Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Change of plan

"I carry around a question in my mind, a question that teases and torments me for an answer, and then one day I think I see the answer in a person or an incident. But even then I don't rush and write it, it is only after I have encountered it a few times that I take the risk of inventing the story to house it in." - Mary Lavin

At five a.m. Saturday morning, I arose early in anticipation of our trip to Oklahoma. I checked my e-mail, where I found a message from my sister. She communicated some information that caused us to reconsider our trip to Oklahoma, and instead drive to my parents' home in south Arkansas. I called my father, who also thought it a good idea. I called the Oklahoma resort, and cancelled our room reservation. Then we set off for south Arkansas.

The drive home proved very pleasant, as the Saturday morning traffic ran surprisingly smoothly. Although I drove, which I sometimes find fatiguing, it seemed only a matter of moments until we were crossing the Red River, some 170 miles from home, moving from Texas into Arkansas.

The Red River is a wide, shallow river, with many sand bars. Every time I see it, I imagine I will one day catch catfish in that river. Although we crossed it some hours from our home, ir also divides Texas from Oklahoma just sixty miles north of me. I should figure out if local fishing access exists closer to home.

The weather remained unseasonably mild, although Labour Day weekend usually marks a cooling from August heat in any event. We saw cattle egrets stacked onto a bare tree in marshland, as if they had misplaced their cattle.

We arrived at my parents' home around 12:30 p.m. Everyone was very glad to see us.
My sister cooked picnic ham for everyone. Soon after we had had a chat, my father loaded me into his "dually" pick up truck, for the drive to Port Dawson.

Port Dawson is my father's river access to the Ouachita River. Its designation as a "port" might strike the unimaginative as a bit pretentious, as it is less a "port" than a "clearing to the river". My father's passion, partcularly since his retirement, has been the Ouachita River. He is even the "Ouachita River" representative on the Arkansas Waterways Commission. This project, combined with a thus-far-successful preservation advocacy for the local WPA project football stadium, constitutes his political activism. He no longer writes his weekly column for the local alternative newssheet.

Great doings now do at Port Dawson. A serious prospect for real barge commerce, leaving from the port itself, may come to fruition. As with so many things, my father created the potential for such a thing to occur, and now it appears to be occurring. I speak less as a believer in "Field of Dreams" than as a devotee of the spirit that paints Norman Rockwell paintings.

We looked at the results of skilled construction, and drove past a potential new road, sorting out critical life's questions such as "three culverts here--or two?", which are only critical in my mind, as I believe I could set forth all my stock of knowledge on road-culvert-placement and change my father's position on such things by less than one milli-thousandth of a millimeter. The fact that I know virtually nothing of such things may figure into that calculation someplace.

We drove back to my parents' home, where we saw my mother's cousin Jane, whom I had not seen in years. She stopped by on her way to join a church-group van pool to Georgia to provide hurricane relief. We all had a nice visit.

My sister, noticing that my eight year old niece seemed to be a bit underfoot with her efforts, advised her to "spend some quality time with Uncle Bob". My niece and I therefore adjourned to White Oak Lake. As my niece's tennis shoes were at her home twenty miles away, we stopped at a dollar store to find make-do sneakers for her to wear. Seven dollars bought some stunning white numbers. We also stopped at the local German-style bakery, Stroope's, at which I had two sugar cookies cut in gingerbread man fashion, and my niece had an afternoon sweet roll.

We arrived at White Oak Lake, at which I purchased postcards to send all over the LJ world. We then hiked the Beech Ridge Trail, a thickly wooded trail which runs by beech trees, pine trees, holly bushes and ferns. We saw many tiny toads and lizards, and stepped around many spider webs. The day grew progressively more muggy as we walked, so that the hike proved a bit of a workout by its completion. We stopped at the state park playground, where my niece sat on a tire swing, which I turned in dizzying circles, to her delight. I believe that she experienced some discomfort during our return trip from the mix of long hike and dizzying swing, though, so I made a mental note to be less fun and quicker with bottled water next time.

She asked for me to play Jeff Pearce's ambient CD "Bleed", of which she's grown fond. She just asks for as "that quiet music you played last time", but I know which one she means. She actually likes his "Daylight Slowly" a bit better--as coincidentally, do I, but "Bleed" did nicely.

