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Archive for September, 2012

“The journey is the destination.”
—Paraphrase of Jeremiah 29:11
on plaque in Christian bookstore

In this second of two posts of quotes about home I continue to examine that subject with an emphasis on returning home after all these years.

At the end of the post is a rather long but crucial quote from the British children’s book The Wind in the Willows. It summarizes everything I am trying to say in these posts about home and the powerful and irresistible pull that it exerts on my life.

I close the post with a link to a five-minute video of the opening and closing scenes of the 1986 film The Trip to Bountiful about an elderly woman’s final return visit to her beloved Texas home. It is accompanied by the familiar heart-rending old hymn “Softy and Tenderly,” which was played so often in altar calls and funerals in Southern evangelical churches back in “days gone by.” I hope you will watch that video and listen to the words of that soulful song because they reflect not only my own carefree childhood days but also my own elderly longing for home.

Special Technical Note: For some reason some of the links to music videos on this post would not open or the videos would start buffering (hanging up) during the songs. For this reason I have inserted the actual URL (Website address) of each link so you can either click on them or better yet copy and paste them into your search window to access and view the entire video. If the video still starts buffering, scroll down and click on the small circle at the front end of the red progress line.

Final Quotes about Home

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: The longing for home is a foretaste of heaven.

“My longing for home prompted me to think of the sacrifice Jesus made when he came to earth. How he must have yearned for all he left behind! Whenever I’m away from my earthly home of Australia, I try to turn my homesickness into a longing for my eternal home where finally I’ll be satisfied. When I reach my eternal home everything will be perfect, and I will no longer feel homesick.”

—Wendy Marshall, quoted in the January 28, 2012
entry in the Upper Room daily devotional

“Home is not so much a place as it is a longing. At its depth, the longing for home leads us to recognize our deep, spiritual homesickness for God.”

—James A. Harnish, quoted in the Upper Room daily devotional

(The previous two quotes from the Upper Room are the crux of my entire philosophy of the spirituality of home and the theme of this entire blog!)

“I’ve wasted many precious years, now I’m coming home;
I now repent with bitter tears. Lord, I’m coming home.
Coming home, coming home, nevermore to roam;
Open wide Thine arms of love; Lord, I’m coming home.”

—“Lord, I’m Coming Home,”
Words and Music by William J. Kirkpatrick
(To hear this song sung by the Statler Brothers, click here.) Or go to this Website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sGDrmTYfvA&feature=related

“Fickle friends are gone,
Wasted years are long,
And regret can bring you low.
But there’s a swift embrace;
There’s amazing grace;
There’s a place where lost sons go.

“There’s a road somewhere, there’s an open door,
There’s a hill where the green grass grows;
There’s a family feast where there’s joy and peace;
Going back to a place called [home].”

— “Going Back to a Place Called [Home],”
Music by William J. Gaither & Jeff Silvey
Lyrics by Gloria Gaither
(To hear this song sung by the Gaither Vocal Band, click here.) Or go to this Website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYehAz2OKiA

“And so we come to this one great truth about home. . . . Home is the place we carry with us in our hearts and minds.”

—Vicki Marsh Kabat, “Home is a place within,” Waco Tribune-Herald, reprinted in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, nd

“For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they were born, the city apartment or farm in which they learned to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives’ tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poems they read, and the God they believed.”

—W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

Happiness, it seems to me, consists of two things: first in being where you belong . . .

—Theodor Fontane, German author (1819-1898),
“Thought for the Day,” Sapulpa Daily Herald, nd

“For me it was like a coming home, finding the roots of Christian worship, and being relieved to find it was still there.”

—Frank Schaeffer, American evangelical
upon discovering and joining the ancient liturgical church,
quoted by Bill Sherman,
“Spiritual journey ended when author found Eastern Orthodoxy,”
Tulsa World, nd

“You can’t go home again.”

—Thomas Wolfe, Southern author

“I’m a Southern writer. I’ve always been a Southern writer . . . at Wake Forrest [there is] . . . a journal which contains essays I wrote at 9 years old when I lived in Stamps, Arkansas. Now that’s South. . . . Wherever I’ve been—I’ve lived all over the world—I’ve been a Southern writer. I never agreed with Thomas Wolfe’s statement and the title of his book You Can’t Go Home Again. The truth is you never leave home. You carry it with you. It’s in your smile. It’s in your voice. It’s in your hair follicles and the pores of your skin.” (That’s one reason I have kept my Arkansas accent and wear Razorback caps—to identify myself as an exiled Arkie of the Covenant!)

—Maya Angelou, quoted in March 2001 issue of Southern Living

“It has been said that healing is not a destination but a discovery of the place where we already are; it has been said that we do not search for grace but only recognize it within us and around us; it has been said that we cannot go home because, in truth, we have never left, and the places of our pilgrimage are the places where we dwell as sons and daughters. The luminous eye sees the hidden things so they may be known and knows the hidden things so they may be made manifest.”

—The Rev. Anne McConney,
“Looking Deep Within, We See Christ, with Luminous Eye,”
Episcopal Life, February 2001

“I think Stephen Foster very quickly found himself in a world in which he didn’t fit—and that is not unusual in the artist’s mind. The world of Stephen Foster is in the imagination of Stephen Foster.

