I stole a walk from the afternoon, one born from a casual glance out my window. The trees behind the house bent and blew with surprising force. Though I sat with heavy legs and with no thought of an excursion, I found myself outside and walking within minutes. The wind howled in my headphones. As I walked along Friendship, I was reminded of how many school buses ran through this corridor in the afternoon. East Springdale, despite its limited number of arteries, has more schools than you would imagine. By the time I reached the long stretch that touches 412, I had realized I would have to consider going back. I looked across at the massive cemetery and the thousands of truncated stories buried there. Once past, I reluctantly turned and walked back. Looking up at the deep blue sky, I took a picture to capture the tenuous magic. Switching to music, I marched my way back, shrugging off the acres of reminders that afternoons like this are fleeting.
I don’t know how it is in y’alls neighborhoods this afternoon. The streets, driveways, and yards are filled with visitor’s vehicles; crab boils, BBQs, quinceañeras, birthdays, and cumpleaños. Within a block of me, there must be at least ten parties and festive celebrations. The streets are scattered with kids absently ignoring everyone and everything, seemingly to fill all available spaces. Mexican, Marshallese, Salvadoreans, and yes, even boring white people with questionable sock and shirt choices animatedly chatter away the minutes. The combined cloud of music could only be played on a schizophrenic radio station. I don’t know who flipped the switch, but it’s refreshing. Collectively, mysteriously, this neighborhood got the memo that something’s changed.
The mural project on the (house) on Holcomb street is coming along well. I’m envious! It’s going to be spectacular.
As I walked back through Turnbow park in Downtown Springdale, a young man wearing a nondescript uniform stood by an access panel on the perimeter of the walkway and flowers. He fiddled with the controls. When he turned, he said, “Tell’em to move.” He repeated it, but only I could hear it as I walked past. About thirty feet ahead, two more workers stood near the grassy section opposite the bike and coffee shop. I couldn’t tell what the box was on the ground near the closest worker, but I deduced that they were supposed to be working in concert with the man I was passing. There were people on benches and at the tables, scattered around, eating and drinking. On beautiful days like today, it’s an ideal spot, especially before summer comes to cook heads exposed to the sun. Two older ladies were approaching the other two workers. I wish I had my phone up, as the camera app was open. As the man behind me said, “Tell-em to move!” a little more loudly, the sprinkler system they’d been adjusting whooshed to life, giving the two older ladies a quick startle. I turned, shrugged, and laughed as I nodded to the man adjusting the control panel. “Good job,” I told him.
The mural across from the Chamber of Commerce is coming along well, too. Downtown has a lot of activities tomorrow, including square-to-square bike rides.
I took a picture where Water street abuts George Park. I was facing what used to be the Layman’s block. It’s fascinating to stand in open urban spaces, especially where such space hasn’t existed for decades. The sun was phenomenally bright. It might not have been good to have opted to walk wearing all black.
I walked around a few buildings that I haven’t in a long time; in part, this was because I try to avoid looking like a prowler when I criss-cross the urban landscape in the dark. As usual, I saw people, places, and things that were interesting.
To my surprise, I got BEHIND the fence, somehow. As I’ve learned, though, if you look like you belong, well, you belong wherever you are.
I took many other pictures. Because the sun was so bright and because I’m a terrible photographer, most resulted in dark (or overly whitish) blobs. One of the pictures I hoped would be great was of a woman who was staring at me in a strange way as I stood by one of the buildings. So, I snapped a picture of her and she sped off. I laughed.
Watching him play the guitar made me REALLY want to learn to play. Not for my own sake, but so that I could teach him how to do it correctly.
It’s not my idea, but I agree that the bomb squad should run away from every properly defused bomb. It’ll make great footage and give spectators something to laugh and talk about afterward.
I am 100% certain that TikTokers are using my old lists of jokes and ideas for videos.I just watched another one using the idea of wearing a ski mask to bed at night to confuse would-be robbers.
The problem with having a collection of sidewalk chalk is that everything easily becomes a canvas. Whether intended or not.
I have a co-worker who is 60+. He’s in great shape. A few weeks ago, someone asked him to run the Hogeye Marathon with him. My co-worker ran EIGHTEEN miles on his first day of training. I asked him, “You do know that the race is ONLY 26+ miles, right?”
The Hogeye Marathon passes through my neighborhood. On the other hand, it is no accident that even visitors are smart enough to RUN through East Springdale.
The algorithms at work on the internet know way too much. I googled “Interesting things to do in East Springdale” as a joke. Literally, the first thing that popped up was an ad for funeral services. Note that even the maps of this part of the town convey a very specific message…
It was an unexpectedly cold morning. Even so, tulips were everywhere downtown, giving me splashes of color in bursts as I walked. It was beautiful to witness so many installations of canopy and outdoor lights in alleys and nooks and crannies.
