A Visit to Arkansas

I was born and grew up in Arkansas, the fifth child of a Pentecostal minister, where faith and storytelling are a way of life and humor is much appreciated. Whenever people gather, there is always a sad or funny story to tell about something they did, saw, or heard, and more than likely a new joke to share. We like a good story and a good laugh. It’s what I love about my trips back to see family and friends.

A couple of months ago, I traveled with my husband to northwest Arkansas to visit family. The arrival of Covid had kept us apart too long, so there was much catching up to do. Then my husband and I traveled to Havana where I grew up, a small town in the central part of the state located at the foot of Mt. Magazine, the tallest mountain in Arkansas and now a state park.

Havana is a town with just over 300 people. When I visit, the roads are always narrower than I remembered, the houses a bit smaller. Most businesses I frequented as a child are boarded up or gone. Now the Dollar General and Quick Stop stand in their place. The school is still there, for high school students rather than the 1-12 grades when I lived there. The five churches carry on as usual.

Although none of my family live there now, my parents are buried in the cemetery just outside of town. It was good to visit them, to replace the faded flowers, to wipe the dust off their tombstones.

Here, in this town, my love of writing and books was nurtured. We didn’t have a TV. It was frowned upon by some church members, so books were my lifeline. They revealed to me other worlds and the lives lived within them. My parents didn’t have many books in the house. We always had a set of encyclopedias and beautifully illustrated Bible story books for our nightly devotion, and there were Bibles to be had. However, my parents always encouraged us to read. In addition to being a preacher, my father was a schoolteacher. My mother was the daughter of a schoolteacher.

Each Sunday after church, my brothers, sisters, and I tore the funny papers into two pieces and huddled together to read them. During summers, the book mobile arrived in town on a weekly basis. My siblings and I would walk the three blocks to downtown, enter the deliciously air-conditioned van, and check out as many books as we could carry home. And we read most of them.

Since there were seven of us in one house, privacy was hard to come by, so I would often climb one of the towering trees in our or the neighbor’s yard, find a seat in the branches, and read, occasionally pausing to watch a robin or sparrow that landed on a branch nearby, or a dove or blue jay feeding their young.

Of course, love of stories leads to love of writing. My brother has written a book of short stories; my sister is writing one as well. And here I am, still writing away after all these years.

I remember as a child wondering why anyone would leave Arkansas. It is a beautiful place, lush with trees, mountains, creeks, rivers, and lakes. But as often happens, I wound up living in several states: Colorado, Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Kansas, as well as other countries: the Fiji Islands and Israel. These experiences shaped my life in significant ways. I learned that there are many ways of being and living in the world, a gift I’m very grateful for. But no matter how many experiences we have and books we read, our early years lie at the heart of who we are. At the heart of my writing is the family, the community, the storytelling, the love of humor that I grew up with.

Here is a link to Mt. Magazine State Park and some pictures of my visit. I hope you check it out.

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