Arkansas' Child

Mother told me some things I didn’t remember—the rest are like stars in a night sky on the dark, sable palette of my memory—they sparkle there, some brighter than others, each with its own special place.

Etched in my very first memory are images of a small, white frame house, a front porch latticed on one end, morning glories and mother.  Just as there were no heralding trumpets to announce the grand openings of the morning glories, so were the quiet, good deeds of my mother. Each morning she marveled at their lavender-blue beauty and I was just as awed by hers.

Mother told me that I got a birthday card from China on my first birthday and she saved it for me. My father, who served in the army during World War II, had never seen his first daughter—me—half-way around the world in Arkansas.

My father had never seen me when I received this card.

At bedtime, after we welcomed him home from overseas, I would listen for a while to my parents’ muted whispers from the next room, then get up and walk on tippy-toe to them. After Daddy carried me back to bed, mother would heat an old cast iron, wrap it in thick towels and place it gently to my icy feet. Encased in a downy, quilted cocoon of love and security, a canopy of warm sleep slowly descended upon me on those cold, wintry nights in Arkansas.

Every Easter Sunday my family joined a longstanding custom of the community. In order that everyone feel welcome to come and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, my mom and I wore flour-sack dresses to church as did all the other women and girls. The men and boys donned their everyday overalls. There were no excuses for not having anything new to wear on Easter Sunday morning on those pastel, early spring days in Arkansas.

In the summertime my family would drive the sliver of highway across eastern Arkansas amidst endless acres of snow-white cotton plantations. My father would pull over to the side of the highway to let us examine the bolls of cotton. Their soft coarseness was not unlike the touch of his leathered hand upon mine.  My father delighted in the many “Burma Shave” advertisements along the rodeway and read them aloud to us. I longed for the day that I would be able to read those small, funny signs.

We eventually crossed the mighty Mississippi River on our way to visit our grandparents in Tennessee. At this point, Daddy would break into soulful renditions of “Ole Man River" and "Mississippi Mud." We did simple things in Arkansas. We would sit for hours in the dark greenish-gray dirt of Murfreesboro and look for diamonds at the only diamond mine in the United States.*

On the way home from the diamond mine, we would stop in Hot Springs and fill bottle after bottle with the cool, pure water that bubbled from the ground. Some of the springs were the source of very hot, steamy water. People came from everywhere to take curative hot-water treatments on Bath House Row.

On other lazy summer days in Arkansas, we would drive far into the country to visit the old sorghum mills where mules still supplied the power for the grinding rollers that squeezed the dark juice from the sorghum cane.

It was fun to watch the mules but the real treat came the next morning when we ate fresh-churned butter and sorghum syrup over cornbread left from the night before.

Daddy loved to drive. Many times we drove by the old Acme Brick Company and everytime we did, my father told the story about the man who took a brick home in his lunch box every day for thirty years. “Finally,” Daddy said, “He had enough bricks to build a house.”  I believed that story until I was almost ten years old. And then one day, I noticed the glint in my father’s eyes as he repeated it for the umpteenth time.

Every fifth Sunday of the month when I was child, our little country church would join four other small fellowships and have church all day.  Unlike the cooler months, about the only movement in the church were the funeral home fans and the buzzing of flies. After all the jugs of water had been drained dry toward mid-afternoon, I can still recollect the parched roughness of my throat on those hot, sultry summer days in Arkansas.

Those were the days of dinner-on-the-ground. The women brought red-checkered tablecloths, spread them on the grass, and laid out a feast.  Fried chicken, green beans, oven-roasted potatoes, sliced tomatoes, steamed squash, pinto beans, homemade breads, pies, and cobblers were the fare of the day.

While the men swapped old news, the young girls took care of the little ones and the boys played marbles. They drew circles in the dirt and made up their own rules. They played until their thumbs got blisters.

About a half-mile behind our church lay one big beautiful upside-down crater named Pinnacle Mountain. It was almost as if God had saved this crowning jewel just for us folk in central Arkansas. Up the road a few hours drive was a cascade of mountains known as the Ozarks. From a distance their jewel-like colors ranged from deep sapphire to aquamarine blue to emerald green. And all of this hung against a canvas of opalescent sky.

Pinnacle Mountain would have been a diamond among many diamonds there. But resting here almost sadly alone, its facets seemed to invite younsters with nothing better to do than climb, and so it was that we spent many a Sunday afternoon sitting atop that ancient, inverted gem.

As children in Arkansas, moments seemed like hours and months like years. From one Christmas to the next seemed like an eternity and we thought life as we knew it in Arkansas would never end.  Somehow in my mind, though, I knew there would be a finale. As far-fetched as it seemed, I knew that one day my youth would be a faint sparkle on the horizon of my mind. 

But I also knew that for me, no matter where life took me, the roads of my memory would always lead back home

. . . . . .to Arkansas . . . . .where I could always be a child.

~written in 1992~

* As of 1996 there is an operational diamond mine in Colorado.