Resident of the Old Folk’s Home in Hot Springs, Arkansas, owned & operated by my two spinster aunts. That was a long, long time ago. The home was a marvelous place with transomed doorways, sculpted carpet and ceilings so high they might have touched the clouds some days. How Ruth and Iva managed to acquire a nursing home I will never know, but own it they did. For me it was a place of happiness – strange, old and full of people with stories to tell.
Ruth and Iva lived in a home in the country outside Hot Springs. There was nothing out that way except them and the hills. We visited often. On the far outskirts of town, right where a narrow country lane split off the main road and veered up into the hills, stood a little candy shop, quaint and all alone. Of course, mom and dad, being good parents, understood the value of traditions. And that little candy shop was one we always observed. Then, onward the eight short miles between sweet tradition and final destination. Eight infinite miles that seemed never to end in the mind of a little boy.
Deeply wooded granite hills crept down toward the tiny, worn lane, hiding what lay ahead. But suddenly the hills would fall away and a clearing would appear on the left. There stood an old two story mansion, plain and pragmatic but fronted by a grand porch, deep and wide and high above the ground.
The porch looked out upon a much larger clearing across the road. I didn’t explore it much – it was full of brambles and chiggers. But in the fall we would hazard those dangers to gather bucketfuls of dewberries that later would become the most heavenly of pies. Bite. Squish. Intense flavor exploding sweet and tart all at once from our hard earned bounty. Heaven!
But the hills were my cherished domain. They might have been towering mountains, once, but if they ever were, time certainly had reduced them to child’s play, blunting their crags and mythologizing the majesties that might have been.
And play on them I did! Those were safe times and I roamed the hills unfettered and without fear under the oaks. I never saw another soul up there. Sometimes my aunts and my mom and dad would join me, but most times I ruled the hills alone with Tippy.
Tippy was a shaggy, black and white mutt who belonged to Ruth and Iva. She was my best friend and we were champion trailblazers. We knew every stone and tree.
Of course, even explorers have chores. So after breakfast I would exit the back door of the kitchen and visit the stone cellar dug into the hill immediately behind the house. Hens roosted in there and laid eggs in boxes – big brown eggs that I would gather in a basket for my aunts. Breakfast for tomorrow! Then back to feed the chickens.
All my chores done, Tippy and I would head across the lawn to the back corner of the clearing, leap the rill and follow the gully up into our kingdom. And when we were done, thoughts of dewberry pie would carry us home…