I grew up on the business end of Church Street. I say the business end because I lived directly behind the funeral home, or at least what was the funeral home at that time. It faced Main Street with a parking lot in back and remained the funeral home until we moved the business to a new location in 1978. At that time, it became “the old funeral home” but eventually, perhaps because the Chamber of Commerce moved in and put up an awning with their name on it, it became known as “the Chamber of Commerce” building. I can’t begin to tell you how much that irks me. When you’ve been home to something for over 40 years, the name ought to stick. Be that as it may, our house sat beside the parking lot where my brother played basketball and I would ride my bike down the ramp that led to the drive-up window for the office.
Our house was by far the newest house on the first two blocks of Church Street. It was built in 1955 when my parents first moved to Savannah from wherever they’d been previously, built on land that at one time belonged to the DeFord family and went with the house that now resides under all that brick they adhered to the structure when it first became a funeral home. The old chapel sits atop the goldfish pond that once graced the side yard and our old house now sits in what must have been a magnificent backyard before progress and my grandfather turned a Victorian beauty into a mortuary.
I loved Church Street. Back then, in the dark ages of my youth, it was home, filled with people who had been there forever and who would be there still if the beliefs of my childish brain held any sway at all over reality. And the older folks on the block kindly tolerated me, especially when it came time to sell Girl Scout cookies. Yes, even then they were the financial staple of the organization and my ticket into most all the homes up and down the old part of the street.
My first stop was always the Hitt house on the corner of Church and DeFord. For years I believed I was visiting two spinster sisters since they both bore the last name of Hitt. Only in my teenage years did I learn they were mother and daughter. “Miss” Lorena always looked so young and spry despite the silvery mass of hair neatly pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck. I think I remember her push mowing her yard well into her nineties and living several years passed one hundred. Her daughter, Miss Laura, had never married and I could never understand why not. She was one of the kindest people I had ever known and beautiful even as she aged—but perhaps the beauty was there as a result of the kindness. They always bought cookies and I was always grateful, and a guest in their home at least twice a year—once to take their order and once to deliver their eagerly awaited cookies. They may not have cared a flitter for them, but they always made me think I had done them the greatest favor by asking if they would like any.
My favorite stop, however, was not the Hitt house, although it ranked a very close second, but the Sevier house two doors down. In my eyes, Mr. Hardin and “Miss” Inez were ancient and the absolute epitome of how a couple their age—whatever that was at the time—should be. He was tall and lean with hands that dwarfed mine and eyes that held the slightest twinkle, just enough to betray the mischief that hid behind them. Slightly stooped from the passage of time, he still towered over me while she was small and frail with perfectly combed yellow-white hair and a smile that always welcomed me. Every time I would deliver their cookies, Mr. Hardin would pull his wallet from his back pocket and sadly tell me he was unable to pay for them while showing me the very empty spot where his money should have been. “Miss” Inez would just smile and assure me there was no need to worry while gently laying her hand on his arm. Then she would take his wallet from him and pull aside the flap hiding the “secret compartment” that was filled with more money than my little eyes had ever seen in one place. He’d frown at her for spoiling his fun, then laugh and hand over the required sum. It became an annual ritual, a game that I looked forward to and enjoyed in its brief duration.
I am so much older now and I know, before too much longer if not already, children will look at me the way I looked at the Hitts and the Seviers—at least I hope they do. They were an important part of my childhood and an eternal part of my life and even though they are no longer there and have not been for years, each time I travel that way, I see their homes and remember their legacy. All things must change but that doesn’t mean the memories fade. If anything, they grow sweeter with age.
This post was written by Lisa Thomas, manager at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah.