Saturday, March 21, 2009

Welcome Surprises and Hidden Treasures

“Granny, Look Down!!!” My daughter-in-law’s shout prevented me from walking over my knee-high grandson. The others gathered for the Hunt family reunion laughed as I yelped and leaned down to scoop him up. It seems everyone in that pavilion on top of Petit Jean Mountain knew that my oldest son and his family were coming, except me. I was happy to switch from setting up dinner to accepting hugs and kisses from my sweeties.

Most of my favorite surprises involve someone I love, but had not expected to see at that moment. Of course, there may have been some sort of material gifts involved at one time or another, but nothing stands out like those warm smiles and hugs. A couple of years ago, all three kids cooperated in an elaborate plan to gather friends and relatives at Mills Park in Bryant for our 30th wedding anniversary. The number of people who were required to keep secrets that day was amazing, and certainly impressed James and me. Some plans have been far less involved, like the times my second son would drive down from Fayetteville to Paron on Sunday morning, and just appear in his spot next to me in the pew. Times like these make my heart race a little, and any previous aggravations just melt away like snow.

This time of year, nature catches us off-guard with her beauty. We should have known those Bradford pears would suddenly pop out one morning. After all, they were in the same spot last year. Still, though, when the sun catches a delicate redbud in the just the right way, we gasp with a new-found respect for God’s creation. Speaking of nature- if any of you remember my column about my oldest grandson’s apple tree- I’ve attached a recent picture. Just as expected- brave new leaves are sprouting!

During Ouachita back-roads jaunts, we’ve gotten used to seeing a patch of daffodils where an old home-place once stood. They remind us that someone once loved that spot enough to plant a few perennial decorations. But what do we make of a grouping alongside the freeway? Did some highway worker embark on an un-official beautification project? Or were these wayward bulbs scooped up from their former home and accidentally transplanted? Either way, they are a welcome sight, brightening a boring drive.

Sometimes, we feel that we’re the only one who didn’t know. While delivering last month’s issue in Saline County, I discovered that the Bryant Senior Center is a happenin’ place, at least at noon on the Wednesday I dropped in. The absolute lack of parking spaces outside was a big clue, but I assumed it just meant a meal was being served. Sounds of someone singing in a microphone, and an amplified guitar began to fill in the blanks, and I opened the inner door to a real Western dance hall. A live band was performing, and couples were two-stepping around the floor. A few sat at convenient tables, but food certainly wasn’t the focus that day.

Recently, I had another “who knew?” moment when my sister and niece arrived for a visit from Texas. I was thrilled when they called on a Saturday to say they would be coming that following Monday (my motto- Guest Room at the Ready). The real surprise was their mode of transportation. Did you know that a passenger train still arrives and departs from Malvern every day? More correctly, it happens in the middle of the night, but I was totally oblivious. ( A side note- this makes me miss the depots at Benton, Bauxite and Bryant all over again. There were all in place less than 35 years ago.) Each time we went down to meet the train, there was at least one other family there either meeting or sending off a loved one. In view of the crowded freeways, might we see a return to this reliable form of getting together?

 April brings Easter, and a different sort of surprise- the hidden treasure. Just as when we were kids, the current generation searches through tall grass and behind tree trunks for colorful eggs. In our day, they were usually hard-boiled, with maybe one fancy prize egg. Now, they use more durable plastic ones, all with the potential to contain a coin, or a jelly bean. Into the basket they go, and on to the next. Last year, my small grandson couldn’t get enough of this hide and seek game. Ahh, the thrill of the hunt.

 I’ve enjoyed finding hidden treasures over the years, too. In New Orleans, the dilapidated storefronts in the French Quarter shielded beautiful courtyards, complete with fountains and flowers. There was a surprise at every turn.

Once, in West Virginia, I entered a room in an old country store that completely took my breath away. In that location for over a century, its cathedral ceiling lit by well placed windows, it had been a favorite gathering spot for locals for generations. The stone hearth and numerous rocking chairs begged me to sit down and stay, perhaps forever. A very strong déjà vu feeling made it extremely hard for me to join my family and friends as they went on to see other sights.

Of course, we don’t have to travel to other states to find beauty and a sense of belonging. Maybe because we’re surrounded by so much splendor here all the time, we don’t notice it as much. Familiarity breeds …. Familiarity.  Are you in search of hidden treasure? Daylight savings time means we don’t have to get up as early to catch a sunrise. Peek out one of these mornings, and just take a deep breath. What a welcome surprise, and it’s been there all along.

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