There are places in Downtown Springdale that startle you with a mix of form and function. If the right people are involved, this could be amazing. I’m hoping that color finds a better home here.
Downtown Springdale is substantially different than it was a year ago. Entire blocks and buildings have surrendered to history, while others sprouted in their wake. It feels like the area is awakening. Even as the national economy falters, it’s difficult to miss the fact that Downtown64 (as it should be called, by the way) is the focus of a lot of energy and attention. Art, storefront displays, food, outdoor dining/drinking, public spaces, the Apollo Events Center, a trail, bike shops, lofts/apartments off Emma, a marathon, murals, and outdoor dining events; the area is markedly different than it once was. That’s a good thing.
The Arts Center of the Ozarks, often overlooked. Even though the picture is blurry, I’m leaving it, if only because I didn’t have my glasses on when I took the picture.
One of the many murals showing up all over Springdale. If I had a say, every wall would be covered in color and beauty.
Perhaps the ugliest logo in human history. Not quite the ugliest, but I still hate how this logo somehow made it through the process of becoming the city’s logo.
Don Guero’s is no Mr. Taco Loco, but it adds flavor to Emma.
Out of the last several times I’ve dined out, it’s been on Emma. Fair or not, living in East Springdale isn’t conducive to fine dining.
The one thing that is missing for me is a coffee shop for early morning. Such a place would bring visitors to Emma at an earlier hour. As the number of people working near Emma increases, it is inevitable. The question is who’ll realize the pull of such a place first. Art economies require copious amounts of both alcohol and caffeine. I included Bike Rack’s picture because the hours posted on the door don’t coincide with them being open. Trailside Coffee inside the Phat Tire Bike Shop is the other competitor, located off of Shiloh Square and Turnbow Park. Maybe we’ll get back to normal when the pandemic is over.
Speaking of ‘open hours,’ the barbershop adjacent to the Apollo had the same problem the other morning. Unless the clientele is vampire-oriented, someone forgot to turn the light off by 4 a.m.
That is a fox in the middle of the picture. I heard yipping and scampering behind me for at least a minute. I assumed it was a dog following me. It wasn’t. It was Mr. Fox. He was mostly unafraid of me. I took the picture near the intersection of Grove and Quandt, where the vacant church that should be a private residence sits. Years ago, I lived on Grove Street, near the Arts Center of the Ozarks.
I like Emma much, much better now that someone wisely installed multiple 4-way stops and mostly eliminated the one-way street nonsense that once plagued downtown.
Taken from the creekside portion of the trail approaching Huntsville Avenue.
Many people are unaware that there are loft apartments above James & James off Emma.
Storefront art installations; this one is across from The Odd Soul and Mr. Taco Loco on Emma.
Small house tucked away near the Apollo Theater. I love such residences, along with upper story apartments and condos in urban areas. A smart developer built a row of apartments near the old Washington Elementary building past the Community Clinic and near the Jones Center. I think it’s brilliant. (Little Emma apartments) They look sleek and modern. The picture I snapped of them looked terrible.
The old Layman building property. Except for the corner on Water Street, the entire block is gone. For Springdale residents, the absence of anything here is striking.
… as does the block that once held the Bank of American and HelpCard building, along the railroad excursion depot.
If you’re interested, you can still go back to 2007 using Google Streetview and ‘drive’ the old Emma and its old buildings. It’s worth the time to do so if that sort of thing interests you.
No matter how you feel about the changes to Downtown Springdale, you should prepare yourself for ongoing transformation. Millions of dollars will continue to funnel through this corridor. I predict it will be both functional and beautiful. That Springdale is building its new Criminal Justice Center within pitching distance of the Shiloh Museum and Turnbow Park is genius. It anchors downtown and adds an element of safety to visitors. It’s possible to walk for thirty minutes and witness millions of dollars of investment happening right in front of us.
If you’re a fan of Springdale, I recommend that you walk the area when other people are still asleep. It’s another world an done conducive to discovering new things about our common geography.
P.S. You’ll discover things about yourself, too.
The Springdale diner once stood proudly along Highway 71. Its gravel parking lot was a declaration of authenticity for those who frequented it. Though the town was growing, most residents chose the diner as their default. The waitresses were all grouchy, except for Macy, who loved everyone. The owner’s wife Mildred hated Macy for that very reason. It didn’t help matters that Macy was pretty and outgoing; Mildred looked an anvil with legs. Her singing voice in the church caused several devout Methodists to defect to the Baptist camp. If Mildred handled the register, tips usually went up due to many people choosing to pay the bill by dropping money on the table and bypassing Mildred.
