Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thankful for Boyhood

I am very glad to have lived to be an older man. You know that biblical allotment? Well, I am there and beyond. It is good to be thankful for our lives, that’s the long and short of it. What a privilege to be alive on the planet in our time! But I was reflecting during this Thanksgiving season about how grateful I am for my boyhood.

I am thankful for my dog Fuzzy that was my boyhood companion. When it was possible for him to be with me, he was. When it was not, he waited. When he saw me coming he was all wags. My uncle called him Danny’s Shadow.

I am thankful for my horse Nancy, my boyhood mount. She did not like me and we never really bonded, but I loved our rides through the Louisiana countryside. She never wanted to go where I wanted to go, except when we turned towards home. Then there was no holding her back.

I am thankful for my cats Buttercup and Sweetpea there were my boyhood cuddlers. They lived for rubbing against human legs and sitting in human laps, competing for the best spot. They were not very good mousers, but why should they be when we fed them sumptuously?

I am thankful for my old hybrid bicycle, my boyhood transportation to the very edges of civilization. The bicycle man of my hometown had produced the vehicle from spare parts. It was part Schwinn, part B. F. Goodrich. But I was not into brand names back then, nor am I now. I just wanted something that would jump ditches and go the distance, and that bike satisfied.

I am thankful for the ditch that was my boyhood clay factory. A neighbor boy and I used to dig up the good clay and make extravagant sculptures, from ape-man heads to miniature villages, from squirrels to bowls, from coiled snakes to buffaloes. Our sense of space and form were enhanced by our many experiments with clay. An added benefit of the beloved ditch was the easily captured crawdads that lurked there.

I am thankful for the Kapok sleeping bag of my boyhood that accompanied me on many camping ventures, both the official ones with the Boy Scouts and the unofficial ones with the guys from church. None of us slept very much on these outings, but at least I was warm when we told stories, spun yarns and created tall tales.

I am thankful for uninhibited baseball games in vacant lots, for Rover Red Rover, for Sling the Statue, for Jacks. Yes, boys do play Jacks and I actually got pretty good at it: cows in the barn included. I am deeply grateful for spin the bottle, one of the games that we all looked forward to as we approached the threshold of puberty.

Mainly, though, I am thankful I survived my boyhood. Wordsworth said the child is father of the man, meaning that our childhood experiences are very important to our development into adults. I can see his point.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Quite a Journey

Just call me Joe, okay? I had mixed feelings about going to Bethlehem for the census. I mean, I was proud to be a part of David’s family. Who wouldn’t be? But I was irritated with the so-called government for their money-grubbing ways. Were they really counting me or the little bit of money they could get out of me?  Another worrisome thing was my betrothed’s pregnancy. A long trip walking and riding old Shag could not have been a good thing for her at that late point. She never complained, though, sweet girl that she is.

She had told me, of course, about the angelic visitation. All kinds of supernatural events were happening in her family. This one, though, was huge. She had found favor with Almighty God Himself and would be the means by which he would take on flesh and dwell among us. That was a weighty responsibility for me, but nothing compared to the task before her. I thought to myself more than once, if you are going to be a stepfather, might as well make it of God’s Son!

It was quite cold for some of our trip, the dead of winter, but once we came into the region of Bethlehem, the weather cleared and the air warmed up. From two miles out we could hear the babble of crowds arriving in the region. At a mile out, people were putting up yurts and other shelters. Beasts of burden and children were moiling all over the road. One hospitable family offered us a place in their newly constructed A-Frame shelter made of sticks and brown palm leaves. I told the gentleman about Mary’s pregnancy and that we wanted to get closer into town to an Inn so she could be comfortable. He understood, but gave us a couple of hunks of fresh bread, some wine and some broiled goat meat for the road. It was good but the wine was more like vinegar. You couldn’t drink it without making a face.

Anyway, the closer to town we got, the louder the din of humanity and the stronger the smell of animal droppings and human perspiration. There was a line at the first inn we came to, so we walked on to the next one. I left Mary with Shag and the pack donkey and went into the lobby (if that is what you could call it). A sweet-faced man frowned at me, but his eyes were full of compassion. “No vacancy,” he said mechanically.

“Sir, my wife is expecting and we really need a place to stay. You have nothing?”

“Pregnant, huh? Well, let me see. I have slept out in the tack room before when the wife was put out with me. It ain’t terrible if you can stand the smell and the bellowing and the braying. I can let you have that for half of what a room in the inn would cost you.”

“Will you board my animals, two donkeys?”

“Yes, that is part of the deal. They will be right there with you.”

