There was a time when my paternal grandparents lived on a farm in a tiny town called Caddo Gap, Arkansas. The place was little more that a blip on the map, but it had once been a site that boasted a post office and a jail. By the time I went to visit when I was six or seven years old the old town had been mostly abandoned and the road into the hills lead to a hodgepodge of homes and farms far away from what I then thought of as civilization.
Many of the places were still devoid of indoor plumbing and electricity. The people lived the way their ancestors had existed a hundred years before, save for their automobiles and tractors. My grandparents appeared to have the most grand and modern home in the area that was fully equipped with an indoor bathroom and electricity that ran their lights and their television. Nonetheless it was not such luxuries that drew me to our visits with them, but rather the glories of nature than were in abundance around them.
Without the distractions of city life, nature became our entertainment and it was always a glorious adventure. Since we always visited during the summer when school was closed for a long holiday, the area was in full bloom. Crops of squash, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, corn, potatoes, peaches, berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, peas, okra, cucumbers, and onions were growing in profusion in fields in front of and behind the house. It was a cornucopia of food that my grandparents would preserve and store for use in the long winter months.
I don’t think I have ever seen more butterflies and bees anywhere else on earth. The tiny critters were drawn to the feast that my grandparents had created. Birds circled overhead chirping songs that my grandmother seemed to understand as she called back to them with sounds that mimicked their mode of communication. The cow grazed lazily in the pasture, becoming bloated with the milk that my grandfather would collect each day. Those buckets of foaming white liquid were beautiful in their simplicity and worth.
The chickens and were free to range and enjoy a life of loving care from my grandparents. They laid their eggs which my grandmother carefully collected each morning and serenaded us with their constant clucking. The rooster was our alarm clock, announcing the dawn of each new day. Every so often Grandma would select one of the older members of the flock as a candidate for dinner. She would deftly catch the unsuspecting fowl by the neck and make a quick motion with her wrist that ended the life of the bird. That night our chicken dinner would be fresh and tasty, if a bit unnerving for me.
I was always in awe of my tiny grandmother whose height never quite reached five feet and whose weight was alway under one hundred pounds. This tiny woman was a tower of strength and energy and folk knowledge that was as interesting as the pages of the Foxfire book series. She might have authored one of those volumes had she been able to read or write. Instead she spread her knowledge through example, showing us how to track animals and where to find edible berries and plants in the wild.
Grandma would take us on long hikes into the hills behind her farm, teaching us how to clear a safe path for ourselves by beating the brushy land with a walking stick before proceeding forward. She counseled us to wear hats to keep the sun from damaging our skin and to protect our arms with shirts that had long sleeves. She was like a tracker of old, able to notice even the tiniest change in the landscape. She may not have had schooled knowledge, but she was an encyclopedia of common sense. She used it to hunt squirrels and birds that she cooked in tasty dishes. She wielded a cane fishing pole like a professional fisherman.
The sunrises and sunsets on the farm were spectacular and when the evening came stars filled the nighttime sky in an abundance I had never seen in the city. Lightning bugs flitted around the yard and a cool breeze stole away the heat of the day. We spent our evenings sitting on the front porch in the dark, talking of family and neighbors and the accomplishments of the day. Grandpa told stories from his boyhood in such an entertaining way that we were captivated.
Then there were Grandma’s flowers which grew in beds in front of and behind the house. Many have said that she was able to plant a dry dead stick and make it bloom. Somehow that story seemed so real to me because I have never before or since seen such a variety of blooms at a private residence. The landscape was a riot of colors that produced happy thoughts in anyone who gazed at them.
The night would bring bedtime and we would all go inside to sleep with the sounds of frogs and wind whispering past the open windows. Once in awhile we might hear the cry of a wildcat coming from the hills. The big box fans sang a lullaby that put us to sleep where we dreamed of the beautiful earth and it creatures that resided on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. It seemed like heaven to me.