Coffee flowed through the diner and the people inside it like a caffeine river. Had self-serve carafes existed then, the residents of Springdale would not have been pleased. Half the reason to have a go-out, sit-down meal was to interact and verbally jostle with those you’d encounter doing the same. Many of the wives claimed that such things didn’t matter, but most had carefully applied lipstick and checked their hairdo at least ten times that morning. Quite a few used Saturday morning to see their hairdressers.
On that March day, the wind blew and howled across the two-lane streets, taking dust and chicken feathers to every crevice. Not that townsfolk were uppity enough to drive convertibles, but if they had, their smiles would have been feather-filled and their lungs coated with the detritus of poultry.
By noon, all but one seat in the diner was filled. The exception was the chair always reserved for the diner’s unofficial number one eater. Earl only visited once or twice a week because his nephew Lou needed to drive him there. Earl saved the diner owner’s life in WWII. He would never pay for a meal for the rest of his life. Many people were unaware that Macy, the pretty waitress, was Earl’s daughter.
Macy and the other three waitresses ran from the kitchen window to tables, their fingers doing triple-duty as they placed plates, refilled drinks, and cleared tables. Wives secretly watched their husbands as their eyes followed Macy as she did her work. Most tolerated it as harmless fun. It was easy to see which wives were easygoing and which could rain hellfire down on their spouses’ heads. You could witness moms hitting the husbands with the same frequency they swatted at their kid’s perceived misbehavior.
Most of the diners chose the Saturday special. Today’s was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and a slice of one of seven pie varieties.
As the families ate, you’d occasionally see different folks stand up to give a quick “Hello” to someone. Such courtesies were a requirement of Saturday eating. If someone needed a longer word, they could step outside and have a cigarette and watch the traffic pass by. The ladies opted for the coat rack. Gossip was expected there, even though they disguised it with half-whispers and cautious glances around before divulging the latest news.
As the wind howled, the front door of the diner came open. Dozens of feathers eddied and blew inside. None of the people inside looked up or noticed.
The diner welcomed all visitors: even feathers, both the curse and the fuel for this town.
Recently, a friend posted about kayaking on Lake Elmdale. He also mentioned that many people seem to be unaware of its existence. (The lake, not kayaking – although I do wonder if such people who kayak really exist.) I tend to agree with him. Lake Elmdale is an artificial lake built in 1953. It derives its name from a mix of the names for Elm Springs and Springdale communities. I think they missed their chance by not naming it something extraordinary, like “Devil’s Tooth Lake,” or even “Drowning Hole.” Arkansas already boasts Nimrod Lake, named after Noah’s grandson. (Sorry, but the word “Nimrod” was forever redefined by Looney Tunes.)
Since I have your attention, in 1950, Springdale had a bit over 5,000 people. Ten years later, the population doubled. Elm Springs started at 217 and, by 1960, added a whopping 21 additional people.
I have dozens of stories from my youth involving this body of water. Many from my early childhood are fishing stories involving my Dad and Uncle Buck or a rotating series of misfits called friends. Other stories are from the time when I lived in Elm Springs in the mid-80s.
If you look at the picture, you can see one of the lake access roads on the right, about halfway up. Just a short drive beyond, and you can take a left on Lakeview and quickly reach Elm Springs road. Continuing on the circuitous route past the lake entrance, and you’ll emerge on Elm Springs Road further east and headed to what is now I-40. This story is really about the roadway’s right side, where the lake access ramp road intersects with E. Lake Road.
(GPS coordinates if such things interest you.)
My Dad loved a good scare while driving. Whether it involved turning off the headlights at any random moment, cutting unexpectedly through a field (fence or not), jumping out of the vehicle if it were going slowly enough, leaving the wheel to whoever might be both inside and paying attention, shooting a pistol or shotgun from inside the cab, playing chicken with unsuspecting people dumb enough to be on the road at the same time, driving on railroad tracks (sometimes suspended) over creeks, marshes, and rivers, or hitting things for no discernible reason, my Dad often had no limits.
I know that the last sentence is intolerably long. I wanted to pile it all out there to give you an idea of the level of crazy that might Dad exhibited. Sometimes, it was scary. Looming death tends to be that way. Other times, it was fun – but after the fact. Surviving such ‘fun’ colors the ability to laugh about it.
My apologies for taking so long to get to the point. Before this picture was taken, the road was less maintained. Edges weren’t graded appropriately, and erosion and run-off worsened already bumpy or uneven roads. This specific spot was no exception.