So, we did stay in the tack room and we got there just in time. Jesus came on the scene in the dead of night. Mary did so well. She was very brave. He was her firstborn, you know. Then more supernatural things started happening. Some shepherds found us after having been told by angels that the Savior would be found wrapped in cloths and laying in a manger. Peace on earth!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pastries in Paris

When my wife and I walked up to the desk at Mount Magazine Lodge, the attendant said, “Last name, please.” I said, “My last name is Ford but we don’t have a reservation.” He looked at me incredulously and said, “You don’t have a reservation? We have no rooms left.” Apparently, the colorful fall is their peak season. Then the lady on the other end of the counter said, “Wait a minute, I think we do have a king on two.” And, sure enough, we got lodging on the second floor, in a room with a spa, balcony and lovely king size bed. There was room at the inn!

We had started the day just rambling north, enjoying all the fall colors. We saw autumn’s finest hues on golden hickories, red dogwoods and sumac, multi-colored gums and yellow sassafras. And, in doing so, we ended up at Arkansas’s highest point. After we checked out our room with a view, we had a lovely dinner in the rustic restaurant and went outside to get our meager luggage. We got our first taste of winter up there. The wind was intense and it bit shrewdly. The dude on television gave the weather for northwest Arkansas and I felt we were in the Midwest instead of Arkansas.

I got a great photograph of the sun coming up over the clouds, which were below us, nestled in the valley. Then we went down for a good buffet breakfast and later, a walk in the welcome sunshine. It was still breezy and chilly, but the sunshine felt good and illuminated the fall colors wonderfully. We stayed at the lodge till almost checkout time, and then drove down the mountain to nearby Paris. Paris, Arkansas, of course.

We were looking for a bakery. We remembered one time when we were in Ozark, Arkansas for the flea markets, we stumbled upon a great local bakery and had coffee and baked goodies and we thought maybe Paris would offer similar fare. We walked into a Paris flea market and asked the lady if there were such a place in the town. She said, “No, but, interestingly, I am planning to eventually put a coffee shop in right up there beside the door.” Of course her plans were great, but we could not wait that long. So we browsed her shop and wandered some more. I spied a sign that said “Donuts,” so we went a couple of blocks off the square and entered the establishment. My wife had a couple of delicious crullers and I had a bear claw. The nice lady even made a fresh pot of coffee for us, the only customers in the place.

We then drove on up to Ozark and found the bakery. Closed, the sign said. We were glad we had stopped for pastries in Paris. We spend the rest of our spontaneous outing in the huge flea market down by the railroad tracks. There, I enjoyed people-watching. Colorful people added to our enjoyment of colorful nature.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Chilly Getaway

There was a lot going on at Historic Washington State Park over the weekend. They were holding the annual event called Civil War Days and there were outdoor dramas, reenactments and battle scenes galore. One of the things people like to do is to fire canons. Needless to say, we experienced some noise. I am talking about window-rattling noise. So, we decided to have a little getaway up to De Gray, a one-hour drive up I-30 from Washington.

We had a great breakfast in Caddo Valley and then made our way up to the lodge where we spent some time just sitting in the car looking at the color. The hickory trees have become a molten gold and the sumac is deep red, redder than I remember it ever being. And, of course, the sassafras and gum leaves are as unpredictable as they are beautiful.

Then we started our leisurely stroll on the concrete walking trail behind the lodge, but soon decided to try the woods hike that meanders through the hardwoods. While we were deep in the forest, my wife talked about how as a child she and her friends and siblings wandered the woods around Smackover. “That was our playground,” she said. I recounted some woods experiences of my childhood and youth. We discussed how we would get lost sometimes, but just kept walking until we ran into a road or path. These always led somewhere. At that point I remembered that my cell phone had a compass in it, so we made sure we knew which direction we were headed. I found it accurate, since it indicated east was where the sun was that morning.

We walked more than a mile through the woods before we circled back to the lodge where we occupied a couple of soft chairs and enjoyed the rustic d├ęcor of the spacious lobby. We laughed about the fact that we were so bundled up and several others were out exercising in shorts and tee shirts. A little chill in the air sends me for winter clothes every time. I even light the heater in our living room when it dips below 50 outside.

There was an eccentric oceanography professor at my college in south Florida who wore a wool hat, overcoat and gloves when it was in the 60s. We used to chuckle about that, but now I suppose we are thought of as just as odd. I do not like to be cold.

I am told we lose a lot of heat through our heads. At one time, I had a headful of thick hair. Now, however, I need a manmade accouterment to keep from losing all that heat, so I have a variety of hats. At De Gray, I had on my Indiana Jones hat that I bought from a shop in Hot Springs a couple of decades ago. I got some looks up there, probably because of that hat. At least I did not wear my beret.