Mike and I have embarked on the biggest tour that we have ever taken in our trailer. It is a very special trip centering around a visit with our eldest grandson, Andrew, at Purdue University. We’ll see him this coming Saturday in conjunction with the annual Family Weekend. We decided to plan our route so that it goes through Arkansas and Kentucky because much of the family history of my father’s ancestors played out in those states. We are hoping to locate the grave sites of my great grandfather, great grandmother, and my great great grandmother. It will be quite an adventure.
We set out from Houston on Sunday and made our first stop at Caddo Lake State Park near Jefferson, Texas. It’s a place that we keep visiting because it is breathtakingly beautiful with its pine forest and the ancient cypress trees that grow along the shores of the lake. It’s a boater’s and fisherman’s paradise but also a tranquil space where we always lose the stresses and anxieties of daily living.
We’ve outfitted our trailer so that there are no amenities lacking. My kitchen is stocked with everything that I need to make gourmet meals. We’ve added lighting and storage spaces so that we can take games and books and extra clothing in preparation for any kind of change in the weather. I love sitting at the table at night with the windows open and the sounds of the wind and nature lulling me into a state of total relaxation.
Our freezer and refrigerator are stocked with all of Andrew’s favorite foods that he can’t get in Indiana. We have some Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream just waiting for him. I made three containers of my spicy Cajun seafood gumbo and froze it so that all he will have to do is zap it in his microwave oven. I’ve got some Julio’s serano pepper salsa chilling away along with two big bags of chips. I even have the gummy bears that he requested. Best of all I ordered some Carne Guisada for him from Gringo’s. His biggest complaint is that there is no good Tex Mex in Lafayette, Indiana. It’s nice having the means to deliver it to him and I hope that he will be both surprised and happy when we come bearing gifts.
Yesterday and today we are camped at Lake Catherine State Park that is about ten miles away form Hot Springs, Arkansas. We spent time attempting to find my grandparent’s farm in Caddo Gap yesterday. We found the town which was the sight of the westernmost travels of Hernando De Soto as well as the center of the Caddo Indian tribe. The historic statue that was there when I was a child still stands proudly. The local high school has adopted it and built a nicely landscaped flowerbed around it. There are also some old buildings that were part of a once booming town. A new post office now stands in place of the old one which is a shame because the original building was so unique.
We spent a great deal of time attempting to find the bridge that goes across the Caddo River and then leads to the road on which my grandparents lived. Next to the more modern day and substantial bridge is an old dilapidated suspension bridge that was at one time the only way in and out of the area. Even when I was little it was a somewhat daunting thing to even think of crossing it but my grandmother had done it and so my brothers and I made feeble attempts. To say that the process was scary is an understatement.
Our plan for today is to try to find those graves of my great grandparents. They were once on private land in Scott County Arkansas but now they are located inside a national forest. Mike and I suspect that we may be attempting to find a needle in a haystack but it will be fun trying. I only pray that I won’t be bitten by chiggers. The last time I was in this part of Arkansas I was literally eaten alive and the only thing that finally did the trick was using lye soap for bathing. It burned like the dickens and dried out my skin so much that even the sores went away.
While we are out and about we may try one more time to find my grandparents’ farm. If only someone were outside we just might get lucky. I’m thinking that we need to get there before the post office closes. Surely someone who works there will know how to find the road that we are trying to locate.
If we have some extra time we’ll make a pass by Hot Springs as well. I don’t know what it’s like now but I remember it as a kitchy kind of town. I’ve always been fascinated by the spas and bathhouses but I’ve never been willing to pay the kind of cash that they demand for their therapeutic waters. It always seemed to me to be a kind of poor man’s vacation spot otherwise. I usually try to imagine what it may have been like to grow up there like Bill Clinton did. I remember voting for him because he and I seemed to be on the same wavelength. I felt that he somehow understood me and I him. I suppose that he has that effect on lots of people. They call it charisma and he certainly has it.
I feel like a modern day explorer with my trailer which is the equivalent of a covered wagon. Instead of using the north star or a compass our GPS gets us anywhere that we wish to go. I cook my grub on a two burner gas stove or inside my microwave oven. Our truck takes us on even the roughest roads. Sometimes we have little idea where our paths will take us but it’s always an adventure.
I can feel the spirit of my grandparents in this neck of the woods. I remember walking through the trees and up the hills with my grandmother dressed in her overalls and rubber boots. She instructed us on the ways of nature and survival and told us tales of her childhood. My grandfather drove us to the bigger town of Glenwood and bought us bottles of orange crush which we sipped while he eagerly bragged about us to his friends while puffing on sweet smelling cigars. I find myself looking for Grandma and Grandpa’s dog, Lady, and wanting to help milk the cow and feed the chickens like I used to do.
Those were glorious times and it’s hard to believe that they were more than fifty years ago. There were still homes without electricity or plumbing back then. When we visited them we either had to hold our bladders or go inside a dark outhouse where spiders built their webs even as we answered the call of nature. Those were moments that I will always remember. The world is so different now but few of the modern developments are as exciting and grand as those experiences with my grandparents. I really do hope that I somehow find that farm although something tells me that the old house is probably gone by now.
This is a truly beautiful part of our country. It is little wonder that my grandparents and great grandparents and great great grandparents loved it so.