While I don’t remember the first time Dad revved his truck to 50+ mph and fly across the edge of this entrance as he passed, I remember coming off the cab’s seat and floating for the briefest instant. Whether the vehicle had a solid axle or good suspension had a say in managing the landing. If you’re thinking of the Dukes of Hazzard reading this, you’re not far off the mark. Though you might think I am exaggerating, Dad once convinced me and my brother Mike that he would do it at 80 mph. He did, after telling us he was going to for a long approach. Our butts were clenched until the point we realized that Dad wasn’t bluffing. Afterward, I felt that Dad would have regretted doing it had he not been three sheets to the wind. When I tell the story, I usually say, “I could see Kansas from up there.” It’s a joke. It was decently dark when Dad took that last quarter of a mile stretch before hitting the bump at 80 mph. After keeping the truck in the road, he hit the brakes and skidded to a full stop. He took the Camel cigarette out of his mouth with a flourish, looked at Mike and me cowering against the other door panel, and said, “Which one of you wants to drive and do it again?” Dad took the same jump, albeit slower than 80 mph, while we were in the back of the truck in the bed, too. We failed to determine whether clutching the truck’s side was safer or to lay against the tailgate.
At times, Dad doing this sort of thing would involve Mom being in the car or truck with him. Mom’s reaction to being scared like this can best be described as “murderous rage” or by one of her signature phrases, “Go# Da## It, Bobby Dean!” shouted at ear-piercing levels. If it lands me in hell for saying so, I’ll admit that hearing her squawk like that was amusing as long as we weren’t witnessing the oft-overlooked attempted murder aspect of many of our weekends.
If you are wondering if Dad ever wrecked, broke an axle, or blew out a tire doing these things, the answer is “yes.” Likewise, if you wonder if any of us ever suddenly experienced bladder control issues, you’d be right for questioning.
On one occasion, Dad drove with his boss back to his house in Elm Springs. The truck was a Cheyenne or Chevrolet truck of some sort, one of their favorites to restore. In those days, rednecks often stated with confidence, “I have to blow the cobwebs out.” Being young, I didn’t understand the cliché but did know that it roughly translated to mean, “I’m going to go incredibly fast and possibly die in this vehicle.” Dad wasn’t drinking. I was in the bed of the truck with Duke, Dad’s german shepherd. Charles sat upfront up with Dad. He had a cigar in his mouth as he often did. Charles was also married to one of Dad’s cousins. I didn’t figure that out until years later.
We drove down Highway 112 and turned on E. Lake Road leading to the lake. About halfway between Highway 112 and the lake, Dad slowed and shouted to me out the window, “White lightning!” I immediately realized that it was a “go” for Operation Scare the Boss Shi$less.” The phrase could refer to the hell-raising 1973 movie starring Burt Reynolds or to moonshine – and sometimes both.
About 100 yards from the side road to the lake, Dad pushed the gas hard and shifted gears. As we hit the bump and sailed off the ground, I laughed. I heard Charles scream in surprise and then scream at Dad, asking if he’d lost his ever-loving mind. By the time we reached Charles’ house, he was laughing and jokingly cursing at Dad.
One more note. Thanks to Dad, I learned how to drive through barbed-wire fences, closed gates, front lawns, flooding creeks, and just about anything else. Here’s the secret: you have to not give a damn about what happens when you do it. Once you master that skill, sober or inebriated, you too can be an amateur stuntman. I wish that I had experienced that version of my Dad freed from alcohol. There’s no doubt he would have still managed to convince me I might die at a given moment.
When my brother Mike came home from leave in the Army, I didn’t get to spend much time with him. Life’s demands and the constraints of his limited time conspired against us. We did drive the road leading to Lake Elmdale, though. I knew Mike was going to ask before we ever approached the jump zone. “Should we?” he asked me, laughing. We were in my car. He was driving. “How can we not?!” I shouted. We hit the bump going 50 mph. As soon as we started to lift, Mike regretted testing his courage. After the adrenaline subsided, we drove for another hour along what once were quieter roads. 33 or 34 years have passed.
In the years since, in the spirit of full disclosure, I too have excessively sped toward that same bump without warning the occupants of the car. Though the ridge is considerably flatter than it once was while I am much fatter, it never fails to fill me with nostalgia for both the times that were and those which weren’t.
As we learned in “Like Water For Chocolate,” the emotions experienced while preparing food can significantly affect the culinary experience. (If you haven’t read this book or seen the movie, I will wait while you do so. You can read it in English if you need to.) The book on which the movie was based is separated into twelve sections, much like the months of the year. Each era is associated with particular foods that define the protagonist’s life.