We headed back to my folks' home, where I wrote postcards, read Wodehouse (I can read the Jeeves books dozens of times, over and over, and never tire of them),and then fell asleep.

When I awoke I found that my great Aunt Betty, my Great Uncle Jake and my second Cousin Steve stopped by to visit. They drove from Mississippi to attend my Uncle Jake's reunion with the "other" side of his family. We all had a nice visit. When they left, my wife and I left my folks to rest, while we went to get Chinese food.

The woman who owned the Chinese restaurant gave a running commentary on the football games reported on the radio set blaring through the restaurant. In doing so, she evidenced a somewhat thick Cantonese accent which made a nice contradiction with her down-home-southern savvy about football. The only linguistic misunderstanding we had,though, was when the bleach-blonde-dyed-with-dark-brunette waitperson in the denim rig-out with the big belt buckle asked "Whatcha drinkin'?" when we first came in, and my wife mistook the question for "You've been drinkin', haven't you?" rather than "What would you like to drink, ma'am?". I set her straight on the Arkansawyerism, and we did fine. The food was pretty good, though it was a bit more "fried" fast-foodish than we prefer. I thought of how many times I have spent a Saturday night in an Arkansas place, while a soothing voice calls out the Razorback football game.

We drove to the Holiday Inn Express to visit further with my Aunt Betty, Uncle Jake and Steve. We all had a nice visit in the hotel meeting room, with the LSU/Oregon State football game playing on the television. My Uncle Jake told me about his World War Two service in Florida, as ground crew for a P-51. My cousin Steve showed us pictures of his enchanting teenage daughters, and we talked of their aspirations (one in drama, one in science). My cousin asked if I was into NASCAR, and I confessed I was not. But my eighty-some-odd year old uncle quickly filled me in on his favorite NASCAR racing driver. My Aunt Betty had made a chocolate cake which did not get sufficient attention at Uncle Jake's family reunion, so I felt it only right for the side to pitch in and try a slice.

I could not sleep well last night, so I pulled out my college year books for the years 1979 and 1981, my sophomore and senior years. In point of fact, I graduated in December 1980, a semester early, but my diploma is not dated until the first week of January 1981. I saw pictues of an earlier me, which I may scan in at some future date. I looked at the fashions then 'preppy' wear alternated with "mountain man" shirts. Inspired by nacowafer's many posts on related topics, I searched the yearbook to try to find the picture of my principal nemesis in college. During my freshman year, a number of fellows decided that I was gay. I am and was straight, but in that even-more homophobic time, the claim that I lived an alternative lifestyle subjected me to intermittent intense persecution. I almost transferred schools over it later, but instead "stuck it out". I was a shy, eccentric kid, and it was the fashion to label anyone a little different as "queer". I was then a big guy, and nobody tried to pick a fight with me. This proved fortunate, as I was in a pacifist phase, and had decided that I would literally turn the other cheek if the persecution got out of hand. At the time, I felt the world very unfair because I was being accused of something I was not. I did not make the important connection then that ending persecution of people on the grounds of orientation was so important. I only learned that lesson with age and a bit more wisdom.

My nemesis in those days was the fellow who proved particularly impolite, and whom, a Summer or two later, proved to room next to me one Summer semester, where his Summer seemed consumed with seeing how loudly he could bounce Blondie's "Heart of Glass" off his dorm room walls. I had known him from a Calculus class a year or two prior, where he and other fellows spent a fair bit of time contemplating out loud various violence they might inflict. It never came to anything. It was just guy talk of a kind. But it made me intensely uncomfortable.

This fellow that later Summer developed a silly trick. When we passed in the halls, he would pleasantly ask "How's it going". If I replied "fine, and you", he would then reply with a mild expletive. At some point I got frustrated enough with the hassle that I told my then-room-mate I would challenge this fellow to a fight. I never did, but the word somehow got back to the fellow, who began to avoid me. I always feel weird about this whole thing, as I found it so uncomfortable to be hassled, and find it uncomfortable that I handled it so poorly I would have fought the fellow.I never found his picture last night, though. It would have interested me to know how he turned out, but I don't remember any name other than "Paul". I did see a picture of my old friend Veon, who starred in a Broadway play as a child, but whom I lost touch with--in the back of my mind, he passed away, but I do not recall--must check.

