Whit Gentry has been generous enough to allow me to post this short essay. It is truly a window into someone's personality. I have corresponded with Whit and thought he was a good guy. After reading this essay I concluded without a doubt, I am correct, he is a good guy and a very good writer. He conveys a lot of feeling and emotion in this short essay. It evoked strong childhood memories of my own. Kudos to Whit for his insight! Read this, I bet it will evoke memories for you as well.
Life is but a Collection of Memories
I recently found out that a childhood friend and dear memory of mine had passed away. Even though our paths had not crossed in well over fifty years, the memory was always there for me to call upon. My life after sixty seven years remains to be touched by the time we spent together.
In the early 1950’s, it was common and expected of the grown children to return to their parents house with the grandkids in tow. My parents were always pleased that I wanted to take the forty mile drive to grandpa and grandma’s house at least once a month. My grandparents were also always glad to see us and pleased that their grandson wanted to see them. Well, I did want to see them and I did love being with them on their small farm with a garden, cows, horses, and chickens. What really pleased me though was the opportunity to see the neighbors.
Gordon and Vera Black lived in the next house down the gravel road. They also had two horses but what they had that really interested me was three daughters. To me Gordon Black was one of the king pins or pillars of the community of Foreman, Arkansas, population 903. Mr. Black worked at Welch’s Department Store on Main Street and was located across from the hotel and the Sheriff’s Office which had a jail cell. As far as I was concerned, Mr. Black owned Welch’s Department Store.
I respected Mr. Black but I admired his three daughters more. The oldest daughter was Amanda, several years older than me and since she was considerably taller than me, I came to just about her waist; I knew that I never had a chance to win her heart. The youngest daughter, Carol, was still in diapers that seemed to always be fouled and my memory of those garments was just too fresh for me to consider being her best friend. The middle daughter was by far the pick of the litter to me. Yes, she was a little taller than me but love can overcome some steep obstacles. To this day I can remember a round faced beauty with ample freckles framed by brownish blonde hair and a smile that could melt the hardest of hearts.
After visiting with the grandparents, I would sprint down the gravel road or cross the two barbed wire fences and pasture to get to the Black’s homestead. The first vision at the Black’s house that lit me up was the radiant face of Jane Black. In my sixty seven years of observing many sun rises, I must say that it was never as bright as Jane Black’s face on those Saturday afternoons. I was eight and she was ten, life was good and its memory is as if it were last month.
Saturdays were special in the pre television days, we would each get a quarter from our parents and would then walk the gravel road to town, which seemed like many miles of houses, farms, a stream and a railroad; but today the distance has been reduced to hardly more than a mile and the people that travel it today don’t know what they’re missing.
What an adventure walking to town and when we reached downtown Foreman, a whole city block of bustling stores on each side of Main Street and cars parked in front of the stores on the paved street, we were in awe. We would stand on the sidewalk in front of the hotel and just take in the enormity of it all, it was mind boggling. The picture show was at the other end of the block from the hotel and next to my Uncle Rob and Aunt Willie’s grocery store that was a bank at one time and had a walk in vault where the potatoes and onions were kept so they wouldn’t sprout. I liked to play in the big black vault but the onion odor could be overcoming at times.
With our treasures of twenty five cents each, we would pay Mr. Stuart a dime each to get into the movie house and we could buy a six ounce bottle of Coke for a nickel and a box of popcorn for another nickel, leaving us each with ten cents since we shared the coke and the popcorn. The serial of Flash Gordon was my favorite and Jane liked Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. I think she liked them because she had a horse that looked like Trigger.
When the movie was over, we would get a nickel’s worth of candy at Uncle Rob and Aunt Willie’s store and would walk the sidewalks that were filling with people coming to town on Saturday. Wooden benches lined the sidewalk and were a prime location for people to occupy as they visited with folks walking the sidewalk. Other folks sat in their cars and visited as people passed by. My dad and grandpa would drive both cars to town Saturday afternoon and park one in a prime place where the family could sit and visit with passersby that evening.
One of the most entertaining things for Jane and me to do was to peek into the pool hall, a forbidden place for young people. We loved to peer into the pool hall and be swished along by the grownups walking the sidewalk. “You kids get along”. I guess they thought they were saving our souls. Of all the time that we sneaked a peek, we never saw anything that resembled the stories of what happened at the Pool Hall; what a disappointment. Before we rode home with our parents, we would spend our last nickel on an ice cream bought at the drug store, the place where the big kids hung out. The drug store with its’ black and white tile checkerboard floor, small metal tables with metal chairs, and marble counter with bright red swivel stools was a place you had to grow into to be accepted.
I feel it necessary to come clean now about an affair I had while being friends with Jane. It was the forth grade and Miss Casey became the center of the universe for me. As I reflect back on the forth grade and try to identify what I learned most, the only recollection I have is the long beautiful legs of Miss Casey. She’s probably about a hundred years old now.
After entering the fifth grade, Jane and my relationship took a leap forward. She was thirteen and I was eleven, almost. She had free reign to ride her horse and my grandpa occasionally allowed me to take his plow horse for a ride with Jane. There is no telling how many miles we covered both on and off the road. Sometimes we would take a lunch and be away from home five or six hours and no one ever expressed a concern about our absence or what we were doing.
My grandpa spanked me only one time in my life and it was because of Jane. We had left in the morning, riding our horses, and ended up in town that afternoon. After we drank a coke, we untied our horses and rode them slowly down Main Street, like we were grownups. After we crossed the railroad tracks and were on the gravel road home Jane said, “I’ll race you home” and she took off like a banshee. I took off after her and I quickly discovered that I was no longer in charge. The old plow horse knew where he was, he never caught Jane but when he got to his farm he abruptly turned right and didn’t stop until he got to the backyard of the farmhouse where grandpa happened to be sitting under a shade tree. When the old horse made the right turn, me and the saddle slid to the left side of the horse and that is where I was when he stopped in front of grandpa. The horse was covered with lather and breathing hard. Grandpa pulled me off the side of the horse and took me to the smokehouse where I was made to understand that it was not acceptable to run the horse from town. Fearing embarrassment I never told Jane about my dramatic arrival or the lesson that had been pressed upon my behind.
As Jane and I grew older, the time we spent together waned. The advent of hormones, teens, and cars separated us from our frequent gatherings. The forty miles between us seemed to grow.
I haven’t seen, spoken or communicated with Jane in over fifty years, and now I’ll never have that chance. I wish I could have told her that I was blessed to know her and am a better person for knowing her. I miss you but you will always be with me, Jane Black.
I’ve just finished writing a novel and the heroine of my story, an FBI agent, is named Jane Black. When I was writing the story I came to this character and without pre-thought or planning, my two fingers typed out Jane Black unconscientiously. Being of a simple mind, it never occurred to me until a year later when I was told of Jane’s passing that my heroine, Jane Black was really my Jane Black.
The mind is scary sometimes.
Whit's book, see my review several posts back.
Whit's book, see my review several posts back.