“In the 1850s as more and more people are leaving the land there is a sense that we’re gaining something but we’re losing something. We’ve lost our home in search of a home. And you can hear that in his music about the Old Folks at Home, about finding your way home. He heard that and he put it in songs that all different groups could sing and have different images in their head but they were singing about the same thing.

“I don’t think it [the song “Old Folks at Home”] was about Stephen Foster, I think it was about a place Stephen Foster wanted himself and the people to be.

“We can still feel his tears 150 years later and hear his teardrops on the page.” (I hope my tears can always be felt and my teardrops always be heard on these pages.)

—Quotes from TV documentary on Stephen Foster
(To view a video of “Old Folks at Home”
with scenes of the Suwannee River, cotton choppers,
Florida flora and fauna, etc., click here.) Or go to this Website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–Tt1F5OCbA

The wonderful reassurance that mother and the old house would always be there gave substance to my self-confidence. Whatever storms, there was always a shelter ‘back home.’”

—“No apologies: Radio legend Paul Harvey’s
tribute to Tulsa, his hometown,”
Tulsa World, February 3, 2009,
tribute originally written on September 8, 1961

“The sense of smell can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back pictures as sharp as photographs of scenes that had left the conscious mind.”

—Anonymous

“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

“ . . . they braced themselves for the last long stretch, the home stretch, the stretch what we know is bound to end, some time, in the rattle of the door-latch, the sudden firelight, and the sight of familiar things greeting us as long-absent travellers from far oversea. . . .. As for the Rat, he was walking a little way ahead, as his habit was, his shoulders humped, his eyes fixed on the straight grey road in front of him; so he did not notice poor Mole when suddenly the summons reached him, and took him like an electric shock. . . .

“. . . making him tingle through and through with its familiar appeal, even while as yet he could not clearly remember what it was. He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telepathic current, that had so strongly moved him. A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection.

“Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way! Why, it must be quite close by him at that moment, his old home that he had hurriedly forsaken and never sought again, that day when he first found the river! And now it was sending out its scouts and its messengers to capture him and bring him in. . . .

Now with a rush of old memories, how clearly it stood up before him, in the darkness! . . .  the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his day’s work. And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, through his nose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him.

“The call was clear, the summons was plain. He must obey it instantly, and go. . . .

“‘O, come along, Mole, do!’ replied the Rat cheerfully, still plodding along.

“‘Please stop, Ratty!’ pleaded the poor Mole, in anguish of heart. ‘You don’t understand! It’s my home, my old home! I’ve just come across the smell of it, and it’s close by here, really quite close. And I must go to it, I must, I must! . . .’

“ . . . Meanwhile, the wafts from his old home pleaded, whispered, conjured, and finally claimed him imperiously. . . .

“. . . He saw clearly how plain and simple—how narrow, even—it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence. He did not want at all to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage.

But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.”

—Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, pp. 85-103

(To view a five-minute video of the opening and closing scenes of the film The Trip to Bountiful accompanied by the old hymn “Softly and Tenderly,” click here. Or go to this Web site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EgJxPbS9ds&feature=related Be sure to wait for the closing scenes of the elderly lady in her old home, the vintage car (from my childhood days) as it takes her away from it for the last time, and the written words to the final verse. To learn more about this 1986 film based on a play by Horton Foote from Texas and to order a copy of it, click here.)

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Quotes about Home I: Far Away

“I have to go home every so often to get my bearings;
otherwise I lose my marbles.”
—Jimmy Peacock

In the next two posts I will share some select quotes, mine and others’, on the subject of home, which I call the most beautiful word in the English language.

These posts include many quotations that were part of my lesson plans for a Sunday school class called “The Spirituality of Home” that I once taught at Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa. In both posts I have inserted short portions of the lyrics of a few songs on the subject of home with links to them.

At the end of this post is a quote of the lyrics of a song titled “Far Away” from the movie All the Pretty Horses that summarizes my message in this first post. There is also a link to that song being sung by Marty Stuart who wrote it. I hope you will read the words and listen to the song because it reflects my feelings about my thirty-five-year exile from my beloved and sorely missed home state of Arkansas.

As always, my comments inserted into the quotes are set in brackets, and my comments outside of quotes are set in parentheses. Emphasis is indicated by italics.

Some Quotes about Home

Mine:

“Home is where you don’t have an accent.”

“Home is where you are surrounded by the people and things you love.”

“Home is that place where you belong, where you fit in, where you are at ease, where you are fully yourself.”

“Home is the place you don’t want to leave; or if you do leave, home is that place you always come back to.”

“Home is where you end up back where you started.”

“Home is where everything is put back the way it was—or at least the way it should have been.” (Entered on May 18, 2001, when our son Sean called to say that he was back in Tigerville, SC, where we lived when he was in kindergarten exactly thirty years earlier.)

“Home is where they take you to bury you.”

“Hell is a vision of heaven (home) with no way of reaching it.” (I ought to know!)