I looked up friends and casual acquaintances in the yearbook. I found the woman who sat next to me in my very first university lecture class. We did not have a friendship outside of class, but we spoke a pleasant "hi, how are you doing" when we got to class. I am postive she would not remember me at all, but I still remmber her name. I looked her up--Lori A. Frost--and saw the picture of a cute blonde girl staring up from the yearbook pages. I googled her today, and found she is now a speech and language pathologist in the east who does innovative work on communicating with autistic kids. I felt a little better, somehow, that while I was out muddling up college, someone else was out saving the world.

I saw the other kids, too, not only friends but friendly acquaintances. There was the girl from mineralogy class on whom I had such a crush, and who initially gave the mildest hint of a flirtation, but who, upon getting to know me better, mistakenly interpreted a question I asked her as asking her out, and quickly said she was far too busy. She was an "A" student in a class in which I got a gentleman's "C" (I made As in liberal arts, but frequently Bs and Cs in science courses). I find smart people attractive. But I suspect she did, too, and found me much less attractive when she found I was much less smart. Another woman I was seeing at the time urged me to ask her out anyway, with a not-very-subtle dig at the geologist's likely dating success (and hence need for the date), but I never did ask her out. If someone shows me they are not interested, I always took that at face value.

I saw the architecture student whom I thought a friend in college, but who snubbed me later when I ran into him in Little Rock. I saw the cute blonde girl Elicia who was our friend Susie's room-mate until Elicia left the dorm to pledge a sorority. Elicia is now an emergency room physician, which rebuts, a bit, our own feeling at the time that sorority girls were all airheads.

I saw the hometown boy from Gurdon who later "made good" as a university professor. In college, he did marching band, campus journalism, and scads of other functions. When I was five, we used to play together as chums. His father would swing he, my brother and I one at at time light years into the air on a big bag rope swing, which was more exciting than almost any physical sensation before or since. I saw the woman who roomed with another friend of mine in college, who always said "give me a ciggie" in an exaggerated valley girl voice (we did not have a name for that accent then), but who later became Miss University of Arkansas. I saw Regina Hopper, the prior Miss U of A, whom I did not meet in college (but did, briefly in law school, but only in an introduction), whose claim to fame was once the claim that she was one of Mr. Clinton's friends, but who actually has done well with law practice then broadcasting and now public relations work for big companies. Her photo on a website indicates she is far more attractive now, at 40something, than she was as a "beauty queen". I suppose I am not much one for "beauty queens", though.

I loved some of the memories, such as the fraternity named Farmhouse, whose role models were more about Animal Husbandry than Animal House. My own picture, thin and quite nerdish, was fun, and the sombre, direct glare of my dear friend J. in the Arkansas women's society photo is classic. The frequent sexist comments placed in the book by the yearbook editors reminded me that then, as now, a need existed for a women's society.

This morning, my father drove me back to the port. I met the man who plans to do business from the port, who was enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning with a piece of grading equipment. We discussed culvert stacks and kings.

We set out to drive back to Texas, stopping in Texarkana at the Dixie Diner for lunch with one of my oldest friends, Gene. We had a great time, and the "down home" cooking was good. My wife and I each weakened and ordered blackberry cobbler, though, which proved amply portioned but too sweet and not worth the calories. We had a mild debate on the drive back on the issue she proposed: "RESOLVED: We are both VERY sedentary". I felt hiked enough over time to be able to challenge the VERY, but I do not recommend this as a good debate topic.

Tonight we had a very non-sedentary walk in Glendover Park, where not only mosquito fish but also tadpoles and sunfish could be seen in the algae-laden shallows of the little park pond. A retriever gleefully swam, while on the nearby field, a one year old and a two year old tried to play with a mini-soccer-ball while parents and grandparents shouted out directions in Chinese.

Tuis afternoon I watched the old charmer small film, "Flirting with Disaster". I remember being entirely taken with Tea Leoni when it came out. I think she might have benefitted from remaining in the indies. I watched a bit of "Walking Ned Divine", and researched blackland prairie, and pulled down a Mary Lavin novel to read.

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