Dec. 8, 2018

SOME CHILDREN DREAM BEAUTIFUL DREAMS-- THEY NEVER FORGET.

In 2006 I was professionally diagnosed with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I valued the time I spent with a Therapist in Alexandria, Virginia.  I trusted her.  When she suggested that, for our next meeting, I write a letter to the little girl in me, I lost no time complying with her wishes. 

Here is a portion of that letter:

Dear Little Girl, 

Thank you for never leaving me. Thank you for comforting me through all the hurts while encouraging me to dream. You are my best friend and I love you.

Make-believe and Pretend continue to shield you from a hurt-filled life. As a child, living on Pine Bluff’s East 6th street, you didn’t have friends. Alone, at the age of three, you walked four blocks to study piano lessons with Miss Hilda. When you were only four years old, you rode across town by yourself with strange taxi cab drivers to take tap dancing lessons. Every Saturday morning, all by yourself, you rode the city bus to your favorite place---the Public Library. Books were everywhere, rows and rows of multi-colored, multi-sized books, each beckoning you to step inside their pages. Once inside, the pages took you to other worlds, to adventures far from your hometown.

On Saturdays, after leaving the library, you walked west-one block to stand in front of the town’s finest home, the Simmons Mansion. Beautifully manicured evergreens edged the wide brick walkway leading to a carved-walnut door highlighted with leaded glass. Four white, fluted columns, more than three-stories tall, framed the doorway.

After years of looking, you decided to activate the adventure. Marching up the long brick walkway, you stood on tiptoes to grasp the ornate brass knocker. “Boom, boom, boom”, the knocker sounded surprisingly loud as you waited for the door to open. Standing there, anticipating the adventure, not once did you consider the possibility of being turned away.

The mansion’s matriarch, Ms. Simmons, opened the door, welcoming you inside as though she had been expecting you. I remember every detail---how beautiful Ms. Simmons looked in a navy velvet dress with a strand of white pearls at her neck. Except for a few wisps of curious curls peeking around her pearl-studded ears, Ms. Simmons’ cotton-white hair stayed securely tucked in a classic bun. I remember the sound her sensible shoes made as they clicked rhythmically on the polished hardwood floor.

Straight out of a fairy tale, the elegant structure was more opulent than you imagined... with uniformed servants, seven bedrooms with seven private baths, crystal chandeliers, even an elevator. But, the hand-carved staircase was the most awesome sight. The majestic staircase flowed upward to a landing with a massive stained glass window then split---one side going left, the other going right until the staircases merged at the third floor. The entire top floor featured a ballroom with balconies, a full stage, even an orchestra pit.

After touring the Mansion you glided to the bus stop like a queen. It didn’t matter you had missed four buses. Minutes before, you’d experienced a beautiful world with elegant people; a world far beyond the wood-frame rental house at 1707 East 6th Street.

Follow-Up:  After Mrs. Simmons died, her beautiful home stayed vacant for years.  Her heirs-- all wealthy—didn’t care about the house, only about the pricey items inside. They left the stately Simmons Mansion to lick its wounds; mourn its losses. Since discovering the beautiful treasure as a child, the house never failed to captivate me with its elegance. Newly married, I never missed one day driving past the Simmons Mansion.  

The day I saw the FOR SALE sign, I called the number listed to learn the house was on the market for 90,000 dollars. Trying to convince my husband to purchase the house was a waste of time.  To him, old houses were like old people….they needed to be shut-down and removed from society. I approached the city about buying the house, suggesting it could be used for small concerts, workshops, ladies auxiliary meetings, luncheons, even a music conservatory.  I had endless  ideas but…. no one had vision; no one supported historic preservation.   If only...

The day the wrecking crew destroyed Pine Bluff’s most beautiful history and--- my first love--- was the day I lost my childhood. Soon, a very cheap, ugly motel replaced the once-manicured property and I never drove down that street again.

It’s interesting to note: The group that bought and demolished the Mansion for 60,000 dollars, was a company composed of three men, all wealthy Pine Bluff Businessmen, who just wanted to make a fast dollar.  None of the three had any loyalty to the city or to its history.  One of the men happened to be--- my father-in-law.

Stay Close,

Sally Miller