“For me home is seven hours away as the crow flies but only a moment away as the Peacock cries.” (I say that a Peacock is just a turkey with an attitude, but I sometimes think I am less of a Peacock and more of a homing pigeon.)

“When I die, I want to will my heart to science because if I go into heaven with it in me, I will never be happy.” (Heaven is not my home; it’s just my consolation prize for never getting back home. Oklahoma is not my Promised Land—it’s my Purgatory!)

“How can I believe God is going to let me go home to heaven if He won’t let me go home on earth?” (See my earlier post titled “Occupation in Exile, Deliverance in Time.”)

“Someone has said that real life needs a better writer. I agree wholeheartedly. It has become increasingly clear that over the past thirty-five years of exile, labor, misery, struggle, sickness, and pain God has been building up my life story to reach a tremendous climax by my long-awaited return home. The problem about it is that I won’t be alive to enjoy it—or to write about it. What an ironic and sad conclusion for a writer!”

Others’: 

Home is: “(1) One’s dwelling place; abode of one’s family . . . (3) The abiding place of the affections . . . (4) One’s native land or place. Adv.: (3) . . . the place where it belongs . . .”

Webster’s II New College Dictionary

“Home is where you hang your childhood.”

—Tennessee Williams, Mississippi playwright

“Home is anywhere you’re with family.”

—Advertisement from the American Plastics Council,
www.plastics.org

“Home is that place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.”

—Anonymous

“Home is where the heart is.”

—Anonymous

“Home is where the great are small and the small are great.”

—Anonymous

Home is where one starts from. . . . We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

—T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

“Home is just a frame of mind.”

—Sandra Cox, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, nd

“The quest of every life, whether realized or not, is to get back home.”

—Anonymous

“Nostalgia—from Greek for ‘pain of returning home’.”

—The Box, “It’s Greek to Us,
Words given to us by the Greeks,” Tulsa World, nd

“A time to be sowing,
A time to be reaping,
A time just for being,
A place for to die.

“T’was so good to be young then,
To be close to the earth.
Now the green leaves of summer
Are calling me home.”

–The Brothers Four, “The Green Leaves of Summer,” from the John Wayne movie The Alamo, which Mari and I first saw at a drive-in theater in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, while attending Ouachita Baptist College in the summer of 1962.
(To hear this song sung by the Brothers Four, whom Mari and I listened to during our courtship and early marriage, click here.)

Sweet is the smile of home; the mutual look when hearts of each other are sure.”

—John Keble

“I’m s’glad to git back down home whur they call it a bush-hawg [and not a brush-hahg].”

—My cousin from Selma on returning from graduation
from agri school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville

“There are a number of things wrong with Washington. One of them is that everyone is too far from home.”

—Dwight Eisenhower, quoted in the Tulsa World, March 8, 2009

“One reason Elvis was so successful is because he never got too far from his roots [or never strayed too far from home].”

—Anonymous

“You never know what events are going to transpire to get you home.”

—Astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 11

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed . . . Nothing will be impossible for you.”

—Matthew 17:30

“Handy thing to know, how to find your way home.”

—Cousin Sook in “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote

 (The three previous quotations are stuck to my computer—as a daily reminder.)

All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was [i.e., back home].” (Is it any wonder then that I have been trying for thirty-five years to get back to the Mississippi River—the Father of Waters?)

—Toni Morrison, Today’s Cryptoquote,
Tulsa World, December 7, 2009

“Thirty years is a long time, long enough to round off hard faces and pad cheekbones.” (And thirty-five years is more than long enough to destroy every vestige of my physical, mental, and emotional health—to say nothing of my spiritual health, my hope and faith!)

—Philip Martin, “You can go home again,
but it’s never going to be the same as you remember,”
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, nd

“If ‘home’ is a place where I grew up, I am marooned, because the old landscapes are gone. The house is still there on a quiet, dead-end street, but all of the neighbors are gone.” (I know what it is like to be “marooned”—exiled, banished, forsaken—in a place that is not home, while the real home disappears!)

—Joyce Madelon Winslow, “Home for the holidays?
For some of us, it’s but a faint memory,”
USA Today, November 24, 1999

Find solace in things that are culturally connected, not politically connected. Music or literature can bring you back to your cultural roots, taking your mind to another place—which is home, in a sense. Music has that inherent quality to soothe and transport you. It is something to ease the pain [of exile].” (That’s why I still listen to Southern gospel, country music, fifties rock and roll and “Forever Plaid”-type “guy quartets,” the blues, etc., and singers like Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Brenda Lee, Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Statler Brothers, the Oak Ridge Boys, etc.)

—Andy Garcia, Cuban born actor

“I’m trying to teach my children the lessons I learned [at home] . . . genuineness, belonging, caring about others. Treat[ing] people as valuable in themselves, not for what they can do for you.”

—Actress Sela Ward on her reason for returning
to her hometown of Meridian, MS,
in “Sela Ward: Where I’m from,”
Parade magazine, Sunday, January 23, 2011

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

—Anatole France, quoted in
Sapulpa Daily Herald, March 4, 2009

“Fields are deathly silent,
Where the cotton used to grow.
I’m a stranger in a land
That I used to know.
In a land, a land I’ve not forgotten,
Look away,
Far away.

“Everything has changed here,
Except some things inside of me.
I’ve hid ’em from the world,
Kept them
Under lock and key.

Like the sound of my mama’s voice,
Calling me back home
To the place
Where I belong,
Far away,
Far away.

“Don’t know why I left you,
And look how long I’ve stayed.
Far away,
Far away.
How’d I get so far away?

“Carved my name one Sunday morning
On a sweet magnolia tree,
I cried when I walked away,
It broke my heart to leave.

“Took that little piece of me
And put it in my pocket.
I’ve lost myself a time or two,
But I never once forgot it.
Far away,
Far away.

“Don’t know why I left you,
And look how long I’ve stayed.
Far away,
Far away.
How’d I get so far away?”

–“Far Away” from the movie All the Pretty Horses
(To hear this plaintive song sung by Marty Stuart, click here.)

Note: This subject will be continued and completed in the next post.

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 “If youth only new, if age only could.”
—Spanish proverb

In about 1958 or ’59, when we were students in Ouachita Baptist College, my friend Charles Wright and I decided to travel from our hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, “down in the Delta” near the Mississippi River, to the burgeoning metropolis of Dallas, Texas, to attend the wedding of our mutual McGehee/Ouachita buddy Jarrell Rial.

Charles Wright

Charles Wright at graduation from college in 1960

Jarrell Rial

Jarrell Rial at graduation from McGehee High School in 1956

Since both Charlie and I were dating members of the McGehee High School Clique at the time, and since all the Clique considered Jarrell to be both witty and cute, a few of them offered to accompany us to Dallas in Charlie’s old ’54 orange and white Chevy. The upcoming wedding of Jarrell and a red-haired Texas girl was set for early September. (Click here for an earlier post on my annual tributes to the Clique.)

Some of the Clique at Girls' State

Some of the Clique at Girls’ State about the time of the trip to Dallas

Now in the blistering summer days in small-town Southeast Arkansas, before the advent of universal air-conditioning, no one wore a suit and tie except for a few professionals like bankers, preachers, lawyers, and undertakers. The one exception was the visiting teams of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who always traveled in pairs.

Nieman-Marcus

Nieman-Marcus headquarters in Dallas

Thus the first sign of our small-town upbringing was evidenced when one of the “sweet young things” in our company, noticing two dapperly dressed gentlemen walking down the street of downtown Dallas right in front of the ritzy Neiman-Marcus department store, excitedly exclaimed: “Oh, look, y’all, there go those Mormons!”

The next sign was evidenced when we somehow got lost while trying to find the church where the wedding was to take place. Getting lost in an unfamiliar city the size of Dallas was nothing unusual. What was unusual was getting lost inside the Texas State Fairgrounds! After driving around and around looking for the exit, Charlie finally stopped the car, rolled down the window, and asked an incredulous park employee, “Can you please direct us to the street?”

Texas State Fairgrounds

Texas State Fairgrounds

The third sign of our provincialism was evidenced after we had finally located the church where the wedding was to take place and had met Jarrell and his bride-to-be. Since it was about noon, we all decided to have lunch together at a rather upscale restaurant. When the waitress took our orders for dessert, she was somewhat dumbfounded when Jarrell asked for Karo-Nut pie (an Arkansas term pronounced “Kay-row nut pah”; for more information about the pie and the recipe for it, click here or simply Google Karo-Nut Pie).

Arkansas Karo-Nut Pie

Arkansas Karo-Nut Pie

Seeing the waitress’s blank stare, I quickly interpreted: “He wants some pecan pie.” I didn’t bother to explain that Karo was the name of a popular brand of syrup in that day, and that in our part of the rural South it was also used as the name of the pecan pie made with that product.

Butter Beans

Butter Beans

I also didn’t mention that Jarrell, always the jokester, had once ordered a “butter bean sandwich” in some place up north like Minnesota or North Dakota, but the joke went flat because the waitress had no idea what a butter bean was. She finally understood the intended humor when it was explained to her that butter beans is the Southern term for lima beans.

The next day the wedding party separated into two groups: the girls went ice skating, while the guys went water skiing at a nearby lake. Later the girls were following the guys in a separate vehicle as the two groups headed to two different locations in the sprawling megalopolis. It had been agreed that Charlie, who somehow knew where the boys were going and where the girls were supposed to go, would indicate where the girls were to turn off Harry Hines Boulevard by waving out the window. (Remember, this was before the time of air-conditioning in automobiles.)

As he drove down the lengthy four-lane boulevard, Charlie was keeping the rest of us guys entertained with an amusing anecdote about some event that had taken place in his life recently.

At the climatic punch line of the story, totally forgetting about the agreed signal to the girls following behind, he dramatically waved his left hand out the car window. It only took an instant for him to realize what he had just done: ”Oh, no,” he exclaimed as we all twisted our necks just in time to see the girls’ car turning left across the boulevard and into some unfamiliar street, heading straight for downtown Dallas. Since this happened decades before the development of cell phones, there was nothing we could do but wave a cheery good-bye to the unsuspecting girls who happily and sappily waved back as they disappeared into the urban wilderness.

