Those were good days, despite the financial challenges. We pinched pennies, hoarded quarters for the endless trips to the Laundromat and gave thanks daily for the neighborhood corner grocery that ran weekly specials of three pounds of hamburger meat for a dollar. Splurging meant catching a steak on sale and cooking out in the backyard on the small hand-me-down charcoal grill with our similarly situated friends and neighbors. Fond memories indeed, ones that proved happiness has little to do with money.
Then there was the first house we bought, located on a corner lot in a modest but nice neighborhood in southwest Jackson. It had two bedrooms, one bath, dining room, kitchen, sunroom and detached one-car garage – a castle in my mind at the time, which was 1964. My hand was shaking so badly I could barely sign the closing papers. I had mortgaged away my life, or at least an eternity of 30 years until the selling cost of $10,500 was repaid at the rate of $60 a month. We had a Springer Spaniel puppy at the time, a natural-born retriever if there ever was one. Anything that hit the ground in the neighborhood – newspapers, kid shoes, caps, baseball gloves, whatever – the pup brought to our house. It was an effective way to learn the neighbors as I made almost daily rounds trying to match the items with the owners. Most of them took it in a neighborly way.
After arriving in Cleveland in 1971 to work at Delta State, I supplemented my income by helping DSU physics professor B.G. Tatum on weekends with his handyman projects around town. B.G. grew up working for his uncle’s construction company and had done just everything you could do in the carpentry area. When I asked him if he had ever built a house from scratch, his answer was typical B.G. “Yes, but never on the same lot,” he said, meaning he had done everything that needed to be done in the process but had not been involved with one from start to finish. Once again, my hand was shaking as I signed the construction loan, knowing I had no choice but to get the massive job done on time and in the money.
Eight anxious months later, using mostly our own labor, we put the final touches on a 2,200-square-foot, story-and-a-half structure that would become the new Morganti home. I had three weeks vacation time accumulated and DSU President Kent Wyatt had agreed to let me take it a half-day at a time during the slow summer session. I would work in the office until noon daily and then B.G. and I would labor well into the night, often spending 10 hours at a time at the house site. Dr. Wyatt still jokes (I think he is joking) that I am the only person he knows who built a house on vacation time. In the spirit of his comment, I always respond: “Only the outside where we could be seen, Dr. Wyatt; we did the inside on sick leave.”
Getting back to the cabin at Benoit -- which had been owned by the late Dr. Arthur Lindsey of Cleveland -- I could not help but note the sadness surrounding Mrs. Lindsey as she turned over the title, which she agreed to do only after checking me out thoroughly. “Doc loved that place and we had so many good memories there that I wanted someone to have it who would love it as much as we did,” she said. I never knew Dr. Lindsey but was told by many he was a brilliant man. Upon moving in, I discovered drawings of the cabin construction and learned that Dr. Lindsey had designed the complicated octagonal structure himself, cut the timbers from forest land he owned in Holmes County, built a saw to mill the boards and did much of the construction work. No wonder he loved it, he had put his heart and soul into it. I suspect it is one of few houses anywhere framed with true 2x6s instead of lumberyard 2x4s that actually measure 1-3/4 by 3-?. Over the years, B.G. and I added on and updated, trying to make the changes consistent with Dr. Lindsey’s design. I always got the feeling the good doctor was looking over our shoulders.
When the record 2011 spring floods inundated the downstairs and reached the bottom eight inches of the upstairs, I collected the flood insurance money and decided it was time to return to civilization and bought a house in Cleveland. I had two options with the cabin, have it taken down or restore it to its former condition and put it up for sale. Eventually, I chose to take it down and part of my reasoning was that no one could love and appreciate the place as much as Dr. Lindsey and the lucky fellow his widow approved as its new owner.
So many houses and so many memories over the years and none better than the tiny first apartment and the house that Dr. Lindsey built. If things go as planned, the current house in Cleveland will be the last one. Hopefully, my next move will be north of Beulah to a tiny bit of real estate in a beautiful setting where my new neighbors will be beloved family and friends from the past, and where all the wonderful memories have already been made.
Leroy Morganti is a retired vice president at Delta State University and former newspaper reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.