“If youth only new, if age only could.”
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.
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.)
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.
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?”
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).
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.
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.
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, 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 email@example.com.