Favorite

Joyce Elliott: lawmaker 

14coverelliott_image1.jpg

Joyce Elliott, teacher and legislator

Willisville

Joyce Elliott was 5 years old when she and her mother and two sisters got off the bus from Kalamazoo, Mich., in front of what would be her new home on Hwy. 9 south of Willisville, Ark. The yard was swept dirt; no grass grew there.

“I remember getting off the bus. … It was a dirt road. There was dust everywhere. I remember thinking, ‘I will never be clean again.’ ”

Elliott’s mother had separated from her father; now they were moving in with Elliott’s grandparents. The house had four rooms. None of the four was a bathroom; there was an outhouse out back.

“My grandmother didn’t seem too excited,” Elliott said. There were already three grandchildren living there; their mother was a migrant worker off in Ohio. In the coming years, her mother added three more children to the home.

“I remember this place as a place I wanted to get away from. Warm and fuzzy memories? Au contraire,” said Elliott.

Elliott, 55, whose term in the state House of Representatives expires in January, left Willisville in 1969 when she went off to college at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia. She returns from time to time to visit her mother, Edna Elliott.

At Thanskgiving, Elliott pulled off the highway at the site of her childhood home — the highway is now paved and renumbered as Hwy. 371 — expecting to see nothing but pine trees. But a swath of pine-needles suggested the old driveway, and she decided to follow it into the woods to see if she could find the well that was in back of the house. It was there; a concrete tube with a rusted tin roof. The water from the 85-foot well was so good and cold, Elliott said, that everyone around liked to come to drink from it. Then, all around her, in the woods, emerged the remains of her house. The concrete steps that had gone to the back door. The chimney, now just bricks in a heap; sandstone piers that marked the outline of the house. The smokehouse, made of upright wooden planks and the scene for community hog-killings, still stood. Her face lit up when she saw through the brambles the sturdy “storm pit,” a concrete-walled cellar to which the family and friends retreated during high winds.

Elliott remembers lying on a blanket in the sun on top of the storm pit and reading. She remembers her grandmother sweeping the front yard with a broom made from dogwood branches, and that there were always people coming through; “It was very liquid.” She remembers that at some point her grandfather was institutionalized, and thinking of a house that at one time sheltered 13 people, she guesses she could see why.

Elliott read the Shreveport Times, novels from the bookmobile, magazines discarded by the family her mother cleaned house for. Because she read so much, “I knew that there were people who had their own bedrooms,” she said. That ignorance is bliss is true, she said. She wasn’t ignorant.

Elliott remembers the clapboard house as “porous,” those home fires burning in the fireplace doing little to warm it. A country store across the street smelled “of sorghum and salt meat.” She was the only child in the neighborhood who dared fetch the fishing worms dropping from the catalpa tree by the store. Her bravery gained her the advantage once when she and her sister argued over who got to wear a skirt they shared to a dance. When the sister laid the skirt on the bed, Elliott put a catalpa worm on the skirt. Elliott won.

There was never enough panty hose to go around, she mused.

Integration had only just come to Nevada County when Elliott was a student. After a year of going to Willisville High, most black kids returned to the all-black Oak Grove High. Elliott did not. She was one of three or four black students in her class who continued at Willisville. Her habit of speaking her mind earned her some name-calling, made her the target of thrown erasers.

Willisville wouldn’t let her play basketball as she had at Oak Grove. “They said ‘the uniform doesn’t fit you,’ ” she said. The following year, after they’d lost their seniors, they changed their mind.

After graduating from SAU (where she couldn’t get a basketball scholarship because only boys did, which she said “solidified” her feminist leanings), Elliott became a teacher. The heckled black girl at Willisville High eventually became president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, and later, during her legislative career just ended, the chair of the House Education Committee.

Elliott looked around the piney woods that have grown up to hide the place she grew up in.

“You know, I had the woods to play in, a lake,” what some might consider an ideal childhood. “But I just couldn’t wait to leave.”

It put her in mind of Robert Frost’s “The Death of the Hired Man,” Elliott said. She recited the lines:

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there/They have to take you in.”

— Leslie Newell Peacock

Favorite

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Arkansas Times Staff

Most Shared

  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Next week a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems will be held in Little Rock by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change. The conference will discuss deploying existing technologies to increase access to food, water, energy, clean environment, and medical care.
  • Tomb to table: a Christmas feast offered by the residents of Mount Holly and other folk

    Plus, recipes from the Times staff.
  • Fake news

    So fed up was young Edgar Welch of Salisbury, N.C., that Hillary Clinton was getting away with running a child-sex ring that he grabbed a couple of guns last Sunday, drove 360 miles to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., where Clinton was supposed to be holding the kids as sex slaves, and fired his AR-15 into the floor to clear the joint of pizza cravers and conduct his own investigation of the pedophilia syndicate of the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.
  • Reality TV prez

    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "The Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.
  • Arkansas archeologist does his job, is asked to leave

    Amid Department of Arkansas Heritage project.

Latest in Top Stories

  • Good for the soul

    The return of Say McIntosh, restaurateur
    • Jun 1, 2010
  • Robocalls are illegal

    Robocalls -- recorded messages sent to thousands of phone numbers -- are a fact of life in political campaigns. The public doesn't like them much, judging by the gripes about them, but campaign managers and politicians still believe in their utility.
    • May 31, 2010
  • Riverfest winds down

    With Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm, Steve Miller Band, Robert Cray, Ludacris and more performing.
    • May 30, 2010
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation