc is just another old house gone, but to me, and perhaps to her friends, the place will live on. Never will I forget my times at 687 North Pontotoc Street in Houston, Mississippi.