We live our lives on multiple stages. One of the stages on which I lived my childhood was the home of the late Miss Helen Dean Rhodes. A two story, tabby/stucco house built in the late 1800s, the sisters inherited the house from their maternal grandparents.
This shabby, rundown home was the setting for my piano lessons years ago. That house thoroughly frames my memories of Miss Helen.
In November I wrote a series about the late Miss Helen Dean Rhodes. One day I received an email from the current owner of her home and was invited to come see the house! I knew that, until I saw the refurbished house, it would remain in my memory as a dilapidated old house.
For the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with this story about the late Miss Helen Dean Rhodes, I will explain a few things. Certainly, this will be repetitious for those of you familiar with the story.
The late Helen Dean Rhodes was the longtime conductor of the Rome Symphony orchestra. Further, she was the piano teacher of an entire generation of Romans. So dedicated was she to cultural enrichment that she rode a Greyhound bus to Trion every week and taught piano and violin lessons there.
Miss Helen’s eccentric sister, Fannie Wood Rhodes, whom everyone called Miss Beechie, lived with her. Miss Beechie steadfastly believed that God had taken away her sense of smell. You will soon learn the magnitude of that.
Miss Helen told me one day that ever since she could remember their mother instructed Miss Beechie, “take care of your little sister.” And so it was. Miss Beechie took care of the house, the grocery shopping and cooking their meals.
Miss Helen and Miss Beechie had two dozen cats which they kept inside the house at all times. Miss Beechie fed the cats. There were no litter boxes in the home and consequently the home reeked of cat urine. An odor so revolting it would’ve peeled paint. No foolin’. The sisters were downright oblivious.
Miss Helen’s house revisited
There I was in 2018. Standing on the front porch of the former home of the late Helen Dean Rhodes. Delighted to see that the home has been wonderfully restored, I noticed many things.
Gone are the drooping boards from the eaves of the home. Gone are the pigeons which roosted there.
When I entered the home, I was immediately catapulted back to 1974, which was the last time I was in the home. I stood in the foyer admiring the polished, restored floors and thought back on how the house looked years ago.
Gone are all those cats. Gone, therefore, is that awful smell! The hallway, the staircase and the bannisters, as well as the formerly uncarpeted, dingy floors, have all been wonderfully restored.
The way I remember it, Miss Helen’s music studio was where all the music lessons were held. An eclectic disarray of clutter, there was sheet music strewn about the room, much of it on the floor. Violins and violas in their cases were piled about the room. In one corner of the studio stood a large glass case filled with music memorabilia. Dusty ceramic figurines lined the mantle, above which hung an enormous gold-framed mirror. Beneath the mantle was a gas heater which appeared to have been a bricked-in fireplace. Along one wall were double doors, which remained closed at all times. Shoved against those doors were stacks upon stacks of New York Times newspapers, yellowed with age. The faded blue floral wall paper was peeling from the wall. The floors, partially covered by a threadbare Persian rug, were dark and dingy. An upright piano was the focal point of the room. Certainly Miss Helen’s music studio had an atmosphere uniquely its own and I was perpetually fascinated by it.
This is part 1 of a 2 part series about my visit to the restored home of the late Miss Helen Dean Rhodes, and her sister, the late Miss Fannie Wood Rhodes. Please watch for next week’s article when I continue the story.
Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, an avid reader of Southern fiction and a history enthusiast. Readers may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.