Downtown Dallas

Downtown Dallas

Despite the horror and humor of that moment, I must admit that I cannot recall what happened to the girls or whether they ever reached their intended destination. They must have done so, however, because the next day Jarrell and his bride were joined together in holy matrimony as we innocent Arkie witnesses, in all our youthful exuberance, looked on in guileless admiration and joy.

Whoever said that ignorance is bliss?

Looking back now, more than fifty years later, I have to admit, maybe it is. I just wish I had known then what I know now. I’m sure all of us on that trip wish we had known the individual journey we were each undertaking. Or, perhaps it’s just as well we didn’t.

A couple of the young men in this post were featured in an earlier post titled “The Three Unwise Men: An Arkansas Christmas Memory.” To read more about the state of Texas and its flagship university, see the earlier post titled “Who Cares about Texas?” which features a tongue-in-cheek letter I wrote to the governor Oklahoma on this subject back in 1983.

Special Press Release on Lakeport Plantation Fifth Anniversary:

Lakeport Plantation
Lakeport Plantation

Lakeport Plantation, often featured on this blog (see the close of the preceding post titled “Days Gone By”) will be celebrating its Fifth Anniversary on September 28-30. The three-day event will showcase newly installed permanent exhibits in the house. See the press release below for more information and how to register.

The plantation home is an Arkansas State University Heritage Site, built ca. 1859 for the Johnson family of Kentucky. One of Arkansas’s premiere historic structures; it has changed little since its original construction and is the last antebellum plantation home in Arkansas on the Mississippi River. The Sam Epstein Angel family of Lake Village deeded the house to the university in 2001. Restoration began in 2002, using the highest level of U. S. Department of Interior standards for rehabilitation, and the restored home opened to the public in 2007.

Since its opening, thousands of visitors from all over Arkansas, the United States, and the globe have toured the plantation. Lakeport now enters a new phase with the installation of permanent exhibits, designed in collaboration with Quatrefoil Associates in Laurel, Maryland. Exhibits are based on years of restoration and research in family records, archives and oral histories.

“The house itself will always be our major exhibit,” stated Dr. Ruth Hawkins, executive director of Arkansas Heritage Sites at ASU. “We wanted to enhance the visitor experience, however, with unobtrusive exhibits that tell the stories of the house, the restoration, and the people who lived and worked at Lakeport.”

New exhibits also will display artifacts found during restoration and original items donated back to the house. Dr. Blake Wintory, director of Lakeport Plantation, said his personal favorite is a case full of artifacts, dating between 1860 and 1970, which were found behind mantels during restoration. “From the time the Johnsons moved into the house in 1860, people began losing pictures, letters, business cards and other objects behind the mantels,” Wintory said. “These lost and found artifacts are a fascinating record of their lives.”

The Lakeport Family Reunion will include descendants of the Johnson family, other residents of Lakeport, and descendants of African Americans who lived and worked at Lakeport as enslaved laborers and later as tenant farmers.

Early registration will take place from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28 at the Guachoya Cultural Arts Center in Lake Village. Permanent exhibits will be unveiled at the plantation house at 9:00 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, followed by presentations related to new discoveries at Lakeport from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the Lakeport lawn.

Saturday afternoon events will include a 2 p.m. tour of the Epstein Cotton Gin in Lake Village, led by Sammy E. Angel, and a 3:30 p.m. guided walking tour of downtown Lake Village by Rachel Silva of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. A social hour at the restored historic Tushek Building begins at 5 p.m., followed by a Homemade Spaghetti Dinner at 6 p.m. at Our Lady of the Lake Parish Hall. The dinner will include a presentation by community historian Libby Borgognoni on Chicot County’s Italian history.

On Sunday, Sept. 30, a panel of Johnson descendants will present “Memories of the Family” at 10 a.m., followed by “Memories of the Community” featuring Lakeport area residents at 11 a.m. A noon barbeque lunch will end the celebration.

The three-day event is open to the public, but registration is required by Sept. 14 and there is a charge for the meals. For information on registration, visit http://lakeport.astate.edu/, call 870.265.6031, or email lakeport.ar@gmail.com.

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“The transformation of dense swamp and forest to today’s commercial agriculture is the story of two hundred acres worked by people sowing their fate with sweat, ingenuity, and luck.”
—Synopsis of During Wind and Rain by Margaret Jones Bolsterli

In the preceding post I presented a book review I once wrote of a book by Margaret Jones Bolsterli titled Born in the Delta. 

This second review of another book by Professor Bolsterli titled During Wind and Rain was written by Taylor Prewitt, a native of Desha-Drew counties who grew up in McGehee, Arkansas. His family has been involved in large-scale cotton production in those two counties for generations, which is why he was gracious enough to provide quotations and photographs about cotton farming in this post.

