Good Neighbor - August 2021
- by Wendy Sullivan
Mely described her village home with “dirt floors, open doors with chickens and pigs wandering in and out and lots of warm, fresh air.” It was hot 12 months of the year. The village was near the Usumacinta River; she grew up fishing and carrying the family laundry in a basket on her head to the river. She demonstrated this by carrying a large cup of Mockingbird iced tea across the road on her head.
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Mely left the family home at age 19 to move to the United Statees for better job opportunities. Initially a housekeeper and then a nanny, Mely lived in California, New York City and New Jersey before moving to Dallas with friends. She explained that she was meant to get to Dallas, because that is where she met her husband.
Married since 1993, Mely’s husband, Peter, comes from a very different background. With 12 siblings, her Irish Catholic husband comes from northern Iowa. Gatherings with his family are much busier than Mely’s family get-togethers. She said that, while she enjoys visits to Iowa with his family, she is not especially fond of midwestern winters. “It was too cold and damp.”
While in Dallas, Mely had her own home day care. She treated her day care children as her own, since she and her husband had none. Her husband was a building engineer. With their small dogs, they enjoyed time together which included a trip to Ireland. There they met relatives of Peter’s mother and had a wonderful visit.
They had been considering relocating from Dallas to Iowa to be closer to family when Peter’s sister Mary and her husband discovered Bay St. Louis. While visiting her sister-in-law here, Mely and her husband also fell in love with this community. Mely noted, “the climate is much more attractive than Iowa.” She, her husband and two dogs, Leo and Lucy, moved here in June, 2020, during the pandemic.
While Mely’s husband often encourages her to relax, Mely said that it makes her feel good to be active, so she looked for activities in the community in which to participate. With the restrictions of the pandemic, activities meant being outdoors.
Many days a week Mely and her trusty sidekick, chihuahua Lucy, cycle to the Washington Pier. There, Mely clears the pier area of trash and debris left behind by careless people. Mely explained that she adopted the Washington Pier after she, her husband and sister-in-law developed a routine of sitting at the pier to enjoy the sunsets. She noticed the trash left by others. She said that it “really upset her to see the beautiful area littered”. Soon after, armed with work gloves and trash bags, she began her cleanup ministry. A strong sense of stewardship and love for this community motivates her to continue.
Mely found the Community Garden on the corner of Bookter and St. Francis St. Adopting a bed to grow produce for the Senior Center and King’s Kitchen, Mely quickly became regular at the twice-weekly garden sessions. Although some of the plants were unfamiliar to her, Mely is a quick study, as evidenced by the amount of produce harvested from her bed.
One day, Mely asked what okra looked like. At the time, she was standing next to a large flowering okra plant, admiring the beautiful flowers. She responded with a huge smile when the okra pod was pointed out to her.
In addition to the gardening and the Washington Pier cleanup, Mely finds other ways to enhance her Bay St. Louis community. An artist, Mely has decorated her home and the garden beds. She even grew pole beans around her mailbox to add color to the landscape.
Mely is a self-taught artist, creating beautiful pictures. While she sold her art in Dallas, she has not ventured into the art community in BSL yet. She was encouraged to visit the Alice Moseley Museum to see the works of another self-taught Latino Bay St Louis artist.
In addition to painting, Mely creates amazing clothing for her dogs. Little Lucy showed off two lovely dresses and seemed to enjoy having attire that match Mely’s.
A new homeowner in the Sheildsboro neighorhood, Mely and her husband are now focused on unpacking and organizing their home. She is not letting those tasks get in the way of her community work as she continues her routine in the garden and at the Washington Pier.
Gardener Katharine Ohman said, “Mely really loves this community, and it shows.” Mely is a role model of how to love of a community. Love is action for Mely Straub!!
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