Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The House the Cooleys Built

This past Sunday, my last day in Greenwood from the first trip out with the film crew, my aunt Wilma took me to the house that my mother grew up in.  This house was built by my mother's mother's father, a man named Lonnie Cooley.  This photograph is what I found when I pulled up.  

I still remember visiting this house when I was a little girl.  My sister and I spent one hot, mosquito-filled summer here with my Grandma Doris.  My beautiful Grandma Doris had long silver hair and smooth, delicately soft brown skin.  The house seemed so big when I was a little girl. I remember the odd feeling of having the wood floors move beneath my feet when I ran across them.  I remember my Grandma Doris and how she made every meal for me and never let me clean one single dish.

Several years ago I came back to this house after my Grandma Doris died.  I’d traveled to Mississippi for her funeral.  My mom and I stayed in a local Greenwood hotel because, at the time, my aunt Dani was living in the house.  It seemed so small to me as an adult.  It was really only two rooms and a kitchen the size of a powder room.  I had no idea how seven children and three adults lived there. 

This house was the last house on a very short street.  There are dark woods on one side of it and a large industrial building across from it. 

I called my mom tonight to ask her to retell me a story she told me once when I was a little girl.  When she says "Grandma," she's referring to her Grandma Cooley.  Here’s what she shared.

“When we were growing up the only game that we could really play was baseball.  The four of us (mom, Vera, Nadeen, and Dani) were out playing baseball.  There were these men in a car who would drive up and down the street watching us play.  Then they would come back at night and drive up and down the street some more.

At night they would knock on our door and pretend they were the police.  I always thought they were the KKK. 

One night Vera Jean was doing laundry and she went to the back porch and saw a white man just standing there.  Vera screamed and came back in.  Grandma told her that no one was out there.  She got up and opened the back door and she saw the man standing there.  She started screaming for all of us to help her hold the door shut. 

When you’re little and something like that happens to you it stays with you.  The house was isolated and those men were coming all the time.  They used to try to break in on us.  They wanted the young girls.  I used to be scared in that house.  Every time I closed my eyes, I thought I would see something in the dark.”


  1. My mother told me a similar story about when she was a little girl, around Jackson, Mississippi. One day, they were all in the house, and a white man came to the door with a rifle. My grandma told my mom and her brother and sister to hide under the bed, and they didn't answer the door. It was after that, that they moved up north.

    1. Wow. There is definitely a legacy of fear, and honestly, rape, that permeates the history of Mississippi. Thank you for sharing your story. I'm working on a larger work about Greenwood and my grandfather and I am constantly looking for sources. If you feel comfortable doing so, maybe you could fill out the contact form from the link at the top of this page. Then we could chat through our private email accounts. Best to you!