I grew up in a house that was built in 1902, on a tree-lined block in an older neighborhood in Jonesboro, Arkansas. There were several other kids close to my age who lived nearby and we all played together. It was an idyllic place to grow up. Just a block away there was a corner store, owned by a sweet older couple. At some point I learned that my parents had a charge account there, and it was all the candy I could eat until Mom and Dad got the bill and shut me down.
A few days ago I found this photo of the house at my mother’s home and posted it on Facebook. So many people commented with their own memories of our house that it made me more nostalgic than ever for the old place.
We moved there in my first-grade year. I was excited because the house had a basement. I’d never seen a basement before. That basement would hold many, many LEGOS and would shelter us from Jonesboro’s deadly tornadoes; the one in 1968 that took away the home of some of my parents’ best friends and in 1976, the tornado that blew away the local high school. We went to school the next year in portable buildings at the local fairgrounds and traveled to our church for band and choir.
I was so distraught after the ’68 storm that I was determined to go to church the next morning, but my parents weren’t planning to go. I set off walking and when I arrived the doors were locked. The tornado had not only destroyed homes and killed a few people, but the whole town was in such a state that they cancelled church.
Our house had a small den just inside the side door, and it opened into a large living room and a dining room. From the dining room, you entered the breakfast room, then the kitchen. It was a large kitchen, even by today’s standards and the countertops were stainless steel.
In the living room, there was an armoire that held a lot of random papers and other junk. The one thing I remember was that it was where we kept the Elvis tickets we had bought for a concert that never took place because Elvis died. When we went back to look for the tickets, they had disappeared. No one ever found them, but I’ve always wondered what six tickets for a concert Elvis never performed would bring.
When I was a teenager, my mom, who had been a homemaker, got a part-time job at Arkansas State University teaching in the nursing department. She was one of the only nurses in the area with a bachelor’s degree. She used some of her salary to redecorate the old den, living room, and dining room. We got spring green carpet over those 60-plus-year-old hardwood floors (as one did at that time), and a green velvet couch and drapes to match. I think it was nice for the day, but the green had definitely overstayed its welcome by the time we sold the house.
Off the kitchen was a utility room, which was always a mess. That’s where the washer and dryer were and once when my mom left clothes to dry in the dryer while we went to church, the dryer caught fire. The only thing that kept the whole house from burning was the plastic bottle of laundry detergent that sat on top of the dryer. It melted from the heat of the fire and the liquid doused the fire. But there was smoke. A lot of smoke. We had to have the house fumigated and they used this awful pink bubblegum scent. We smelled that crap for years afterwards.
Our bedrooms were large, like old house bedrooms were. I got the best room, as I was the oldest. It had a fireplace (non-working) with a mantel and in the small closet there was a window. The tile around the fireplace was blue, which has always been my favorite color. Years later when we redecorated it, I got blue and green shag carpet, which I thought was the most beautiful, lush floor I’d ever seen.
Daddy loved popcorn. Sometimes after I’d gone to bed, he would pop popcorn and I’d smell it from my room. He and Mom both knew I was about to come running down the stairs for some popcorn. They let me stay up and have my fill before I went back to bed. I still love popcorn.
I hated the Ethan Allan furniture in my room, so during the redecoration, it came out. I had seen this set of white furniture with blue and green trim and, of course, that was it for me. It didn’t have a desk or bookcase, so my daddy had new ones custom built for my room and they were a bright shade of blue. I loved that furniture. I wish I knew what happened to it.
My sister got orange and yellow shag carpet and white furniture with orange and yellow trim. Some of both of our furniture got stripped and painted over and over again and has served our girls well as dorm room and apartment furniture.
At some point, my parents decided to paint the house white. The painters did it by hand — no sprayers. It took forever. I felt like the painters had moved in with us.
When I was in about the ninth grade, my daddy decided to build a pool in the back yard. His idea was that as we grew into teenagers, the more they could keep us around the house the better. He wasn’t much for spending a lot of money on home decor, but he would open the purse strings when it involved anything we could all do together as a family.
The pool was wonderful. It wasn’t the most beautiful pool ever built, because Daddy thought that stainless steel would be the most durable. I watched the men build it, then lay the concrete and shape the steps by hand.
We swam all the time. Sometimes when Daddy came home from work, he’d get in with us and the whole family would be in the pool. We had a neighbor who would peep at us through the holes in the concrete brick fence. Once we caught her peeping and squirted the Pool Sweep hose in her direction. I don’t remember her peeping too often after that.
My brother was about five the first summer we had the pool. He had this little Speedo swimsuit that had white stars and stripes on it and he wore it all the time. He actually got a tan on his behind in the pattern of the stars and stripes, and we laughed and sang, “Oh, stars and stripes everywhere, even on his derriere … ” to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever.
Behind our house was a vacant lot. When they mowed it, it was a great place to tumble. I remember doing nine backhandsprings in a row in that lot — it was the most I’d ever done as there was no gym for that in Jonesboro in the early 1970s.
Around the time we built the pool, we also added on a large den with a very high ceiling and windows all around. It became our family’s favorite room, and the old den was used mostly as a place to put the piano. I jokingly referred to it as the conservatory. My parents told me that new room cost as much as they paid for the entire house. But it was worth it, and they designed it with a hole in the roof right outside the window for an oak tree my daddy didn’t want to cut down.
At some point we redecorated the kitchen and got new wallpaper. It was (remember, 1970s) orange and yellow plaid with a little bit of spring green. Trouble is, when you wallpaper an old house, never do plaid. Those walls were nowhere near plumb, and the pattern made it obvious.
That wallpaper, crooked walls and all, was still there when my mom sold the house after Daddy passed in 1993. The yard, the pool, everything that has to be fixed when an old house gets older — at around 6000 square feet, was too much for my mother on her own.
The last time I was in the house, there were moving boxes everywhere, all the pictures had been taken down off the wall, and I couldn’t stand it. I went upstairs for one last look at the room that had been my safe and happy place for so many years, pausing on the landing with the big picture window I always looked out to see if there was lightning.
It was a wonderful house, well loved and well lived in. It was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but no one ever got busy and did the paperwork.
I miss it, but we’ve made so many new memories it doesn’t sting like it used to. A family is a family wherever they are, and my memories of this house are really memories of the people and relationships that lived and loved here.