While cleaning a house yesterday, I had a rare moment of clarity concerning family and contentment. It is always difficult to later reconstruct and articulate a thought, but here goes... (Might take a minute, but I'll get there!)
When my grandparents retired, they purchased and moved to 12 acres of heaven near Batesville, AR. Recently, my sister and I talked about their place, and we even tried to locate it on Google Earth. We eventually found it on the map... right where we remembered. This stirred up so many memories and feelings over the last week, and Arkansas has been on my mind quite a bit.
"Arkansas" was located just outside Batesville, several miles down "The Bumpy Road." After passing the Boys' Ranch and going down the big hill, we were almost there! If it was daytime, my dad would let me "drive" this last stretch on his lap. If it was dark, you can bet he would turn off the headlights going down the big hill until our screams convinced him to re-illuminate the path!
As we turned the final corner singing about "havin' chicken 'n dumplin's when we come..." we arrived at the stone house and carport nestled in a pristinely landscaped clearing on our right. The driveway wrapped around the house and entered the carport on the end.
Even the breezy carport is saturated with memories... and drips from popsicles and paintbrushes used to paint everything from rocks to live turtles. It seems like yesterday that I would emerge from the house on one of my summer visits, freshly showered and no longer a "dirty bird." I would sit on the carport swing with Tootie, looking out over the grapevines and grassy yard. She never minded me playing with the large veins running across her hands or asking about her age spots, and she always said yes to a second popsicle. Funny, my hands now look strikingly similar to hers.
Inside the house was simple and cozy. The kitchen was always abuzz with an ongoing scrabble game and the smell of snickerdoodles or sausage biscuits. In the evenings, the living room might be filled with sounds from Tootie's organ, Pepa's harmonica and ukulele, or "scary stories" about navy ships!
I have many vivid memories from inside the house my grandfather built... the smell of Apple Pectin shampoo and getting a "waffle booty" burn from the bathroom wall heater... being tossed from bed to bed by sitting on my cousin's feet... the list goes on, but most of my Arkansas memories are set outdoors.
You see, this little piece of heaven called Arkansas was absolutely perfect. In the backyard stood rows and rows of grapevines and Pepa's shop, where I loved to sweep the sawdust into piles and "help" him. The backyard was also the way to our clubhouse. It actually belonged to my older cousin first, and it was originally named, "Joey's Place." When he outgrew it, my grandfather took it completely apart, lowered it to a more acceptable height, and placed a new sign outside. It read, "Under new management: H&H, Inc."
Running alongside the backyard was a dirt road which led through the woods, across the railroad tracks, and to the river. The adults definitely enjoyed cane pole fishing in the White River. I usually gave it a try and quicky lost interest in watching my bobber never move. Later, I found out that it never moved, because my line had no hook! When I finally got old enough for a hook, Pepa would put a fish on my line for me while I was distracted!
I would probably appreciate the river much more now, but at the time, Hillary and I loved checking the minnow traps at the creek. While we were at the creek, we always made time for practicing stone skipping, looking for good rocks to paint, and best of all, seeing who could lay on the rocks in the rushing water the longest... it was COLD!
My outdoor memories of Arkansas are endless. Going to the creek's headspring (The Blue Hole), exploring the exapnsive flat rocks along the bumpy road, checking out the White River Dam near the Boys' Ranch, and even just swinging in the hammock or inspecting the butterfly bush in the front yard...
All of these memories fill me with a strange combination of joy and sadness. I have lately daydreamed often about one day buying "Arkansas," moving there, and raising my kids and grandkids at that special place.
Then it hit me.
"Arkansas" is a magical place in my memory, but the BEST part about Arkansas isn't the land; it is the family and memories which are so intertwined with the land.
I had two grandparents who LOVED their family and delighted in having us visit. Our family, immediate and extended, spent time together when we were all there. When we were there for summer kid visits, Tootie and Pepa took time to patiently teach their grandkids things and DO things with us. (Things WE wanted to do- I am sure playing imaginary rock town was not high on Pepa's priority list!) They SPENT TIME WITH US, and that is what makes my Arkansas memories priceless.
After that realization, another one hit me.
We have our own Arkansas right here in Mississippi! There is no need to daydream about moving somewhere else; our family is blessed to live on 125 acres of woods! Our land will never have the excitement of a river or a wide, rocky creek (although Scott often dreams of building a big pond), but we DO have running trails which we have hacked out of wilderness, a campsite, deer stands, and several other things that we have worked on together as a family. Over the years we will keep working and keep improving things... and MAYBE one day my yard will be more grass than red dirt...
In the meantime, we must remember not to neglect nor take for granted time well spent with family. One day, I want my children, neices, nephews, and grandchildren to dream about coming back to their "Mississippi!"