We drove to Arkansas Friday night to visit with my parents. On Saturday morning, after we all had our morning cereal, my wife and I headed to Stephens. I picked up my two nephews and one niece and headed off.
I had hoped that we could go fishing in the Red River or in the Little Missouri River, but the rain proved a bit fierce. So we went to the Arkansas Natural Resources Museum, which they used to call the Oil and Brine Museum, in Smackover.
They had a temporary exhibit there from the Exploratium in San Francisco, a hands-on display of nine or ten weather-related things. My favorite was the cloud generator that could be used to make puffs of steam. My niece and nephews all figured out the video game about how to drill a gusher oil well.
We drove to nearby El Dorado, population 21,000, for lunch. We went to a Pizza Inn where the buffet did not keep up with the demand. I told my young relatives about the good old days when pizza was really an event, and not something they hastily threw together cheaply. When I was in college, Godfather Pizza did not taste like chain pizza, and a home-town place called King Pizza made the best pizza I have ever eaten.
The rain kept pelting, so we went to the Starz Movie Theater in El Dorado, to see what was playing. The only G rated film suitable for our entire company was Shark's Tale. It did not begin until 3:15, so I called my parents to make sure we would not throw anyone's dinner schedule off if we did not arrive home until 6. They said that on the contrary, my wife and I would be better advised to get dinner before we came home.
They also told me, though, that my Uncle Dick had died in his sleep at dawn that very Saturday morning. This was a particular coincidence, because Uncle Dick lived in El Dorado, where we happened to be. My mother tried to tell me where he lived. I stopped in a convenience store, looked up the address, and we all drove over. I had not been to their house for perhaps twenty five years, but I recognized it when I saw it again.
My Aunt Hazel did not recognize me at first, as she is not used to seeing me with three children. But we sat and visited with she and her sons and a son's wife and a grandson and some folks of whose identity I am still not certain, despite introductions, but believe to be cousins on the other side of their family. We sat in the front parlor, mostly quietly, just being there together. My 8 year old niece, an active child, asked if she could sign the book, and I said yes. I signed the book myself, at length, told my now-roughly-50 year old cousin that I remembered when we were all teens spending Christmas holiday planting pine trees on my father's land near Chidester (where my uncle is to be buried Tuesday). We were all glad we went. The kids behaved amazingly well.
My uncle Dick was 82, and he died peacefully. He fought in World War Two, as a tail gunner. He is my uncle who was shot down over enemy territory in Italy. He made it back to Allied lines. I did not know him all that well, but I liked him. I liked that his first name was "Norman" and his middle name was "Vestal", but everyone called him "Dick". His two sons both made pharmacists, and settled in El Dorado.
I wonder what it would have been like to settle in south Arkansas, where I grew up.
We all make so many choices in life.
When you plant pine trees in December, by the way, you use a long metal pole called a "divot", which has a foot rest and a sharp edge. You walk along a row, by holly trees in berry and through thorny weeds. You plant the divot in the ground, and you open a little v-shaped hole. You drop a fresh, young pine in. Then you go up the row, and make a new hole. The pines sometimes take, and sometimes they don't take. Some thrive, some get gnawed by bugs. After several decades, they are harvested, and things move on, and new pines are planted, and you see a rise in the ground where the old pine used to be.
We went to see the movie, which was great animation coupled with a not particularly inventive storyline, and then we drove to my sister's. She had cooked a meal of King Ranch Chicken and Chicken Pot Pie (half portions of each, as she was sending each to my parents), which was all very good.
I feel badly that my fishing nephew did not get to fish, as I know that none of us would have really minded fishing in the rain. I feel badly, a little, that we made him leave his fly rod at home. I always like that scene in the movie "A River Runs Through It" when the hapless citified fellow brings his worms and spinning rod instead of a fly rod. Brad Pitt and that other fellow give each other knowing looks of disgust at having to deal with a "bait dunker". Well, Saturday, the bait dunkers hoped Neal Young would remember that a bait dunker don't need a fly rod around anyhow. But I probably should have let him bring the fly rod, because it was only slightly out of season, and not really wrong onr inappropriate.
We drove home, and visited with my parents, which was really nice. Sunday, we arove early and hit the road. It rained the entire 250 mile drive back. We stopped for a particularly mediocre breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Next time I insist upon Waffle House. We got home by 2.
I took a nap this afternoon, in which I dreamt that I was at White Oak Lake, where my family had a red cabin in my boyhood. An aluminum fishing boat was turned upside down, with weeds growing around it. We looked to see if there were any water moccasins hiding under it, and, sure enough, there were four. In my dream, I was pleased, because a lesson I learned in childhood--that there is always a snake under the boat, had come true.
I took a walk at Bethany Lakes Park. A flock of mallards mingled with the local park ducks. The deep purple clouds on the horizon enchanted me. I watched a small heron fish unsuccessfully in the weeds.
My wife made a wonderful lentil vegetable soup, and I settled in for the last remnants of the weekend.