My Arkansas Hills

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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…

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Of Love and Dreams

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More images from Dad’s essay on the Old Folk Home. When we are young we love passionately, daringly. When we are old, tenderness and faithfulness define our love.

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She kept her room dark, I don’t know why. She was odd but I liked her immensely. Her birds were the great loves of her life.

He was always alone and always outside in the yard. My Dad told me he wanted to escape. I feared he might climb that fence, but I suppose he never did. I was very sorry for him. These scans were made from photographs printed a half century ago.

Long Ago Friend

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From Dad’s photographic essay on the Arkansas Old Folk Home. I talk to one of the residents. I can’t remember his name, only his face and his kindly manner. I have always been drawn to the elderly. They are the wise and the kind and the prudent of the world. And the day approaches when they shall meet their God. May that day be blessed for them and for us all.

The Carpenter

He was one of my favorites at Ruth and Iva’s Old Folk’s Home. He was a gentle and kind man. I knew it the moment I met him. I loved his mustache and he had this impish little smile that overcame all his downward turned wrinkles. He was quiet; I was shy. But even so, I was certain he was fond of me – I certainly was of him. I believe it was my dad’s idea to purchase something from him. I think he let me choose, and I picked the little magazine table next to him in the third picture. It became mine.

The Old Folk’s Home

When I was a very small boy, my family made a yearly trip to visit my two spinster aunts Ruth and Iva in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They ran an Old Folk’s Home (at least, that is what we called it back then) in a large house in town and owned a massive old two story mansion on 108 acres in the piney hills several miles out. We stayed at the mansion but always stopped first at the Old Folk’s Home, and as I remember it, we would make the round and visit every resident. It is odd, but I do not recall ever seeing another visitor, although the younger lady in the seventh photograph might be the older man’s daughter. My father photographed this essay of the residents in the mid to late ’50’s. They treated me like a friend and I know we brightened their days.