“There were very few houses in the neighborhood at the time. We had three trees across the front of the lot, the same ones that are still here, but other than that it was just a field. The street had not even been paved yet. This had all been cotton fields just a few years prior to our purchase of a lot.
“We had the lot but no immediate plans for a house. We were still holding out, or rather Russell was, that better times were just around the corner and that prices would be coming down. In 1950 the Korean War came along and prices immediately started rising. I could just visualize us staying in the apartment until another war ended, which might be years away. I’m not sure he would have ever dared to borrow the money to build a house if the war had not come along.
“I had studied so many house plans and drawn off plans and tried to decide what we could afford that I was about ready to present one when he finally decided to go ahead. We asked Wilson Dillard, who worked at Gwin Lumber Company, to draw up some plans similar to one I had found in a book and changed it around to suit our needs. We talked to various contractors and got bids and finally decided on Ben Allen and Marlin Aldridge, who were already building the Elmer Gwin house next door. They were able to offer us a better bid since they were already on the job next door. The contract price was $12,286, and we got a loan from Prudential Insurance Company for twenty-five years. We borrowed $11,000 at four per cent interest, having obtained a GI loan. Our payments, including taxes and insurance, started out at $72 a month but went up as taxes and insurance increased. They were never more than about $78 a month, but some months it wasn’t easy to pay that. We started the house October 12, 1950 and moved in December 18 .”
Look at those figures. $2100 for the lot. $12,286, 4% loan, 25 years. $72 a month payments. Hard to believe, isn’t it? And I do remember those months when that white envelope with the Prudential Rock in the upper left hand corner sat on Russell’s big desk for a few days, and I knew he was trying to figure out where the $72 was going to come from. Probably because I had to go to the orthodontist or Cathy had to have shoes or Brownie had an emergency run to the vet. It didn’t take much to tighten the screws on the Criss budget. But that wasn’t because both Sara and Russell didn’t work like serfs to make ends meet and give us all we could possibly need. They just never had jobs that paid a huge amount, and that never bothered either one of them.
Sara carefully recounted the cost of the house at 409 East Adams in her memoir. But there is no way that she or anyone else could ever put a price on the real value of that home. She had lived in someone else’s house since she was eleven years old. Russell’s family had moved all over the Delta as the Depression deepened, crowding into a room or a shack or any shelter they could find, and he went to 10 different high schools, never finding a place he could claim as a home town. For these two young people, survivors of war and family tragedies that could have destroyed lesser souls, to have their own house on their own street, was nothing shy of a miracle. And over the next half-century, they filled it with so much love and joy and laughter that made it, in my eyes, the grandest house on the grandest street in the grandest town of all. It will always, in some sense, be Russell and Sara’s House, even though it is in other, very kind and capable hands now. It still makes me smile, and it’s still home.