“It is gracious to have old people full of vitality and endowed with wisdom in our society.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita
I was taking photographs of the houses in the 800 block on Beal Street. It was Sunday, quiet, no traffic. I was trying to imagine the time when each house was occupied, full of life and activity. A car came around the corner and stopped beside me. When the window rolled down, a beautiful child looked up at me and smiled. I leaned in to say hi to the driver. “What you doing, honey?” she asked. I explained I was taking photographs because I was going to write about the neighborhood. “You got to come in and meet my Auntie Mary. She and her sister can tell you stories.” I spent the next hour and half in the home and company of Mary Alston and Viola Williams. Southern ladies don’t often tell their ages, but Viola, the oldest sister who is 94, and Mary, slightly younger, are a cause for awe and celebration. Mary Alston and her young husband bought and moved into the house in 1957. “We were young and foolish and figured we could work on the house a little bit at a time.” The house has been loved and cared for over the years, has seen the birth of three Alston children, the early death of their precious adult daughter. Their pictures and those of extended family are proudly displayed throughout the rooms. Mary is a gardener at heart, never mind that she has slowed down. Viola showed me a photograph of the front of the house once planted in begonias and impatients that would win a curb appeal award. There is a red rose climber on the edge of the porch still hanging on, sparse now, fewer blooms, but surviving. Mary intends to feed it some fertilizer when she can get to it. The climbing rose is a perfect metaphor for these two loving woman. I’m invited back and look forward to it. I need to figure out how to get ice cream cones to them without melting; Mary likes vanilla and Viola, strawberry.
The empty homes on Beal street were once filled with Mary and Viola’s neighbors who have died away.
The Beal Street Square Project is going to bring new neighbors and new life to Happy Hill. It will call attention to the area, making it clear that investment in the future of the neighborhood is a sound idea. The houses I’ve photographed are perfect for “young and foolish” couples to once again breath life back into them. The dwellings in Happy Hill, their history, and the stories associated with them are treasures surrounding the site of Beal Street Square; another great partnership.
There is a church that sits across the street from Mary & Viola. It’s been there since Mary and her husband moved in; a holy place after years of prayer, they minister to Mary and Viola, and they will welcome the new neighbors that are coming to Happy Hill.