It was important for her to unexpectedly inflict a bit of terror (or at least a sense of dread or apprehension) in someone in her vicinity while cooking. In part, it would explain the tendency for someone to wail, cry, or whimper while we ate supper. You might presume we were whimpering from the flavor otherwise. In mom’s defense, she didn’t need to concern herself with food. We were trained to eat anything without an audible complaint. In my case, I loved macaroni and any vegetable, even if coming directly from a can. Because I trusted my Grandma, I’d eat anything she offered. While there were times I didn’t like something she made, I never questioned whether it SHOULD be eaten. With my mom, this definitely wasn’t the case. There were exceptions. Because of my youth’s craziness, people often overlook the exceptions that were not characterized by the lesser human emotions I experienced growing up.
While it may not come across as funny, dad often did have a humorous way of driving mom bonkers about food. “What’s cooking,” he might shout. Or, “What in f$$$ is that smell?” Mom sometimes would scream back at him – and sometimes be funny in her response. It’s hard to explain how shouting and annoyance are funny, but it was. “Whatever the g####mned f### I want to make is what you’re eating,” she might scream. It probably sounded like WWII from outside. While they were often angry about it when their ability to tease back and forth emerged, it was obscenely sublime.
More than once growing up, we’d wake to the horrid smell of a burned cast iron skillet. A couple of times, mom did it. But it was usually dad who left the skillet on the stove. He’d arrive home drunk and cook a chunk of meat or fried bologna on the stove. There were a dozen times he’d try to cook frozen meat – and eat it anyway. It wasn’t unusual to pass through the kitchen and see an array of meat, grease, and a mess left there. Because mom usually got up insanely early, we knew dad left her a mess because mom would be in the kitchen cursing and banging every metal surface possible with pans, metal spoons, or by slamming the stove repeatedly. I’d generally not recommend this behavior if you have someone with both anger issues and a hangover in the house. By the way, a scorched cast iron skillet leaves a stench in the house for DAYS.
Much of the drama could have been sidestepped if someone had just asked us what we wanted. They could have fed me incredibly cheaply and often without the need for any actual cooking – and no ritual sacrifice of animals. In my world, kids were not asked what they wanted. Such a thought was heretical nonsense to people such as my parents. They didn’t need to tell us about starving kids in other countries; we knew that they wouldn’t be bothered with such an explanation when a good backhand said a thousand words. Note for those who don’t know: a backhand can be rendered at twice the speed as a forward-motion slap. Mom certainly could have handed me a can of tomatoes, corn, or green beans and sent me outside to eat in peace. Sitting at the table brought unseen battles to the front. By the 4th grade, I could expertly tip an opened can and eat the contents without utensils. Or without cutting myself.
We were lucky mom didn’t poison us, even if her target was my dad. Like most women in her class, she had no choice but to work full-time and perform all the other menial but necessary tasks of living for the household. Obviously, a lot of mom’s cooking stress was anger and resentment at being married to a lout. Mom didn’t have ‘signature dishes.’ I don’t remember her being romantic about cooking or the subtle art of gastronomy. To her, cooking was limited to the practical necessity of getting it done. It was a bizarre sight to witness her in the same kitchen with other people cooking. It might as well have been alien races sharing cooking space.
On another note, mom could have easily taught us to make one or two meals each. We would have willingly learned and helped had we been shown the attention—anything to avoid potential stress and drama of a ‘family’ meal. I know I couldn’t have been trusted to prepare any meal with meat. My recipe would have consisted only of tossing the meat carcass directly out the door and into the jaws of our succession of German Shepherd dogs named Duke.
Looking back, I’m still surprised that so many supper meals blur together into one indistinguishable mass in my memory. Few at-home suppers were devoid of distrust, dread, or unease. More importantly, I have no memories of meals wherein we gathered to eat where we shared our day, laughter, or happy moments. This was not part of our DNA. I like to think it must have happened accidentally. If it did, my treasonous brain has erased most of these memories. Exceptions tended to happen if dad arrived home drinking without his surliness or if extraordinary circumstances were at play. Watching sitcom families verbally teasing and laughing during dinner were Twilight Zone episodes for me.
On a typical day, mom had to read the tea leaves and decide when or if dad might come home. She was obligated to prepare some horrid slab of meat, partially cooked on the stove in a frying pan if he did. Dad was one of those absurd men who proudly pretended that the meat he consumed could indeed be eaten half-alive. “How in the hell can anyone eat that smell?” was a thought I often had. Along with the immutable truth that you don’t want to see sausage being made, the other is that no one should witness my dad eating meat. He was proof that our ancestors once jumped on wild walruses and ripped their ears off with their bare hands.
