“I love it when a plan comes together” (John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, The A Team, 1983-1987). I do, too…and sometimes, I love it when a plan falls apart. When it does, it presents another opportunity, or what I once heard referred to as “standing in the inquiry, not in the circumstances.” Much of what I have learned about myself, and the way the world works for me, is through what I call ‘relentless self-honesty.’ As they say at Preservation in Mississippi, it ain’t all moonlight and magnolias.
When the universe is speaking to me, I have learned to listen. It is one of the ways I embraced and nurtured the concept “It’s okay to make mistakes while learning.” In a world that often tries to cover up mistakes, I work toward the courage to shine a light on them, dissect them, and thus, keep learning. Sometimes my students would comment on ‘how much I knew’ or the skills I had. I would respond “I did not know this or could I do this after my first social work class.” In teaching, when I made a mistake, I owned it, and talked about what I learned from it. One of the greatest social work group leaders, authors, and educators whom I admire tremendously says, “Beautiful mistakes from which we can learn.” If we cannot accept our mistakes, we cannot move forward.
So when John S asked if I had read Dispatches from Pluto and recommended it, I was intrigued. I enjoy John S’s writing and what I experience in reading his work. I had heard of it, but truthfully, until I looked it up, I did not even recall what it was about. In a preview, I could read the prologue and the first chapter. I logged on and ordered it from my local independent bookstore–the world famous Square Books in downtown Oxford. It was ready for me to pick up in a short while, and I headed downtown. It was Sunday afternoon, and beautiful weather, and people love Oxford, the Square, and Square Books. Randy said, “Good luck.” I said I would just park off the Square and walk.
As I turned off toward the free parking (also ‘available’ parking!) 3 blocks from the Square and rounded the corner looking for a space, I spied this building at the top of the hill–smack dab in the middle of this fairly new parking area. As I often do, I said out loud:
I think that might be the Oxford Community House! Built by the National Youth Administration! I think I found it!
I had walked, driven, and Google-map driven all over the area of North Lamar a block from the courthouse square (where it was proposed to be built) searching for it several years ago and no trace of a building that looked even similar turned up. I could find nothing that indicated its demolition, but also, nothing that indicated it was standing or where it was if not where it was allegedly built.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History Historic Resources Inventory lists houses as ‘houses’ and commercial buildings as ‘commercial’ unless it has a particularly historic name, like Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, or Ammadelle. A search of houses on Lamar would have yielded nothing helpful anyway, since the Community House was not on Lamar…or even north of the courthouse. But, I did confirm by searching the street address that this is the home of the current Oxford Park Commission, and that the Craftsman Bungalow was constructed 1938. The HRI reported a corner stone indicating Youth Conservation Corps 1938. I could not find a corner stone anywhere, but also, the NYA was never connected with the Civilian Conservation Corps, which focused on conservation projects, and parks. NYA was part of the Works Projects Administration, specifically for youth. They built many of the community houses (community centers) in Mississippi, as well as gymnasiums and buildings for schools, particularly in the rural areas.
While I was thrilled to discover it, I was concerned by the lack of maintenance for such a significant building. Not only is the stonework beautiful, the stones were quarried by the NYA at the Longview quarry in Pototoc county. The cypress shingles that were cut by NYA at the Longview sawmill have long since been replaced. The cost was $15,000. It was the third building of its type in Mississippi, second largest, and housed home demonstration clubs, county library, dining room, kitchen, auditorium and manual training school for boys. The woodworking shop was located in the exposed basement (rear double doors under the stairs). It also included a carpenter’s apartment.
While still an imposing building, there is external wood damage to eaves and gables. A sign on the door indicated the Oxford Park Commission will be moving to new headquarters. I hope that means the building is about to experience some repairs so it will still be standing for another 84 years. Just in case, I will follow up and see what the plans are.
Now some might think this is all coincidence. I like to think of it as a message that observing, paying attention when someone gives you feedback and a suggestion pays off. Without my first mistake, and getting that corrected, and owning up to it, John S would never have suggested Dispatches from Pluto. I have already learned a great deal in the four chapters I have completed since Sunday afternoon. To discover the Oxford Community House constructed by the National Youth Administration is still extant is just like a present from the universe saying “Thank you for listening.”