by Pat Saik
When Myrt Haas, a newly-wed from Hattiesburg, crossed the Bay Bridge in 1957 with her husband Mike and saw Bay St. Louis for the first time, she began to cry.
“What have I done?” she thought silently. “I saw a fishing village with no place to shop or eat. But I got the Bay attitude quickly.” She found it refreshing that people in Bay St. Louis seemed neither judgmental nor concerned with one’s annual income.
“People here try to make new people feel welcome.” She remembers especially three people who helped her make the transition to a new community—Mr. Delph, “a gentle soul,” Mr. Chapman “who always greeted me by name” and Mrs. Robean, who owned a laundry business on Hancock Street.
Before Myrt and Mike had much time to call Bay St. Louis home, in 1957 Mike joined the Army and Myrt went along, living with him while he was stationed first in Baltimore and then in Columbia, South Carolina. During Mike’s two year term of service in 1957 and 1958, Myrt gave birth to two children—Tish and Michael.
“To deliver the babies then cost $7.50 for Tish and $12.50 for Michael. If either one starts misbehaving, I just tell them, ‘well, you get what you pay for.’”
When Myrt and Mike and their two new babies returned to live in Bay St. Louis, they built a home which served them well. But Myrt was looking for nothing less than “the house of my dreams.” She found her dream house in 1962, falling in love with a grand home on South Beach Boulevard and Ballentine Street. Unbeknowst to Myrt, Mike secretly purchased her the home and in grand surprise, revealed the secret to Myrt on New Year’s Eve, 1962.
It was in Myrt’s dream house that she and Mike raised six children. Following in her own mother’s traditions, Myrt kept an open house. “With kids always in and out, I called it The Hotel California,” she says smiling. “We tap danced on those beautiful wooden floors and by the time it was all over, we had worn that poor house OUT.”
Myrt’s dream house had withstood Hurricanes Betsy and Camille but surrendered to the horrific force of Hurricane Katrina. Myrt recalls: “That one knocked the wind out of us. There was not even a scrap of wood left after it was all over.”
“It was a sad goodbye but with a happy heart,” Myrt says. “It was time to move on.” She wisely adds, “We are not defined by our house. Our house is defined by us.”
The good news for the Fourth Ward is this: Myrt’s moving back!
Myrt felt that the lot where her dream house once stood “needed somebody to do something with it.” And so she did. She built a new home on the property which is nearly completed. Myrt hopes to be living here by Christmas.
“While breezes are blowing, I can watch pelicans diving for their breakfast. For me, this is the center of the universe.”
When her new dream house becomes home, Myrt will continue to pursue her life-long love of poetry. Myrt not only enjoys reading, memorizing and reciting poetry, but also writes poetry herself. She wrote her first poem in college and hasn’t stopped since. “It’s a means of remembering. My kids say it’s like keeping a diary.”
Writing poetry comes easily to Myrt. “My mind works in rhyme and tells me what I want to say. It’s a God-given talent.”
Myrt is looking forward to moving back to the place of her dream house. While it has been being built, “everybody walks through there,” she laughs. "My daughter Tish told me that when I do move in I’ll need to post a sign: ‘She is here. Don’t keep peeking through the windows anymore!’”
a poem by Myrt Haas, 2008
We gathered at the homestead today
With rakes and bags and such
Vowing to stay 'til the mess was all gone
"But it proved to be too much, they all said"!
Too much, I thought to myself,
But what do you think of me
For I remembered the hours I spent.
How daunting can this be?
Daunting is seeing the slate wiped clean
Not a bush or a plant do you see
All the loving hours spent in the yard
Brought pride and joy to me.
For my yard was my haven
I loved each plant as a friend
And once again I have to see
My garden has come to an end.
I haven't a child to take my place
It's not their cup of tea
So I can only wish that they could know
The joy it brought to me.
When the grass was mowed
And the weeds were gone
It brought me joy untold
For working in my garden renewed my very soul.
My beautiful Japanese Magnolia
Brought people by each year
I called it my special birthday gift
And always held it dear.
But mainly I thought of moments spent
With mother teaching me the things that I should know
Which plants to nurture every day
And how to help them grow.
But more than that she also shared
Her great philosophy
And gave me lessons on living life
That daily sustains me.
So beautiful yard at South Beach
You made me proud to be
The lady who kept you cut and raked
And bright as you can be!
I only hope the next to serve
As the one who brings you back
Will fall in love with every plant
And you will love them back!
You were my joy, dear yard!
April 2008 "712"
a poem by Myrt Haas
Not to sound selfish
No boasting or bragging from me
But 712 was my house
I knew it was meant for me.
From the moment I crosed the threshold
And glimpsed through the portals, you see,
The house reached out and pulled me in
I knew it was meant to be.
We shared a love, my house and I
A trust that was instant and true
We promised protection for each other
We both had so much to do!
It was the center of my universe
All my energies came from within
And it exerted its magical powers
On family and on friends.
The walls collected the memories
Of happy times shared through the years
Of singing, dancing, laughing
And helped to dry out tears.
It welcomed all who entered
A haven, a place to rest
And asked so little in return
As we put it to the test.
So thank you my dear friend, my home
What wonderful memories to share
For protecting us all through many a year
And always being there.
We'll always call you home, dear 712
Your friend, Myrtle Jane Wingo Haas
"The Journey Back to 712"
For want of a bathroom shower
My life took a sudden change
Which I'm sure to others
May seem a little strange.
It's taken a long time
Five years to be exact
To want to face the future
Without looking back.
I've changed up the style
A little they'll say
But 712 South Beach
Will still hug the Bay.
The porch we all loved so
Can still steal the show
In fact it's the first place
We all plan to go.
Yes, a porch and a shower
Are calling me home
Knowing forever that
712 is Home!
Thanks for waiting for us old friend.
Here's to NEW MEMORIES In our NEW OLD HOME
LONG LIVE THE QUEEN OF SOUTH BEACH - 712