As you would guess, I generally wanted no part in the meat process. Given a choice between the meat prepared and eating live crickets culled from the underside of the trailer, you could find me with a mouthful of insect legs protruding from my mouth. Note: crickets thrive under trailers if you happen to be in the market for a truckload of crickets. If a vegetable were offered, I fought to eat an excessive portion of that and be happy. Truth be told, many of my supper experiences revolved around trying to be small and avoid my dad’s gaze. Though I’ve mentioned it before, his barbaric streak often led him to force me to eat things that should never pass the lips of a human being. If he noted I didn’t want meat, I often found myself chewing the fat off a bloody half-cooked ‘steak’ or the dark meat near the bone of an unidentifiable piece of chicken. (I shudder.) Or worse, the skin of a piece of chicken. I ate chicken skin quite often when I was very young and without dad around. It didn’t occur to me to think of how horrible it was. Later, though, I ate a mile of poorly-cooked or unappetizing skin that ruined me for the rest of my life.
It happened so often that I still have no desire to eat such meat. People underestimate how true this experience was. I was the youngest child; as such, dad felt offended by the lack of overt masculinity. He spent much of his life committed to ensuring that I consumed an array of inedible pieces of animals. His alcoholism is probably the single biggest factor that helped me escape his scrutiny. Unless mom was at his throat, dad’s drinking made him magnanimous at times, and his insistence on forcing me to eat things I didn’t like vanished. Some of the Terry family cooked very well and with love, so I didn’t understand how dad could be so barbaric in his approach, and other members of his family could prepare a wide selection of both meat and vegetables. My Uncle Buck cooked a few things extremely well. He also enjoyed cooking and preparing dishes. Especially gumbo and fish.
While I noted I disliked an increasing number of poorly and inexpertly cooked animal carcasses, it did at least drive home the idea that who and how something is cooked can often be 75% of whether you’ll like something you are about to eat. I felt like a medieval court taster who was anxiously waiting to feel his throat constricting against whatever poison had been inserted into the king’s food.
Despite all the instability in our house, mom spent a sizeable chunk of her money from her SW Bell operator’s paycheck going to the meat shops. It seemed strange to me that her dedication to doing this was so pronounced. Dad often could not discern the difference between a decent cut of meat and something found in the dumpster and fried in a pan for 30 seconds. Dad’s nutrition plan included chunks of meat, cigarettes, whiskey, Dentyne gum, and Brach’s peppermint candy. If I accompanied mom to the meat shop, I stood in amazement that there were more than 2 cuts of meat or 3 types of sandwich meat. It seemed odd that anyone needed something except bologna, salt pork, or bacon for a boy who loved mustard sandwiches. Mom was an impatient customer at such shops. It’s hard to believe that smoking was permitted inside them. And smoke she did, tapping her feet as she moved from one foot to the other, expecting her choice to be hurled toward her in less than 3 seconds. It seems strange that the building that currently holds the Las Margaritas Mexican restaurant in Springdale once was mom’s ‘go-to’ meat shop. I doubted my memory so strongly that I once searched for proof in the old phone books at the library and then matched the addresses against old maps.
Between errands, it seemed like mom was always buying cigarettes and alcohol. Much of my Springdale geography command resulted from the infinite trips to liquor stores and places to buy cigarettes. I could walk from Uncle Buck’s house to the liquor store that once stood at the intersection of Gutensohn and Highway 68/412, but wasn’t sure about the route to one of the grocery stores.
My access to the larger world and food expanded only because of my cousin Jimmy and infrequent visits to other people’s houses. Everything seemed exotic to me. Things like bbq sauce, olives, flavored pickles, and lemon pepper ignited my imagination. At home, we didn’t have these things. If such a store existed, my mom would have gladly shopped at “Bare Minimum Essentials.”
This impacted my brother Mike much more than me. He enjoyed eating meat. He also was a bigger boy, more athletic when we were younger, and had an expansive appetite. This annoyed the hell out of my dad. Unlike me, Mike loved grabbing a handful of dad’s prized sliced deli ham and stuffing it into his mouth as a snack. It was a perilous day to hear my dad holler, “Who ate all the g$$$amned ham!?” In turn, it annoyed Mike that I loved mustard sandwiches and was happy to eat basic food. If I annoyed him, he sometimes would take a piece of ham, roll it menacingly into a ball, and stuff it into my mouth, laughing at my cries of torture. I detested ham so much that I might as well be Jewish. Don’t get me wrong; I’d eat it sometimes but never with any enthusiasm and certainly not as a first choice. Having been in my brother’s ham hock of a hand, I liked it even less.
