Over the river and through the woods

By Vivian Lawson Hogue

In the golden years of our local newspaper, there were things that caught a young or mature reader’s eye. At a very young age, I was, of course, interested in the comics, but also in the “society section.” There were articles that would not be found today. Often an edition had a short list of divorces at the bottom of the page. They were not generally the talk of the town back then, but they didn’t have to be. Those notices included the names, dates and the reason for the divorce, with desertion and/or adultery being the most common.

Also on that page were death notices, birth notices and social events that were usually about people of a higher social standing than those who lived in our house. I recall not envying them for their station in life, but I did wish I could have seen the flowers from someone’s garden “in fluted, crystal vases” and tasted the “dainties and tea” that were served on fine china. I imagined the gossamer dresses, white gloves, seamed hosiery, spectator pumps and straw hats seen around the tables after china and starched napkins were removed and the lively bridge games began. Maids in starched uniforms moved stealthily and efficiently about the room. Some older homes still had floor buttons to signal the kitchen that guests were ready to dine or that more tea was needed.

There were short blurbs that told of these same people and their vacations. Normally they visited points afar, meaning out of our town or state. They would tell of three-course meals, snacks and drinks on airplanes. Others chose cruises. After driving to the airport in Little Rock, they would then travel to a cruise destined for England or France or Hawaii, which was not yet a state. Most other flights were to Chicago, Florida, California or New York and other East Coast points. 

Our vacations were in our own backyard. Our dad worked for the government and was infrequently home with irregular travel days. We occasionally went up to my grandparents’ home in the northeast hills and that was vacation enough for me. In our Norman Rockwell-style 1939 Buick and my dad white-knuckling it at 50 miles an hour on two-way highways, it would be more than a daytrip. The most dreaded part was going over the long one-way, rattle-clackety wooden-slatted swinging bridge. I think that’s probably where I learned to pray. Hard. With my eyes closed and fingers tightly entwined.  

When we reached our grandparents’ cool, wooded property, we enjoyed the tin roof of their cabin on rainy nights and grandmother’s cooking done on her wood-burning stove. Several yards from the cabin was a cool, magnesium-rich creek known on the map as Lawson Creek. Near the springhouse, we caught crawdads using safety pins tied to a string with pieces of biscuits skewered on the sharp end. We would place the lures near a stone or batch of watercress and wait for the little crustaceans to come out. Take my word that we practiced catch-and-release. It never occurred to us that anyone would ever want to eat the nasty things! We watched water-skater bugs, never knowing the science behind their ability to not sink. We preferred to think it was magic. 

Inside the springhouse, we sneaked peeks at grandmother’s eggs, cow’s milk, butter and watermelons kept any time of year in the always-58-degree water. On summer nights, we slept on cots in the cabin’s dogtrot, and piled into feather beds on winter nights.  

We did not have dainty dishes and tea, but we did have vinegar pies, Tennessee stack cakes, fried grits, iron-skillet fried chicken, and “choked” biscuits and gravy. Nothing commercial and everything fresh, non-GMO, and mostly gluten-free. No maids, flowers or fancy dresses. It was do-it-yourself clean-up for the cook who wore a flour-sack dress, sensible shoes and a handmade apron. 

We enjoyed our grandparents’ similar manners of living of our several Mayflower ancestors [who landed in 1620], although we did not know that at the time. Our grandparents’ hardscrabble lives in the hills and some of the old English language came down to them and their family. Looking back, it was like our own mini-vacation to see life similar to that of 1620 and be reminded of the Lawson clan’s trek from Virginia to North Carolina, Tennessee and finally to Arkansas and Lawson Creek.   

A vacation can be that simple. It is, after all, meant to be a diversion from the usual scene and daily tasks. Day or overnight trips within the state can satisfy that want or need. The sight of the lakes and rivers and forested hills of the northeast, north and west areas can be breathtaking. The corn, soybeans, sorghum and tree farms of the east and south hold interest for those who are not aware of the vast acreages of those needed products. The central part of the state includes the core of our early government and business entrepreneurship. 

The six primary regions have their own cultures that make us Arkansans. And they’re all “just up the road a ways.” As my grandmother would firmly say, “Jus’ be sure and close the gate when you take your leave.”

Vivian Hogue
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