Arkansas, once again, has suffered the devastation of spring storms. We all have suffered along with our neighbors in Paron, Mayflower, Vilonia and other communities in our area. But Arkansas has rallied as she has always done — donating money and goods through fund drives and our churches to help our friends in need. Our hearts have been broken and, therefore, we have come forward with prayer and aid to uphold our neighbors in need. We are a caring state and I am so proud to be a part of my home state again.
Yet, I learned only a week ago that there were other victims of this storm. These were victims of “straight line” winds that can be just as devastating. And these affected me directly.
We were on our way to my 53rd high school reunion. It is held in Fordyce and Malvern on alternate years because our own town in Dallas County, Carthage, no longer has a school and there are no venues there to accommodate our group.
Driving down highway 167 between Sheridan and Fordyce, I asked my husband to do me a favor, I thought at the time. I wanted to turn off at Farindale and drive through my old home town for the first time since we returned to Arkansas last year.
I was thrilled to recognize two old classmate’s houses along this 10-mile trip and when we entered the town, I was pleased to see the mill still in operation. The sounds and smells came back to me immediately.
We drove around the one ‘big block’ first with my old house at the furthest corner. It was vacant since I saw it last in the late 80’s. It was also in shambles. Two of my Pine Bluff friends — Deanna (Brown) and Peggy Johnson — will remember it, perhaps, having been there. I always thought it was a beautiful house. Didn’t you, girls? On this day, however, a tree limb protruded from the roof and the shudders had fallen. Paint was peeling badly and mother’s prized rose garden had been devastated by this recent storm. I began to cry as I almost heard my old house calling out to me from where she tried to stand, “I didn’t think you would ever come back again and now I am sorry that you did. I didn’t want you to see me this way.”
We drove on down the street and turned toward my grandmother’s old house. “Mammy’s” house where I had spent so much time while growing up. I took a deep gasp of air and began crying even harder. Her house (over 100 years old and the oldest in town) was in flames before my eyes.
People in the yard said that the storm had knocked down one of her large oaks across the house and, because the property was so old, they’d decided to just burn it all down. Mammy’s house — where my Mama lived and married in her front room. Where my aunts and uncles were born. Where I went to spend many a wonderful night with her and where she cooked for me in the big fireplace. Where I would swing on her front porch while she told me stories about her own growing-up years. All gone that Saturday in May. The most beautiful month for the perennial flowers in her front yard. All gone up in flames before my eyes.
WHY did I decide on a whim to make this detour to my old home town? Why did I have to witness this devastation without warning?
We drove out the highway to the “Y” and turned South on highway 9 and passed Victory Bible Camp (where I first met my husband in 1960). The camp had lost many structures to the wind and fallen trees, including the cabins where I had lived and later served as a counselor. The worker’s cabin, where my husband lived as a life guard, was also gone. More tears flowed down my cheeks again. In fact, my make-up was ruined by the time we reached the reunion.
WHY had I insisted on “going home again?” Because I had to, that’s why. And even after coming upon all this devastation, I guess it was worth it. I grow older every day and so must the places I once knew. Yet, I still hear my old house saying, “I didn’t think you would come back again.” I am glad now that I did. At least, I was able to say “Goodbye and I love you.”
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Brenda Miles is a published author and columnist residing in Hot Springs Village. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.