When the grocery store opened across from Johnson Road, my cousin Jimmy went to get Ron Calcagni’s autograph. Mom later went to the store and scoffed at the incredible selections, after listening to my Aunt Ardith list its array of food. I was mesmerized by the dozen types of bread and the endless row of assorted pasta. I wanted to live inside that store and stuff myself with gallons of marinara and spaghetti. Other kids could be seen getting politely or angrily admonished by their moms as they begged for treats from the candy aisle, special cereals, or ice cream. So dedicated was my mom’s brutality regarding asking, this simply didn’t happen with me. I didn’t touch – and never asked. It was a sin akin to peeing on someone’s head while riding the bus. There were a couple of memorable times I forgot myself and vocalized my desire to have something. Because I was a little strange. one of those times was when I saw Mexicorn, the kernel corn in a can with peppers. I didn’t want sweets or chips. I wanted that exotic can of corn. Not only did mom swat me with the wrath of Khan, but she waited to ensure that dad could put his 5-knuckles-worth into the equation. By the way, I had my first can of Mexicorn at my cousin Jimmy’s. Aunt Ardith bought several cans. She watched in amazement and then horror as I ate all of them, at once. When she put butter in them and stirred it, I felt as if Heaven had descended upon me and wrapped its arms around me. While I don’t know for sure that Aunt Ardith treated me to endless Mexicorn because of how my mom behaved, it seems likely. She smiled at me like Christmas while I ate. “You’re going to be sick,” she kept repeating, her voice growing more amazed as I emptied the cans one by one.
It was sometime in the summer of 1st or 2nd grade that I discovered that canned corn and green beans were delicious. Heating them was a needless step for me. Being able to skip steps to eat was a revelation for me. Soon enough, I learned how to make macaroni and spaghetti. Though I’d seen it made one thousand times, I was stupidly surprised by the fact that cooking it only required boiling water and waiting long enough for it to soften. A monster was born, one that still resides within me. While I could eat noodles plain, if tomatoes or tomato sauce were available, I would dump it into the water and noodles. We didn’t use strainers; we had to risk burns over the sink using the pot’s lid to drain spaghetti. I think the lack of good strainers is one characteristic that most poor kids share in common. Skipping all those steps was a benefit. Regardless of the size of the package of pasta, I cooked it all. And then ate it. Wasting it wasn’t a consideration.
All of which brings me to the Golden Macaroni Era at City View trailer park. Infrequently, mom would recover from the cyclical violence with dad. She’d violently clean the trailer and then later that evening make a pot of macaroni soup. Instead of simply making macaroni and adding tomatoes or sauce, she would cut up potatoes, onions, and a few other things and boil it into submission. Mom and I would sit at the table and eat. She would watch me eat a gallon of it in one sitting. Though it was simple, it was delicious beyond measure. While she made this after City View a couple of times, I’ll never forget the period at City View when she often did it. Usually, only she and I would eat this soup. She must’ve realized from Grandma that this was one of my favorite things in the world. Over one summer, my Grandma made a version of this for me at least every other day. Weirdly, I didn’t mind that mom had magically used at least 2 large onions in the soup. I count these nights eating macaroni soup as one of the few ways and times that mom tried to have a selfless connection with me, even if only through food. One of the other memorable times was her return from alcohol rehab in Fort Smith after I graduated high school. She made a mammoth pot of macaroni soup, and we ate the entire pot. I can’t see this moment as accidental. Mom returned from rehab, a completely different person.
When our trailer burned at City View and we moved to Tontitown’s fringe, this tradition died. My “cousin” Leta, who owned the house in Tontitown, where we moved, worked at the Venesian Inn. Because she could bring home endless food, it was from there I discovered my love of Italian dressing. Even as dad and family and friends had endless drunken cookouts, I found that salads with huge cut-up tomatoes and a bottle of Viva Italian salad dressing were available. I consumed truck loads of rolls and salad.
In closing, I’ll finish with mom’s secret Mashed Potatoes recipe. This recipe has been sought after for years, so share it only with trusted friends and family.
You’ll need whatever kind of potatoes are on sale, a bit of milk (canned if you have it), a bit of pepper and salt, and access to non-menthol cigarettes. You’ll need to smoke constantly while boiling, mashing, and mixing the potatoes. Also, don’t knock the ashes from the cigarette as you cook. Allow them to fall freely into the potatoes. If you’re adventurous, coarsely cut a large onion into preposterously large pieces and throw them in the mashed potatoes. If the potatoes are lumpy, don’t notice. Hungry people don’t notice, much less comment, that the potatoes are lumpy. If you get a particularly large chunk of onion, spit it into your hand and keep eating. If anyone notices something that looks like ashes in the potatoes, tell them it’s pepper. Fun fact: it is almost impossible to taste cigarette ashes in mashed potatoes, no matter how much is present if you add pepper and onions to them. It’s for that reason that I mentioned that you shouldn’t smoke menthols – which are easily detectable.
