Earlier this month I drove with my sister Gayle and my mom to Arkansas for another family funeral. As these trips go, this one was a good one. The funeral was for my dad’s universally-beloved younger brother, who had outlived both my dad and their sister. We got to visit a good bit with my uncle’s widow for the three days we were in Little Rock, and were able to stay each night with my favorite cousin from childhood, finally having an opportunity to better get to know her as an adult. And my cousin’s mom (my own mom’s younger sister) treated us three visiting Georgia transplants (we moved to Atlanta when I was six years old) to a tour of various childhood haunts, including the house I most vividly remember living in.
Naturally the house turned out to be smaller than I remember it, but I was actually surprised that it was still standing – it was already old when we were living there. Gayle and I used to roller skate down the hall that ran through the middle of that house – we set up a ramp over the front steps so we could continue skating out onto the sidewalk. The street we lived on dead-ends into a vast cemetery, something I remember quite well.
One hot summer night in was must have been about 1953 or so, the whole neighborhood poured into the street, the gravestones and monuments lit up by a huge fire that had broken out across town, directly on the other side of the cemetery. (I thought surely Armageddon had begun, having been subjected for several years to bedtime Bible stories, including the terrifying details of The Book of Revelation.)
As the number of living relatives from my Arkansas past steadily diminishes with each passing year, every trip to Arkansas generates an avalanche of forgotten memories, deep-seated affections for people I don’t see much any more, and renewed and sobering intimations of my own mortality. Making these nine-hour road trips to Arkansas accompanied by other people in my immediate family is definitely easier than making the trip alone (or not at all), so I am grateful for the companionship and for the shared memories of a long-ago time that still figures large in our present personalities.
Little Rock is a very different city than the one I lived in as a small child, but there are plenty of potent reminders of its imprints on my experience – especially as I returned there for several entire summers before and shortly after I became a teenager, staying with my two grandmothers who were both still working then. For me, Arkansas is a haunted place, but the hauntings are mostly benign ones, and it was good to touch base again recently with a place so different from the place I have lived in recent years.