Back in the summer, #3 son, his three older children (seventeen, fifteen, and eleven), and I “toured” my home town. His youngest, only six, stayed home; she’ll have to get the genealogy tour later, when she’s ready. Son wanted the grandchildren to learn about where I—and by extension, they—came from.
I worried that in Pontotoc, Mississippi, a town nestled in the red clay hills near Oxford (the home of Ole Miss), there’s not much to see: the square, now virtually stripped of the old trees I remember, with its Confederate monument. The store my dad once owned, now an antique shop. A museum housed in the post office, itself an historical building. The house where I grew up, and the one where my parents lived later.
It turned out to be a drizzling, sticky day, and I must admit when we left the hotel in Oxford that morning, I didn’t have high hopes. I anticipated bored kids and a general disappointment with grandmother’s roots.
I was wrong.
As we drove through town, I pointed out landmarks: the square, the courthouse (hard to miss), my dad’s store, the store on the corner that had once been my uncle’s grocery, the flaking ghost of an old painted grocery ad still evident on the side of the building.
After the post office museum where we spent maybe half an hour and the women volunteers told the kids stories and connected with me—”Now, you’re so-and-so’s daughter?”—we stopped by the Presbyterian church I grew up in. I had emailed the church ahead of time and learned that its doors are never locked; we were welcome to drop by any time. No one was there, but we walked right in.
I had not been inside that church since my grandmother’s funeral in 1994. Indeed, my last three visits there had been for funerals, so maybe that gloom had affected my memories of the place.
This time, I was stunned by how beautiful and meticulously maintained the church is: the polished dark woodwork. The breathtaking stained glass windows. At the back of the sanctuary, the tall folding doors with the same stained glass that, during my childhood, partitioned it off and made it smaller and better suited to the congregation. The only times I ever saw those doors open were for weddings and funerals. They are a magnificent work of art and architecture tucked away in this unpretentious place.
It had never occurred to me to ask about the history of the stained glass; isn’t that terrible? But history means more to me as I get older. I intend to find out, and I will certainly share it with my children and grandchildren.
We explored: we lingered in the prayer room at the back of the sanctuary, its walls lined with books. We went upstairs to the room where I dressed for my first wedding when I was twenty-one years old.
So many memories for me. The kids responded with curiosity, love, and awe. They listened to my stories. They opened doors, peeked in nooks, touched things–the books, the glass, the dark wood–not in a bad way, but as though they wanted to take something of this place away with them and lock it in their memories, too.
There’s a photo I didn’t share here: one of me with the three grandchildren, standing in the narthex of the church. That one is private, a connection to them and a precious time we shared.
If you have not “gone home” lately, I encourage you to do it. More importantly, go with someone you love. Share the place. Share the stories.
If this piece inspires you to remember, share a memory here in a comment. If it inspires you to write a post, share your link. I would love to read about your special, remembered places.
11 thoughts on “History: a photo essay plus a few thoughts”
Well, I’m sorry I missed seeing you when you were in Pontotoc last August. I’m thankful to call Pontotoc my home, and while I didn’t start school here, I was born in Pontotoc and as you know graduated PHS a year after you. This is a nice story and something you grandchildren will surely remember of your hometown.
I have missed you! This is such a beautiful reflection. It must have been a very, very special day for you and your grandchildren. I guess because I have been feeling nostalgic lately, it almost made me cry. One of the things on my list of “things to do” is take my mom back to the cathedral where I went to high school. It touches me deeply, to go back. And this reminded me of the gorgeous and huge stained glass window at the front of the cathedral. There’s a tiny termite in the bottom corner…I’m not quite sure why, but I do notice it when I go back. Of course there’s more…with Jesus being the central figure. Thanks for sharing!
I’ve missed being here, Beth. Look for more posts soon! Yes, this was a special day. It’s interesting how my perspective has changed–about that place and a lot of other things–as I’ve gotten older. It’s a tiny church, but still ticking.
Isn’t it wonderful that we’re still changing and growing…even as we age. ;0)
How wonderful that you were able to share this with them in person. What a valuable and precious day you have given the kids. I hope you will give them a little keepsake folio of the buildings and stories and the thens and nows so that some day they can share these same things with their children or grandchildren. Imagine their faces when they say to the newest generation–“Yes, he was born in the 1900’s and I actually KNEW him!” Fabulous!
It was amazing how the stories flowed, once we started talking. I took a “short” version of the family tree with me and shared some things with the children based on that. You’re right; we should all get the stories down and make sure they’re preserved. (I just visited your blog site and I’ll be back! Very interesting.) Thanks for reading!
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This is lovely, Gerry. The stained glass windows are stunning – they look like Art Deco. Did you learn anything about the history of the windows?
Last summer, I took my grandson on a trip to Michigan (my home state), and we drove all over, both Upper Peninsula and Lower. We visited the town where my mother grew up, the college my father attended, my grade school, and two of the houses I had lived in. At age fifteen, he seemed quite enthralled by it all.
Thank you, Joanne. Yes, I learned a little more. I contacted a former pastor there who was responsible for the restoration and preservation of the windows. He believes they “might” be Tiffany glass. They’re the right age, and according to him, the texture and the colors of the glass suggest they might be. Nothing definite yet, though. I want to continue to look into the history. I know the basic history of the church, but not the windows.
It sounds like you had a great experience with your grandson. I have other grandchildren who should take the “tour,” too!
Gerry, thank you for sweeping me right along as you introduced the Pontotoc of your childhood to your family! I get to see it every day, since we moved back ‘home’ fifteen years ago. You CAN go home again, though several friends have asked “Why on earth would you WANT to??”
I’m gonna miss seeing you this reunion weekend, my dear friend.
I’ll miss seeing you, too. How about a lunch date sometime this fall? I’ll drive up!
That was a special day with the kids, a whirlwind little trip. I was moved by their reactions. Stirred up a lot of good memories!
Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate it!
This post certainly reminds me of some childhood memories. would like to write something whenever I get time. and btw – the photographs are just blowing awesome!!