There is a lonely, lovely house sitting in the Arkansas Delta that once housed, as a boy, one of America’s great musical talents. They have restored Johnny Cash’s boyhood home at Dyess, Arkansas, and it will be a treasure for years to come.
Arkansas State University and the National Trust for Historic Preservation partnered with the City of Dyess and others to preserve and promote the rich and unique heritage of Dyess Colony, including the Cash Home. The restoration is a triumph.
Cash’s family moved to the Dyess Colony from Kingsland, Arkansas when he was a young boy. As stated in the Dyess Day Website, “Dyess started out as an agricultural cooperative project as part of the Roosevelt administration's Depression-era New Deal projects. The goal of the administration was to give poor farm families a chance to make a fresh start with homes and land that they could work towards owning. [It] consisted of 15,144 acres located in the southern portion of Mississippi County, Arkansas. The town grew to a couple thousand residents and stayed within that range for a couple of decades. The businesses and public services were cooperatively owned and operated by the community. The original community included a school, hospital, cotton gin, and various service facilities”
When fully completed, the Cash home restoration will include outbuildings and other amenities. Already it is worth the trip to see and is being included on bus tours visiting Graceland, in Memphis.
Walking into the home transports one from the present to those pre-war days when America teetered on the edge of despair. Maybe singing was the best escape from the drudgery. After all, William James, known as “The Father of Modern Psychology,” once said, “We don’t sing because we are happy. We are happy because we sing.” I couldn’t help thinking of that when I saw the family piano in the living room of that small home.
This is the home that flooded in 1937 and gave rise to one of Johnny Cash’s more memorable songs, “Five Foot High and Rising.” It was from the cotton fields here that, according to his sister, Cash would stop chopping and look eastward with dreamy eyes.
There were, no doubt, many people in Dyess with dreams then, dreams of better days and better times. Those of us who grew up with “Depression-era Parents” know the stories of those times. Younger folks have no idea. Maybe the best connection is the old Stephen Foster song. “Hard Times Come Again No More.” Let us all hope for an end to hard times but be thankful that they can produce a Johnny Cash.
In the words of Shakespeare: “…tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished.”
Meanwhile, head to Dyess. You’ll be glad you did.
“You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it.” - Bill Cosby