During Wind and Rain

“During Wind and Rain” by Margaret Jones Bolsterli

I have included his review in this post with his permission. It previously appeared in “Acorns and Hickory Nuts,” an annual collection Taylor published privately on lulu.com. It should be noted that his review is about twice as long as mine, because it contains so much more valuable information on Professor Bolsterli’s family history, the Arkansas Delta, Desha County, and cotton production in the Delta.

cotton boll

An Arkansas Delta cotton boll (to magnify click on the photo, source unknown)

Again, I have presented the piece just as it was written with my emphasis in italics and my comments in brackets. With Taylor’s permission I have also inserted the photos used to illustrate the review. As with the first piece, I have broken the copy into shorter paragraphs to fit the format of this blog:

During Wind and Rain

I may have measured the Jones farm, subject of Margaret Jones Bolsterli’s During Wind and Rain: The Jones Family Farm in the Arkansas Delta 1848-2006 (The University of Arkansas Press, 2008), during the five or six summers that I measured land for the Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Commission.

Jones House Back Gate

The house on the Jones farm at Back Gate, Arkansas (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Taylor Prewitt) Note: In August 2016 Margaret Jones Bolsterli indicated that the house in this photo is misidentified. For the correct identification see her comment at the end of this post.

Located on the road between Watson and Back Gate, it was in one of the most remote areas from my home in McGehee, and a trip to Back Gate [so named because it was the “back gate” to a Delta plantation where travelers disembarked from Arkansas River steamboats] was an adventure of discovery. It wasn’t so remote as the McGehee area, though, when it was first cleared and farmed before the Civil War.

My dad used to tell me that some of the farms around Newton’s Chapel, near Winchester, had been farmed with slave labor, and that some of the boards from one of the ante-bellum farm houses there were used to build the Newton’s Chapel Methodist Church. Our own farm land dated back to perhaps the early twentieth century but not to the days of slavery.

The remoteness of McGehee and Tillar in the days when river travel was the first option, is documented in a letter dated June 8, 1893 and quoted in part: “We went from Ark. City for about 2 mi. in a skiff then from there to 2 mi. beyond Trippe [Junction] on a hand car, went through water 6 in. deep just pouring over the track then from there to McGehee in a wagon and from McGehee to Tillar on the train, didn’t we have a time getting there.”

Kate Adams near Arkansas City

The Kate Adams steamboat on the Mississippi River near Arkansas City (to magnify, click on the photo from the Desha County Historical Society)

Kate Adams Landing at Arkansas City as it looks today

Kate Adams Landing at Arkansas City as it looks today (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Taylor Prewitt)

Foremost among the documentary treasures of this book is Choctaw Certificate #630B for 160 acres in Redfork Township, Desha County, Arkansas, reproduced as the frontispiece. Signed by President Zachary Taylor (for whom my great grandfather was named), “the 160-acre plot of land had been awarded to Pha-Nubbee by an act of Congress in 1842 to satisfy claims arising from the fourteenth and nineteenth articles of the Treaty of Dancing Creek of 1830, the treaty that initiated the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes to the west [to what is now Eastern Oklahoma]. It is not known where Uriah (Jones) came by it nor how much he paid for it—there was a thriving market in these certificates.”

Uriah Jones, the author’s great grandfather, had moved, with his wife Sarah and their son Joseph, from central Tennessee to Arkansas County, Arkansas, in 1841.

Although I’ve never met Margaret Jones Bolsterli (my son had a class under her at the University of Arkansas), I think of her as an old friend because we both grew up in a farming family in Desha County at about the same time (she was born in 1931, I in 1938). Her previous book, Born in the Delta [see my book review in the previous post], describes the cultural mores we both grew up with; I still quote a line from her brother, replying to her concern about what to wear to town because their mother never wanted them to look common. “Hell, we’re all common now.”

In her introduction to this book, she identifies the underlying purpose and function of farming in southeast Arkansas:

Conditioned as we are by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s version of life on the northwestern frontier, we must be cautioned to remember that life on other frontiers took different shapes, according to the topography and soil. In the Arkansas Delta, life on the family farm, what one might think of as the “Little House in the Swamp,” may have had some similarities to a homestead in Wisconsin, but the nature of the ideals and expectations brought to it made it different from the very beginning from the “Little House on the Prairie.” This Delta farm was hacked out of the woods in the 1840s by slaves who became sharecroppers in 1865, some of whose descendants were tractor drivers in the 1960s.

In other words, ours was a farm managed like a plantation because the plantation ideal that was central to the vision of the farm’s founder has been, to some extent, carried on down to the present. It was a farm because it was too small to be termed a plantation (not for lack of trying).

Arkansas Cotton Field

Arkansas Delta cotton field (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Allison Starnes Tilley, a native of McGehee, Arkansas)

One difference was that, in this scheme of things, white women of a certain class did not work in the fields nor did they cook huge meals for hungry harvesting crews. They were kept on as high a pedestal as the family could afford. [See the reference to Southern belles and the photo of an Arkansas Delta belle in the preceding post on Born in the Delta].

The culture produced by this ideal was my theme in Born in the Delta, so I will not belabor it here except to make the point again that these pioneers probably did not consider their venture a matter of going West, with its connotations of wide open spaces and freedom to build a new kind of life, but of moving the boundary of the South further west.

