Friday, September 02, 2005


Ernie Simpson

In this week's Arkansas Times Weekly Magazine, a half-dozen people across the state were asked their favorite spot in Arkansas. This prompted some random thoughts from yours truly of the past fifty-five years, and I’d like to throw in my old two cents worth. Although the favorite spot would typically change, I believe the spot for me would be the same for all the years. I quote the editor, David Koon:

“Arkansas has her blemishes and scars. Still, and despite a lot of things not going her way in the recent past, ---clear cutting, Wal-Martification, paper mills and more, the old girl is holding up quite nicely, and after all these years, we’re still in love.” This is true.

Summer in 1952 and 1953 was like many others, with Tom Sawyer antics, and lazy days. Every weekend starting around May 31, Echo Dell called and it was too hard to resist. Walking to the river barefoot, (summers were for being barefoot except for going to town or church on Sunday) it was always hard putting on shoes on Sunday morning.

If I had my choice, I would have gone barefoot the whole ninety days of summer, not just eighty-eight. Up into July, walking along the side of the road where perchance grass grew was much more comfortable than trying the hot dusty road to the river with bare feet. Only small dangers going barefoot were chopping a toe, while hoeing the garden, or getting away from a garden snake that occasionally hid under the peas.

Relatives from the attendance of the little Ballew community Sunday services sometimes came home with us for Sunday dinner. After dinner, if we didn’t have a game of baseball in the back yard, we headed to the river. Sometimes we’d invite the preacher home with us for Sunday luncheon (dinner) and I always knew I could count on fresh corn, green beans, fried okra, peas, (black-eyed, not those insipid round green English Peas) fried chicken, and for dessert, real strawberries, and real whipped cream on a pie crust shortcake

The ‘upper dam’ had been built around 1952 as a result of a serious water shortage for Searcy. It was located at Echo Dell, and provided some deeper water to belly flop off into from the bank, or wade gingerly from the edge on the flat rocks until it became over our heads. I disliked the dam since the time I tried to walk across it, and the six inches of water rushing over caused me to slip. I grabbed the concrete, and held on for dear life; with the river trying it’s best to take me on south. I managed to rescue myself, with concrete burns and skinned places on my arms and chest. A lesson learned about shallow water and the power it has.

Sometimes Sunday afternoon we’d drive to the cemetery at Sidon, where relatives are buried, or maybe Foster’s Chapel where other relatives are buried, and although more sacred now to me than it was as a thirteen year old, to see a little sister's grave, Margie Eloise, was always touching for me. They’re all gone now, my parents, brother, my beloved grandfather and grandmother. I tried to keep Grandpa’s memory open to everyone as long as I could, even to the point of one day at Sunday dinner, regaling the preacher and family around the table with grandpa’s account of the Sidon School incident, with he and Tom Martindale’s plans to break up a Saturday night dance. When I quoted Tom Martindale, as he came rolling down the steps of the school towards grandpa, saying, “Don’t start now, Ruben, this is me.”

Dad gave me a glace, like, ‘shut up!’ which I did as I looked at the preacher and his wife, heads downcast, trying their best to stifle a chuckle. Drunken Saturday night escapades of my grandfather were not genteel topics of discussion at Sunday dinner with company present. I loved those stories, and took a chance as often as I could, in telling them.

These years, north Main ended by being nothing more than a long sloping dirt road past our house towards the river. Brother Jim and cousin Garvin decided to ride the old Western Flyer bike to the river and skip the long walk in the dust. The Western Flyer was a bike that we had gotten for Christmas some years before, and by now, had no fenders, chain guard, or brakes.

Garvin was on the handlebars and Jim was driving, as they came past the rest of us. They had started at the beginning of the grade, and had not anticipated the quarter-mile of road would get their speed up to a thrilling, scary end. They came by, hollering, “Helllll-p!” We stood in the road and watched them disappear out of sight into the woods at the bottom of the grade, with soon a big cloud of dust, and a huge crash.

We caught up, and the bike's front wheel was smashed and the boys were skinned up, because the only brakes they had were bare feet against the tire, (which was not a good choice) or the first big thicket as the road towards the river turned back to the left. That was the last run of the old Western Flyer, making it’s way to the river.

I think of those days and how the river and the modest little farm was a place that helped mold me for high school and beyond. The influence of friends and family was one of being close knit, and learning about life and death. I don’t even know if the road is still there to the upper dam at Echo Dell any more, but I know if I could go there once more, I could hear the laughter of all of us again, happy and carefree.


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