Yesterday, I took a little day trip up to one of my favorite places in the world. I doubt I would have known it was going to be one of my favorite places in the world had my mom not landed a job in the community the summer before my sophomore year of college.
I hesitate to use phrases such as “nestled deep within the Arkansas Ozarks” or “gem hidden away among the mountains,” because it might imply that I’d been reading a book of cliches. You can try to paint the picture in words of the feeling of the place…but I’ve yet to find the proper words that capture it all. (And I like to think I’m pretty good with words, darn it.)
The town is Heber Springs, Arkansas. As I mentioned, my mom took a job in Heber Springs several years back. While she no longer lives there, the place stayed with me after years of spending some of my weekends and a couple of summers in her little house near Greers Ferry Lake.
And her little house is where this story is set.
Sure, I could take you out into nature and let you explore the Little Red River…or Sugarloaf Mountain (whichever Sugarloaf Mountain you choose–yes, there are two)…but I’d have to start using cliches, and I try my best to avoid cliches like the plague.
Her little red house on the lake was, in a word, cute. Walt Disney couldn’t have come up with a more idyllic setting, where deer would walk up to the front yard and look directly at you as you glare at them for eating the pears from the pear tree (no, I’m not bitter about that).
It was a split-level house with a bedroom at the top of the stairs. Mom decided this would be my bedroom when I came to visit. The crow’s nest. The walls were painted a faded yellow and the windows offered a view of dense forest in the sparsely-populated neighborhood. It’s exactly the kind of view I needed after staring at dorm room cinder blocks for weeks on end.
I’d been going up to the little red house for about two years when I discovered something…an accidental discovery.
I was up in the crow’s nest reading one evening when the last light bulb on the overhead light went out. (I’ve always been lazy about changing light bulbs. They all have to burn out before I’ll take action. I’m short and I don’t like heights. So there.) Well, don’t you know, we were out of light bulbs and it was too late to go to the store, so I turned on the lamp next to my bed. I never used that lamp; it served more of a decorative purpose than that of functional illumination.
I wish I had thought to turn it on much sooner after I looked up at the wall.
The previous owners of the house had teenagers when they moved. The light from the lamp climbed up the wall at just the right angle to see that their kids had used their fingers to write their names into the yellow paint as it had dried.
The names were surrounded and enclosed by a finger-painted heart.
My mouth dropped open as I marveled at my discovery…my own little domestic version of cave paintings.
I turned off the lamp. The names disappeared in the darkness.
I turned the lamp back on again and saw much more than names on a wall. I saw a glimpse into a family’s history–of people I had never met and will probably never meet.
I reached up and traced the outlines with my own fingers and smiled. I envisioned the memories they had made as I made memories of my own going up to visit that little red house for seven years.
Memories like walking into that bedroom as four people had hidden out in closets and under the bed trying to scare me.
Of trying unsuccessfully to walk down the steep driveway after a massive Christmas ice storm.
Of casting a fishing lure clean off the end of my line and out into the middle of the lake when I realized I had not tied the knot tight enough.
We tried to start a little tradition of our own when Mom installed a storm cellar. Every time we were forced to run to the “‘fraidy hole” out to hide from the weather, we took a permanent marker and etched a tally mark on the concrete wall.
Unfortunately, the humidity decided the marker wasn’t so permanent after all.
The memories are pretty permanent, though…even if we didn’t leave actual writing on the wall.