The ownership we feel for places we have lived seems absolute. Any house we’ve called home was ours. No one else’s. Even if several others lived in it before or after we did.
Such was the case of the house on Beech Street where my family lived in the 60s and early 70s in Ashdown, Arkansas.
I’ve written of that house more than once in this space. Each time I did, it never crossed my mind that a reader would reach out to me and ask me, “…thought you might like some old pictures of Beech Street?”
People lived in our old house before we did. Somehow, this came as a slight shock.
But there were photos. Lots of photos.
If you recall, back then when you sent off your film to be developed, the company sent back each photo with a white border that included the month and year in which the picture was developed.
There was the Beech Street house. It looked brand new.
It was because it was brand new. It was built in 1956. Said so right in the margins of these priceless pics I now possess.
A man named Bob Clyatt had sent them to me. But how? Why?
My column is published in multiple newspapers in the South. Did this gentleman just happen to read a column in which I’d mentioned the house on Beech Street?
No, that couldn’t be it. I never mentioned the street number. And besides, I’d learned that since my family vacated the home some 50 years ago, the Post Office had actually changed the street number.
A simple solution. I’d email him back, thank him for the pictures, then ask him lots of questions.
Here are some of his answers:
“My parents moved from Ogden, Utah, to Ashdown in 1950. Why Ashdown I’ll never understand, other than the KCS Railroad went thru and my Dad worked for the Union Pacific (out of Ogden), and could travel easily and cheaply back and forth to Utah.”
“My Dad grew up in the South (Georgia) and wanted me to, I guess. He had corresponded with the then owner/publisher of the Little River News and got sold on Ashdown. They purchased a lot with a burned out house…in 1955, and had the (Beech Street) house built 1956-57.”
“Wesley Pope (who owned one of the local grocery stores) later bought the house…and sold it…”
“Was my old ‘clubhouse/hideout/chicken coup’ still there when you guys moved in? Lots of neighborhood adventures out of there.”
All great answers and questions, but this still didn’t answer my main question: How did he know I’d lived in the house after him?
Further probing brought even more surprises. Turns out, one of my uncles was and still is one of Mr. Clyatt’s good friends. My uncle used to visit him in the house way before my parents purchased the place.
This is one of those things in life where the information was easily available from inside the family; there’d just never been any reason for it to be brought up or shared. Possibly, there was an assumption that the info was already common knowledge.
Regardless, all of this was like finding Easter eggs when you weren’t even on an Easter egg hunt.
There was more.
“Why the laundry room was built on the back of garage, I haven’t a clue. The plan for a concrete driveway never materialized, and the fireplace and its unique clean out was a Utah carryover,” Mr. Clyatt said.
Mr. Clyatt also shared that his parents had built an almost identical house in Utah before moving to Arkansas. When they moved to Ashdown, they just built it again. The photos he sent back this up.
One other thing about the fireplace.
“There’s a Prince Albert can with my folks’ name and dates under the hearth,” he said.
This all made me just want to go back home and knock on the door on Beech Street and ask the current owner if I could have another tour — just for old times sake.
Mr. Clyatt and I now correspond. I’m hopeful at some point that we can get together for coffee so that I can learn more about what happened when he was there. And I can share with him what happened when my family had the keys.
Maybe we can go knock on the door together. And the guy who lives there now can update us on the happenings on Beech Street during the half-century since my family moved to Locust Street in Ashdown. I left Locust Street in 1981.
Heck, while I’m in town, I may stop by the Locust Street address. Just as a reminder to the folks who live there that they’re not the only ones who’ve called their house, “home.”
©2023 John Moore
John’s books, Puns for Groan People and Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on his website – TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message.