Recently, I learned an astonishing thing. My grandmother’s house where I spent my childhood summers has been made into an AirB&B. Who’d a thunk it! Helen’s house is a simple yellow brick ranch home. To the passer by it is nothing special. The house is a small three-bedroom, two bath that sits atop a small hill overlooking the bayou and the woods. The screened in back porch was perfect for picking shrimp or eating watermelon. The kitchen was tiny but so was Helen; it was easy for her to get around and reach for things. The dining room table sat in front of the large sliding glass window with a panoramic view. In those days, that table was perhaps the most important part of the house. It is where we would gather for dinner every afternoon and say the blessing. Sweet tea and fried chicken. My brother and I would pour Kraft French Dressing on green beans and mashed , mixing the potatoes to make a white and orange swirl. At supper it was hamburgers or gumbo with Ritz crackers.
The house was quickly built after Hurricane Camille wiped out my grandparents’ Biloxi beachfront home. It was worlds’ apart from the Biloxi house which had hardwood floors, mahogany furniture and proper Limoge china. The Biloxi house, surrounded by mighty oaks and magnolia trees, looked across Highway 90 to the beach and Deer Island. Early in the morning, my brother and I would sit on the front porch and look for Cuban refugees drifting ashore in bathtubs. He had me convinced but we never spotted any.
But it was the Ocean Springs house I loved! I was a little older and have more memories there. But it wasn’t just that; the house on the bayou was relaxed, less formal and we really lived there. Every summer, I was eager to get to Helen and Deda’s house where we would roam the woods, play on the bayou and sail in the bay. We had so much freedom. Everyday was a new adventure building forts, picking blackberries, riding bikes into town or sailing to Deer Island. We had the ease of going where we pleased and the knowledge that we were safe, and that dinner would be waiting. People knew us. They knew who our parents and grandparents were and because of that we were expected to behave and show respect. Are small southern towns still like that?
Deda liked to spend his time in the shed, a carpenter’s dream of a shop equipped with every kind of tool. It was hidden in the woods just below the house. It was the original “man cave;” his escape from domestic life. The scent of fresh cut wood and the sound of Deda whistling or singing a song. He was a carpenter and an inventor and there was no one else in the world like him. He loved to feed the birds, rabbits and turtles. He would name each rabbit and turtle that came into the yard as if he could tell them apart. He could whistle the song of any kind of bird. I wonder if the shed is still there. My guess is that Katrina took it, or the current owners tore it down.
I hope the visitors to the AirB&B can sense the specialness of the place. I hope they appreciate it.