Note: I was pleasantly surprised to learn that no one else puts onions in mashed potatoes. In 2017, I wrote about “Newport Potatoes.” Many people thought I made it up, even after citing the episode of “Master Of None.”
Yesterday, I exited through the back door of my house to collect the trash blown loose from my villainous neighbors. I went house left to the front.
Note: I am using the term “house left” just like actors would when reading or hearing “stage left.” It’s a handy trick to distinguish which side of the house you’re talking about, mostly when gossiping about your neighbors. If you don’t gossip or speculate about your neighbors, chances are you’re not one of my people.
My Latinx neighbor was outside with another gentleman. A ladder was near the front of the garage. I peered up to see that they were installing security cameras. The neighbor tends to work at nights, leaving his wife nervously at home. I used to tease him that his encompassing fence managed to conceal potential intruders rather than thwart them. Additionally, when working, his lights often pointed annoyingly in my face or a random direction.
Now that I know he has installed cameras, I can’t get the idea out of my head of doing weird puppet or stick figure shows above the fenceline so that the rear-facing camera on the right side of his house will capture my imagination come to life. I laughed earlier this afternoon when I realized that I was Googling creative and bizarre characters to buy for just such an endeavor. The internet being what it is, there are a lot of websites for this sort of zaniness.
Now that it’s starting to take form, the urge to bring the idea to fruition is almost insurmountably overwhelming me.
The idea of my neighbor’s face reviewing his camera footage to discover that someone has staged a stick or puppet show above his fenceline brings me joy.
Once again, having pictures of my house during the stages of construction saved me a lot of heartaches today. If you own a Rausch-Coleman home, these pictures can quite literally save your life. And also a lot of time, if that sort of thing is important to you.
The other morning, my wife texted me to tell me the cheap wire shelf in the laundry room had broken free from its mooring on the right side. When I got home, I remembered that not only was the shelf cheap, but only one undersupport was installed for the entire length. Per the manufacturer, 3 were recommended for that length. When one of the people in charge came to visit me to address some major concerns that weren’t addressed, I mentioned this to him. “We take that sort of thing very seriously.” They took it so seriously that houses built after mine had the same horrible wire shelving – and insufficient supports on their shelving too.
I couldn’t find the screws that attached. There’s a reason for that!
Before starting a massive overhaul, which it needs, I opted to fix the loose end. I bought toggle bolts of varying sizes. I climbed up unsafely on a small unstable stool and pushed my screwdriver through. It was solid behind both holes, which puzzled me.
I took out my cutters and clipped off the two plastic protuberances, expecting a lot of resistance from the screws or broken screws inside. Surprisingly, they cut easily. Still no screws.
Just as I was about to screw a replacement through to push through the toggle bolt, I had a flash of caution.
I walked around and exited to the garage and confirmed my suspicion.
I came into the office and found my picture file from 2015, the one containing a couple of hundred pictures from various stages of the house being built. By the way, we didn’t get permission to do this. By the second visit to view the progress, I decided to do it. I wish I would have caught them doing the groundwork and pipes, too, because we had some strange issues with that, as I wrote about before. One of our delivery drives discovered the sinkhole in the front yard by running directly into it. I imagine this dampened his urge to shortcut through people’s yards for a while. Especially Rausch Coleman homes.
Behind that wall was the main electrical panel for the house.
Worse yet? The installer didn’t use screws at all in the connector for the wire frame to sit in. He made holes about 1/8″ of an inch deep with a screwdriver and just pushed the small protuberances into those tiny holes. Nothing was holding the connector holder up, nor supporting the weight of the rack.
I shook my head, not in surprise, but in confirmation.
It’s a small thing but the person taking a dangerous and simple shortcut like that could have caused a really large problem. Everyone who notes such things can’t help but wonder what else they skimped on and especially those things out of sight.
By the way, every time we visited, we found alcohol in the house. It’s not uncommon for subcontractors. No one is watching. An employee of the company who came and ate lunch with us a few times told us that it was very common and that they were constantly being told to hide the evidence. (Instead of not to drink while working on houses.) I saw contractors drinking while working on houses, too.
Having access to people who will tell you the literal truth was refreshing. One of the project managers told me a bookful of stories before leaving his job.
I still believe that if you buy a house, the contractors and builders should provide pictures of all the stages of construction. It helps everyone. When you need to repair, install, or modify anything, these pictures give you an immediate view of what is lurking.
Also, just because I’m weird, I think that if I were a builder, I’d include pictures of me, too. And probably in costume.