They wanted their lives to be as much as possible like the ones left behind in Virginia and Tennessee, or like the lives they would have preferred to have back there. The egalitarian dream that descendants of Texans—and others who went further west—claim for their forebears was not their priority. In any case, one suspects that the further west settlers went, the harder it was to retain the Southern ideals, no matter how much they might have wanted to. The western border of Arkansas may have been about as far as those ideals could thrive. [After living in Oklahoma for thirty-five years, I wholeheartedly agree!]

Pelicans over bar pit

Pelicans flying over a “bar (borrow) pit” from which dirt was taken to build the levee on the Mississippi River at Arkansas City (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Taylor Prewitt)

Her family perspective antedates mine by some half a century and a war. The nucleus of her story is the contents of three trunks in the house on the family farm, never really studied until she had moved them to a farm in Madison County in 1996. Besides the original land grant, there are other legal documents, letters, and farm accounts, which she has used to generate this account of the stewardship of five generations in managing the farm that Uriah Jones acquired in 1849.

There are gaps in the documentation, of course, and some of these are filled in with contemporary accounts from similar sources. Some insight into the institution of slavery which facilitated the establishment of the plantation system in Arkansas is given in the 1861 assessment, which shows that Uriah Jones assessed 440 acres of land at $5,280. His son Joseph assessed no land but did assess eight slaves valued at $6,400; so we see that eight slaves were worth more than 440 acres of land. This helps explain General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s comment: “If we ain’t fightin’ fer slavery, what are we fightin’ fer?”

Cotton weighing

Cotton pickers on a Delta plantation in 1938, the year I was born, waiting to be paid after their cotton sacks are weighed (to magnify, click on the photo by Russell Lee which appeared in A Photographic Legacy by I. Wilmer Counts Jr.)

As is usually the case when I review old documents, the stories are more accessible than the lists and figures. One possible intersection with my family in Tillar is in the letter from the author’s Aunt Sallie’s friend Sallie Owen Shaifer, quoted above to describe the vicissitudes of travel in 1893:

Well we got to Tillar about three o’clock and Sister C and some of the girls met us at the Depot, we all went to the Church and stayed until they finished fixing it then we went over to Mrs. Tillars and at 7:30 all went to the Concert and Sallie it was just splendid. They had music, dialogues, recitations etc. and the fan drill. It was about twelve girls small ones all dressed in red with red shoes and stockings and fans and they went through all kinds of motions using the fans and kept perfect time to music. After the Concert was over we all went up to the hall and danced. Uncle P Sister C and Mr. S (haifer) and I left at 12.

Hughetta Duncan, my grandmother, lost her mother when she was a year old. Her father asked Mr. Frank Tillar, whom he considered the best businessman in town, if he would serve as Hughetta’s guardian if anything should happen to him. He died when Hughetta was six years old, in 1891, and this letter was written in 1893. Was Hughetta one of the “twelve girls small ones all dressed in red with red shoes and stockings” doing the fan drill?

The author describes her work as an elegy for the family farm, citing Thomas Hardy’s poem, “During Wind and Rain,” which lends its title to the book. The inexorable trend toward larger farm size in the delta indicates that the cards are stacked against the family farm; there’s a certain threshold of size required to absorb the costs of large equipment. And despite the technical advances such as genetically engineered seed, irrigation, pesticides, and weed killers which diminish some of the hazards of raising cotton, all the variables cannot be eliminated, as her nephew Casey described:

The best pounds to the acre Daddy made was 650 bales on 400 acres; that’s a little over a bale to the acre, for five-hundred pound bales; two men picked that crop. By 2000, you had to expect two bales to the acre. In 2004, the last year I farmed, a lot of the fields made three bales to the acre. Some, more than that, but it started raining and was real wet, so by the time we got through, we were picking only a bale and a half to the acre.

Cotton in Walnut Ridge

A scene showing the type of cotton bales produced in earlier times in the Arkansas Delta (to magnify, click on the photo from the Delta Cultural Center, 95 Missouri Street, Helena, Arkansas 72342, courtesy of Monnola Smith and Tom Moore/DCC Archives)

Arkansas Cotton Module

An Arkansas Delta cotton module, the modern way to store cotton until shipment out of the cotton field (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Allison Starnes Tilley, a native of McGehee, Arkansas)

This sounds like something I might have written for the annual report of the Prewitt Family Limited Partnership, describing the September nosedive of our yield. You can’t keep it from raining.

Looking at the leveled and irrigated farms while flying over the delta one time, I had a new perspective on how the swamp and forest land had been drained and transformed into a machine for producing cotton and rice. Bolsterli states this very well in her concluding paragraph: “For, granted that all agriculture, by definition, is a perversion of nature, the limits seem to have been stretched here. With the heightened consciousness of twenty-first-century environmentalism, it is not possible to look at those fields stretching to the horizons and not consider the ravishing of nature required to achieve them.”

Arkansas Cotton Ian Tilley

A boy in an Arkansas Delta cotton field (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Allison Starnes Tilley, a native of McGehee, Arkansas)

She also alludes to the role of slavery in leading our ancestors to initiate the cotton plantation system which has become such an unreliable asset to the region’s economy and social structure.

