by Julia Weiden
Chances are that you already know exactly which house is Suzie Cranston’s. You’ve probably passed it on your morning jog, or maybe you’ve specifically hunted it down while giving out-of-town visitors a tour of the neighborhood. Lush, green growth overruns the home’s white picket fence perimeter, in front of which a multitude of birdhouses on poles stand sentinel.
One could estimate there are about one hundred birdhouses in the front yard. Several more reside inside her home, including Cranston’s most prized birdhouse, which is settled in her bright pink-and-green living room on a table by the sofa. (The color palette of the interior decor is an exact match for Cranston’s floral cardigan. She says, “If you love it, put it everywhere!” It’s a mantra that evidently rings true for her both indoors and out.) This particular birdhouse is a replica of the plantation home in Greenville that she was raised in. The comparison to a photo of the original house is remarkable – the only difference is that on the smaller model’s porch there is a figurine of a boy seated on the back of a turtle.
Look closely around the yard and you’ll realize that turtles play a major role. From the stepping-stones that lead up to the entrance to the stone form that sits at the center of the birdbath, turtles have just as much of a presence in the yard as birdhouses. Cranston sees them as a way to remember her son, Peck Cranston, who passed away 21 years ago.
After her son’s passing, Cranston was inspired to dig and plant thanks to a lawn sign given to her by a friend that reads, “Peace begins in the garden.” A second moment of inspiration occurred when another friend gave Cranston her very first birdhouse, which still holds a prominent place in the yard today: underneath the house number.
From there the collection of birdhouses grew over time as she gathered them one by one at flea markets and yard sales. Recently, her friend Doug Turner has become a great resource. Turner is the creator of stunning architectural replications in birdhouse form, including Cranston’s favorite of her childhood home. He is mostly known for his miniature churches, of which there are at least twenty in the Cranston yard. Jane Brock, a friend of Cranston’s, noted this and told her, “You have so many churches in your yard that I stop by and pray.”
Brock isn’t the only one to have found peace in Cranston’s garden; many artists have captured their rendition of its beauty. Jackson resident Cleta Ellington first dubbed the yard “Fondren Bird Village” in her original painting that hangs in the Cranston home. Wyatt Waters has two versions, one of which he calls “To Kill A Mockingbird,” acknowledging the maliciousness of Cranston’s pet cat lurking among the birdhouses. (She admits that the birdhouses are purely decorative and rarely functional, other than to occasionally house a rogue squirrel.)
Recognizing that she’s lucky to live in a unique neighborhood, Cranston loves to reference her favorite bumper sticker motto that says “Keep Fondren Funky.” It’s that kind of neighborly attitude that allows her to continue displaying her birdhouse artwork. “You couldn’t do this anywhere else,” she tells me, “Only Fondren lets us be as eclectic as we want to be.” From there, a mischievous smile takes over Suzie Cranston’s face. “I could never live in a place like Madison. Mayor Mary would have kicked me out long ago!”