I have seen just about every nook and cranny of this state called Arkansas. Not only have I spent the majority of my life here, I travel a lot on my job...a LOT. I have driven highways, by-ways, roads, streets, alleys, neighborhoods, mountains, valleys, and even a cow pasture. Yes, I drove across a cow pasture looking for a little tiny school in a little tiny town. Actually my GPS drove me to this said pasture - not sure what it was thinking. My colleagues and I just stopped in the middle of the thing, said hello to the staring and munching cows and tried to re-group and get back on track. This was one of the funnier adventures I have found myself in the middle of while traveling for work.
Today I arrived back home from another work trip in the great city of Arkadelphia, AR. I was there most of the day doing a workshop for teachers at the Dawson Educational Cooperative. Great people! Great place!
Now, you may be wondering what this has to do with family stories/history. Well, Arkadelphia holds a very dear place in my heart. It was the place my mother was born eighty years ago. It was the place where my grandfather and grandmother built their beautiful home and raised their family. It was the first place I ever visited, as a baby in 1960, outside of Little Rock where I was born. From 1938 to 1980, when my grandmother Burris passed away, their house was a place of happiness, togetherness and joy for all of us. Many games of football were played by us grandchildren in the front yard of the house on Crittenden Street. Many holiday celebrations, birthdays, family reunions, and just whiling away a nice summer Sunday was had and enjoyed by all.
Those sweet memories are with me today and always will be, and I want it to stay that way. You see, whenever I go to Arkadelphia on business or drive past on my way to and from Texas, or wherever, I try to at least visit my grandparent's graves - if there is time. Every once and a while I'll get the urge to drive by the house and see how it is holding up. I did that today and I think it will be my last time.
The house is still in pretty good shape for it's age ( built in 1938) solid rock all the way around with a big beautiful red brick chimney reaching to the sky. Aside from it taking a direct hit from a tornado in the 90s, it is still standing strong. The inside has been re-done, probably many times over since 1980, from what I can tell and what I have heard. It's what I see on the outside that really bothers me. My grandparents kept the most beautiful flower gardens and lawn. The grass was always mowed and trimmed to perfection and there used to be a lovely pecan tree right outside the back door (great for climbing when you are a kid). Grandmother took care of her flower beds and shrubbery, and knew everything that was in her yard. My grandfather would get on his hands and knees and personally trim the edges of the lawn to perfection. The outside of the house was made of beautiful stones my grandfather had brought in from Hot Springs, that wide- open town full of gangsters, movie stars, and the clearest, hottest spring water in the country. Their house took pride of place in the neighborhood and they were so proud of it.
As I drove by the house today, I noticed the yard: the flower beds were empty, the yard was grown up, the shrubs were cut down to nothing and someone had planted two ornamental trees on each side of the walkway that leads up to the front steps...I couldn't even see the grass where we used to play football and practice our cheers and do those cart wheels across the yard. The stone was still there of course but the siding was no longer that beautiful white contrast against the rocks...someone decided to paint it brown-- dark brown. Yuk.
I could say that now the house no longer looks like the same place where I grew up, but it hasn't in a very long time, and I don't want to see it again. I want to remember it the way it was, the beautiful way it looked when all of those memories of mine were being made. When the house was filled with all of the people I love, enjoying each other's company and being happy. That is what I want to remember, to hold on to.
So whenever I make that trip back to Arkadelphia for work, and I'm sure there will be many more, when I am finished I'll just get in the car and head out. Leave the house as it is now behind for the people who own it today... and keep my memories of that beautiful home on Crittenden Street with my grandmother in the kitchen cooking dinner and my grandfather in the den sitting in his favorite chair and watching his favorite sports team. That is the way it will always be to me. That is the way I want to remember it.