Cotton pickers in wagon

Cotton pickers on an Arkansas Delta plantation in about 1935 (to magnify, click on the photo by Ben Shahn in A Photographic Legacy by I. Wilmer Counts, Jr.)

The case study of the Jones family farm is well presented, with abundant documentation of the problems involved. This system has consumed the lives of multiple generations, as shown in the story of the Jones farm. It has also been the stimulus for many careers in academics, journalism, medicine—anything outside the delta. Farming in the delta requires farmers who are dedicated to the proposition, and this is another resource which is becoming more scarce, a factor hinted at in Casey’s decision to rent out the farm.

Arkansas Cotton Plants

Cotton plants in an Arkansas Delta field (to magnify, click on the photo provided by Allison Starnes Tilley, a native of McGehee, Arkansas)

A riddle that I’ve lived with is how the area with the richest soil can have the poorest people. It’s a complex problem; its manifestations in the case study of this farm are well documented, and the story is well told.

 —Taylor Prewitt

Update:

In an article in the August 29, 2012, issue of the McGehee-Dermott Times-News, Cindy Smith recommended three other books about Southeast Arkansas: A Haunted Love Story, Camp Nine, and Growing Up in Arkansas.

Note: To view a video titled “Delta Mud in Your Blood” set to Delta Blues music performed by Marty Denton of McGehee, Arkansas, with scenes of Bayou Bartholomew, sharecropper shacks, cotton picking, the Mississippi River, the flat Delta landscape, Blues music and musicians, scenes in McGehee, etc., click here. For additional information and photos on many of the subjects presented in this review, see my previous post titled “Born in the Delta: A Review of a Book by a Delta Author” as well as other posts titled “My Bucket-List Trip II: The Delta,” “Wish I Was in the Land of Cotton I” and “Wish I Was in the Land of Cotton II,” “Additional Quotes about the Delta,” and “Days Gone By.”

Special Press Release on Lakeport Plantation Fifth Anniversary:

Lakeport Plantation
Lakeport Plantation

Lakeport Plantation, often featured on this blog (see the close of the preceding post titled “Days Gone By”) will be celebrating its Fifth Anniversary on September 28-30. The three-day event will showcase newly installed permanent exhibits in the house. See the press release below for more information and how to register.

The plantation home is an Arkansas State University Heritage Site, built ca. 1859 for the Johnson family of Kentucky. One of Arkansas’s premiere historic structures; it has changed little since its original construction and is the last antebellum plantation home in Arkansas on the Mississippi River. The Sam Epstein Angel family of Lake Village deeded the house to the university in 2001. Restoration began in 2002, using the highest level of U. S. Department of Interior standards for rehabilitation, and the restored home opened to the public in 2007.

Since its opening, thousands of visitors from all over Arkansas, the United States, and the globe have toured the plantation. Lakeport now enters a new phase with the installation of permanent exhibits, designed in collaboration with Quatrefoil Associates in Laurel, Maryland. Exhibits are based on years of restoration and research in family records, archives and oral histories.

“The house itself will always be our major exhibit,” stated Dr. Ruth Hawkins, executive director of Arkansas Heritage Sites at ASU. “We wanted to enhance the visitor experience, however, with unobtrusive exhibits that tell the stories of the house, the restoration, and the people who lived and worked at Lakeport.”

New exhibits also will display artifacts found during restoration and original items donated back to the house. Dr. Blake Wintory, director of Lakeport Plantation, said his personal favorite is a case full of artifacts, dating between 1860 and 1970, which were found behind mantels during restoration. “From the time the Johnsons moved into the house in 1860, people began losing pictures, letters, business cards and other objects behind the mantels,” Wintory said. “These lost and found artifacts are a fascinating record of their lives.”

The Lakeport Family Reunion will include descendants of the Johnson family, other residents of Lakeport, and descendants of African Americans who lived and worked at Lakeport as enslaved laborers and later as tenant farmers.

Early registration will take place from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28 at the Guachoya Cultural Arts Center in Lake Village. Permanent exhibits will be unveiled at the plantation house at 9:00 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, followed by presentations related to new discoveries at Lakeport from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the Lakeport lawn.

Saturday afternoon events will include a 2 p.m. tour of the Epstein Cotton Gin in Lake Village, led by Sammy E. Angel, and a 3:30 p.m. guided walking tour of downtown Lake Village by Rachel Silva of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. A social hour at the restored historic Tushek Building begins at 5 p.m., followed by a Homemade Spaghetti Dinner at 6 p.m. at Our Lady of the Lake Parish Hall. The dinner will include a presentation by community historian Libby Borgognoni on Chicot County’s Italian history.

On Sunday, Sept. 30, a panel of Johnson descendants will present “Memories of the Family” at 10 a.m., followed by “Memories of the Community” featuring Lakeport area residents at 11 a.m. A noon barbeque lunch will end the celebration.

The three-day event is open to the public, but registration is required by Sept. 14 and there is a charge for the meals. For information on registration, visit http://lakeport.astate.edu/, call 870.265.6031, or email lakeport.ar@gmail.com.

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