I have made an extended effort to recall many of the memories of my childhood in general, and of Papa and Mama in particular. I have reflected in the soft light of morning, in the bright light of noon, in the waning light of evening, and in the silent and sleepless hours of the darkness of night.
I returned to the grounds where the old Bois D’Arc School once sat, and failed to find a single physical vestige of proof that the school had ever existed. A lush crop of corn, covering the land in every direction, reached its young tassels and half-formed ears toward a cloudless sky. Stillness and silence held sway where long ago the happy and never-ceasing babble of the voices of children rang and echoed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Deep within me, a lonely whisper of sadness silently sounded for the simple and dear things that once were, and are no more.
I drove one mile east to the place where the Bois D’Arc Baptist Church once stood. I again found no physical proof that the old church had ever occupied those sacred grounds. No sounds (except the silent sounds of my memories) were there. No sounds of her birth and maturity, her love and compassion, her hopes and dreams, her joys and sorrows, her songs and sermons, her prayers and praises, her message and ministry. No sounds of the joy she brought to the hearts of the widely scattered and depression-ridden farmers and farm wives during the few moments of neighborly contact and personal visitation that followed each of her services. No sounds of the countless “dinners-on-the-grounds” that were spread outside under the trees. No sounds of the piano that my mama once played during her worship services. No sounds of her funeral when her time had passed and her voice was hushed. Flourishing farm crops covered the land, and a graveyard-stillness gripped my memories of times and things that had so silently slipped away.
More than 20 years ago, I made a nostalgic trip back to the old rock falls on Island Creek where, along with my brothers and boyhood friends, I had fished and played during the years of my childhood and adolescence. The more-than-forty years of change had taken their toll. The large rock ledges had crumbled and fallen into the once-eight-feet-deep fishing hole. The upstream soil and silt and debris had washed in and served as a soft of cement to fill the spaces between the broken rocks, and to divert the now shallow waters into an altered channel. A few days ago I made another effort to return to the rock falls, an effort that resulted in total failure. Some of the once-familiar roads had been reincorporated into the farm land, devoid of any sign that they had ever been there. Strong strands of barbed wire fence defiantly stretched across some of the old roads that once led us down to what we called “The Island Creek Bridge”, where we tied the horses or mules, crawled through the barbed wire fence, eagerly began our quarter-mile-or-so walk along the south band of the creek, crossed over to the north bank at the “ford”, where there was another Ford (the bent and battered body of an old Model T) half-submerged in the sand and silt, and finally arrived at our favorite fishing hole: The rock falls of the meandering little brook that everyone called “Island Creek”. Not one single landmark of my youth remained. I was a total stranger in a totally strange land. I paused and sadly reflected on the fact that Thomas Wolfe had long ago tried to tell me: “You can’t go home again.”
I went back to the long-since-vacant lots where the beautiful old building of the Central Baptist Church is Itasca once stood, where I publicly expressed my faith in Christ, where I was baptized, where I was licensed to be a minister of the gospel, where Jerry and I first met and fell in love, and where the silent and haunting memories again tingled and tinkled in the deepest places of my heart and soul.
I went back to the old farm houses where we were born and raised, and found one of them reduced to a pile of ashes, and the other crumbling in rot and ruin and vermin-infested debris.
I walked again over the fields where as youths we had worked in the cotton and corn and garden and grain.
I lingered at the old well, which had been the main source of water for our family, and I sat for a while on the rough cement encasement which still stands around it.
I walked where the old barn once stood, where the shop was located, where the clothesline was stretched, where the woodpile constantly demanded that we hoist and saw and split and stack, and where the soil-stained and never motionless feet of six happy children once played.
As I walked, and as I mentally and emotionally returned to those long-ago times, a soft sense of Papa and Mama still lingered there, and distant and long-dormant memories came back to me; memories that were touched with the aura of the love and tenderness and innocent sense of security that undergirded our lives in that simple time and faraway home.
I insert my assurance that I have no desire to try to attribute sainthood or perfection to Papa and Mama. For even if there were imperfections and negatives, (and, of course, there were), they have long ago faded into insignificance because of my memories of the sacrificial and uncomplaining devotion with which they loved and nurtured and guided their six children toward and into and through the “Great Depression” of the early thirties, and out into the pursuit of our own lives and families and homes.
And all of this was done in a modest home that had only 480 square feet of floor space, no inside water, no inside plumbing, no bathroom, no lavatory, no commode, no kitchen sink, no kitchen drain, no clothes closets, no storage closets, no carpets, no rugs, no sofas, no couches, no recliners, no easy chairs, no insulation, no central heating, no air conditioning, no telephone, no gas, and no electricity until the late thirties.