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GUEST COLUMN: The late Miss Helen Dean Rhodes, my piano teacher - Part 2

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 MORE ABOUT THE SISTERS’ HOUSE: I think my geography is correct. Miss Helen, and Miss Beechie lived at the corner of East Third Street and East Fourth Avenue, just over the hill from the infamous Rome City Clock. A stucco house, with 12 foot high ceilings, it had a very pleasant front porch with a swing. Pigeons roosted in the eaves of the house on drooping boards which needed to be replaced. There was a lace curtain over the window of the front door. A full length picture window was just inside the front door of the home. The uncarpeted floors of the hallway and front staircase were dark and dingy. Though probably grand in its day, the house was shabby and I often wondered what the upstairs of the home looked like.

MISS HELEN DID NOT DRIVE, BUT MISS BEECHIE DID. I suppose an additional task, in taking care of them both, was for Miss Beechie to drive the sisters where they needed to go. But she was a horrible driver. Although I do not know that she ever got any tickets, or was in any motor vehicle accidents, everybody knew to stay out of her way. She went careening all over the road. One day Mama was on her way to pick me up from my lesson and she saw Miss Beechie zigzagging all over the road. Literally. We all suspected she couldn’t see well enough to drive and we often wondered why didn’t somebody take her driver’s license. But drive around town she did. The sisters owned an older car which, I believe, was a 1930-something Plymouth. Miss Helen was the director of music at Rome’s First Presbyterian Church for 25 years. Miss Beechie drove them to church every Sunday morning. The only other driving she did was to the Colonial Grocery store, which many years ago was in the Central Plaza Shopping Center. She did not drive at night and so there were plenty of folks willing to give Miss Helen a ride to and from symphony rehearsal at Shorter every Tuesday night.

MY BROTHER STEVE. Much to his dismay, Miss Helen called my brother “Stevie.” He took piano lessons from Miss Helen when he was in high school and played trombone in the high school marching band. Miss Helen recruited him to play trombone in the Rome Symphony Orchestra. He participated in the orchestra for two years. In November, 1971, he was called to duty in Viet Nam. I will never forget the day he left. I stood in our driveway and watched him drive off until the car was no longer in sight. He was my only brother and I feared I would never see him again. Every week, when I went to my piano lesson, Miss Helen would anxiously ask about Steve. She actually stood there, in the music studio, nervously wringing her hands and she’d say, “Have you had a letter from Stevie? What do y’all hear from him? Is he okay?” There was never a week that she didn’t ask about him. This meant so very much to me, as you may imagine. Then, when we had a letter from him, I would tell her all about it. Miss Helen genuinely loved her students, all of us, and I knew she was truly worried about “Stevie.” But he got safely home in 1972. Remember the old driving range? It was located on the lot where the Olive Garden now stands. That’s where I was the day he came home from Viet Nam. The driving range at driver’s education. He surprised me and came with Daddy to pick me up. What a great day that was! A couple of days later he surprised Miss Helen with a visit. She was overjoyed that “Stevie” was safely home!

THE WACKY PIANO LESSON. I mentioned (in Part 1) that the sisters had a dozen cats. Miss Beechie would feed the neighborhood cats and she believed she could teach the cats to talk. I told you she was eccentric. The sisters’ favorite cat was a Siamese named “Sai.” One day during my piano lesson I heard Miss Beechie’s voice from the next room. She said, “Now, Sai you talk!” Then I heard, ”Meow. Meow.” I envisioned the cat sitting on a chair with Miss Beechie towering over him demanding that he “talk.” This went on for the entire 45 minute piano lesson. Miss Helen did not hear her sister trying to teach Sai to talk. Due to the ongoing distraction, it was difficult for me to concentrate on my lesson that day.

This is part 2 of a 3 part series about Miss Helen Dean Rhodes, Miss Fannie Wood Rhodes, their house, and their role in the local music community. Please watch for the conclusion of their story next week. Native Roman, Pam Walker is a paralegal in Calhoun. You can email her at pamtwalker@gmail.com.