It’s another hot, hot day in Yell County. All the garden weeding must be done before 8 a.m or after 6 p.m. when the sun isn’t directly overhead. When pulling out the thick Bermuda grass even our red clay soil is hot to the touch. Similarly, the first sprays of water coming out of the hose are hot enough to create a minor skin burn. I’ve always figured one of the greatest resources in our so-called political war against climate change denial is a vast repository of oral history interviews with old timers. They will all tell you — with certainty and without political baggage — that the climate is changing. Farming, gardening, food preservation, the ability to store meat in a smoke house, it’s all changing. But, I digress. Back to the garden.
When Johnny informed me that this month’s theme was 1980s I laughed. Ever since moving back home to the Dardanelle area last summer I’ve had that sense of time collapsing on itself. I look at my hands and see my mother’s. I look at my four-year-old daughter running barefoot thru the grass and see myself. The decades fold over on to themselves, a feeling that is as soothing as it is terrifying.
I’ve been spending time in this red clay dirt since the 1980s. Of course, it wasn’t a garden then. It was a horse pasture. And we didn’t live here, we just came from town to visit relatives on the weekends. But my Dad grew up here and his Dad once ran a truck patch on this same spot of land. The house we call home was built by my father in the early 1980s. And though my grandfather was dead by the time I was a kid running around this place, I always felt like I knew him. As I have detailed in many of my previous columns, my family — like so many southerners — never let death get in the way of our ability to know one another. Stories about my grandfather filled my childhood.
Physically, things haven’t changed too much in this valley since I was a kid. There are a few less houses in some areas, a few more in others. But the relatives we once visited are all dead. There is a cow pasture up the road where my Aunt Carmel once raised her chickens and corn. Uncle Junior’s house is gone. But my favorite rock is still exactly where it sat decades ago. It’s about five paces from my front porch and it’s huge, probably four feet across. It stands no more than three feet tall, but when you’re five years old this height is, of course, pretty epic. I’d crawl up on the rock to sing, daydream, or read. I’d look out over the land and toward the mountain. I was an only child and had an imagination larger than the forest. These days the rock is surrounded on all sides by pine trees, and if you sit real still you can hear them creaking in the wind.
My four year old daughter now loves to play on this rock. And she loves to take one or more of the (formerly) feral cats or our tiny dog with her. She likes to be the only human up there, and from my place in the garden I overhear her talking to her cats, singing songs, and narrating one of her many adventures. She has older brothers with whom she could play, but this rock is her place to create her own world. I always try and stay at a distance, never interrupting her tales or her songs, and am content to just take in the bits and pieces of whatever words or melodies float across the yard. This is her time to imagine what things can be. Maybe it’s also her time to see things as they are, without adults flattening the layers of time. I dare not interrupt.
That rock is older than any story I can tell about this place or anything an historical research could turn up. But in the late afternoons it’s the place where the lines of my life fold around 1983. And I’m not exactly sure who’s the one telling stories and staring at mountains.