Monday, June 24, 2013

Remembering Crittenden...

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. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Thomas Andrew Richard Lensing - Part I

I have been thinking a lot of my Dad lately, which isn't too unusual because reminders of him are everywhere, and I think about him all the time.  I have especially been wanting to start blogging  about him and his life, his life though my eyes anyway.  So here is my first story...

Thomas Andrew Richard Lensing Sr., or T.A. as he was so lovingly called (Richard was his confirmation saint name), was born on March 6, 1928, and died on August 19, 2010.  A lot of life was lived in those 82 years and I have been having a hard time trying to decide where to begin.  That is why you have not heard from me in a while...there are so many memories, so many stories, and so much to say about him that I have developed a serious case of writer's block.  I just do not know where to start.  

So I decided to start with a photo, two photos in fact.  The first one is Dad, in about 1939 or 1940 with his pet white rabbit.  

He mentioned this rabbit off and on all his life so it must have been a special pet.  Too bad I never asked him if the rabbit had a name... .  The only thing I remember hearing about it, other than how much he must have loved it,  is how it died...a cat got him.  Since I have two indoor cats that I absolutely adore, we will not dwell on that.

Suffice it to say, Dad loved his white rabbit and rabbits in general all his life, which brings to mind a few other memories I have of Dad and rabbits that I want to share.

Dad grew fabulous tomato gardens and he would sometimes plant lettuce, cucumbers, and other wonderful vegetables thereEvery summer, every year of my life, as far back as I can remember, he grew tomato/vegetable gardens. And they were organically grown:  no pesticides or other poisonous substances were used...he didn't want to kill the birds or other animals visitors he had to his garden.   Although he never entered his tomatoes in prize winning contests, I am here to tell you they were one of a kind delicious!  If I remember correctly, he usually grew a type called Better Boys.  They were big, red, and juicy, and It just wasn't summer without them.  

I guess I have drifted off topic from the rabbits so I'll get back on it.  Dad's vegetable garden is a blog unto itself for a later date.

There were several wild bunny visitors to his garden over the years and he had to do something to keep them from eating away all of his luscious summer delicacies.   So, a plan was hatched (no pun intended).  Giving my Dad's love of rabbits, killing them was totally out of the question.  So he went to the trouble of relocating them.  He would put out live traps and catch them, then take them to a wooded area where there were other rabbits and where he knew they would be OK.  That was my Dad, he had a  big heart for nature and wild things and I am so proud of him for that.

My other  memory is of a little toy white rabbit  that Dad had when he was a little boy.  This rabbit was made of plaster and about 4.75 inches tall.   The little guy stood up on his two hind legs, wore a vest, a dress coat with tails and a tie around his neck.  He is a rabbit dressed like a little man - a dashing little man at that.  How do I remember such detail?  I have it here with me as I type.     

Dad acquired this cute little toy, according to Mom,  way back when he was a boy growing up in the family home in Scranton, probably for his birthday one year.  Now one needs to remember that back in the 1930s, children didn't get the hords of toys that kids do now for birthdays and holidays.  So this was a special toy for Dad, maybe one of the very few he received.  

He told me that he put this rabbit up in the front window of the attic of his home one year, and the little guy sat up there in that same spot, looking out, until the home was sold many decades later.  He remembered that little rabbit all those years,  went up to retrieve it and brought it to his home in Little Rock where it was kept until he died.  

Mom gave it to me because I did a little plastic surgery on the bunny one year that Dad was so happy with.  As old as that little piece of plaster was, it held its shape pretty good but the painting was mostly worn off.  So, I took paint to brush one day and gussied that little rabbit up with a new white body, newly painted suit and a new tie around his neck.  My choice of colors for the suit and tie were probably a little different than what was originally there, but I digress again.

Dad was so pleased that he thanked me with a big smile on his face.  Mom remembered that and gave it to me after Dad passed away and I'll treasure it always.  Sometimes when I'm holding it and looking at it I think of the smiling little boy and how his little fingers held it way back then, over 75 years ago.  I don't know which came first, the live white rabbit or the toy white rabbit, but one thing I do know is that Daddy loved them both.