Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Forty Years, Gone in a Flash

So, I am sure you have heard that the time machine DiLorean from the Back to the Future movies has arrived in our current time, which is, as far as I can tell, it’s final destination. So, if no one has a need for it today, do you think I could borrow it?
Our first stop, an autumn day in 1975. While James Carlisle is working at Congo Mercantile, we swiftly remove the time machine mechanism from the car that Michael J. Fox made famous, and install it in James’ 1971 Dodge Challenger. (You ask how we do that? Don’t bother me with details.) Okay. Now, we make our one and only change to history during this adventure. James takes a different route to pick me up for our date that night, thereby avoiding the awful crash that ended the Challenger’s useful life. (James thankfully emerged relatively unscathed, by the way.)
So, now with the correct car in the picture, our journey continues. Next stop, May 31, 1976. Faith Lutheran Church, Little Rock, Arkansas, where a wedding is taking place. Looking around, we see lots of happy folks, dressed in their Sunday best, even though it is actually Monday (Memorial Day) evening. The young ladies seem to be sporting the same hairstyle, long, straight and shiny, with the young men almost the same, except maybe just a little shorter. The bridesmaids are wearing a light blue calico print dress that will hang in the closet from this day forward. Each is also sporting a wide picture hat. The boys (sorry, men) including the groom, are wearing identical light blue polyester tuxedos with white shirts and light blue bow ties. Jenny’s dress, made from the same pattern as the bridesmaids, is a simply beautiful concoction of white satin and lace, with no train, and a simple veil, in the “end of the hippy era” peasant style.
Happy smiles are the order of the day, and history is made as both of Jenny’s grandmothers spend time in the same room while remaining civil to each other. Also, the groom is meeting the bride’s father for the very first time, and his tough State policeman demeanor does not scare her intended away.
We leave this happy group and speed quickly to another location in Little Rock, the tuxedo shop in downtown Little Rock where our 1976 group was outfitted. The year on the calendar behind the counter displays 2002. Today, James and Jenny are arranging to order a tuxedo for another groom, their oldest son Chris. They will also order the outfit of the day for Chris’ younger brother, Jon, who along with James will be one of the groomsmen. They ask for suggestions on a suit for Chris and Jon’s young nephew, Jordan, who at 2 months will be too small for the clothing they have on display. It is decided that the baby’s mother, Chris and Jon’s younger sister Carrie, who is also in the wedding party, will have to shop elsewhere for the appropriate suit and tie.
Jenny happens to mention the old pale blue masterpieces from years ago, and the clerk says. “Oh yes, we still have those in the attic.”
 A mischievous gleam enters James’ eye as he asks, “I don’t suppose you would let me borrow one of those jackets for the wedding rehearsal?” In view of the amount of the check we were writing that day, this request is quickly accommodated. Chris’ sweet bride Katherine was about to learn just what she was getting into by joining this family.
More happy smiles, one more bouquet tossed at a Little Rock church. This time, the guests blow bubbles instead of throwing rice. The bride and groom head off to their honeymoon in Las Vegas, and son Jon and daughter Carrie lament items lost when Jon’s car was burglarized on the church parking lot during the rehearsal dinner.
Back in the time machine Challenger, James and I speed past through the next 14 years, arriving at North-side Church of Christ in Benton, just in time for a Sunday afternoon 40th. Anniversary reception.
This time, friends and family gather at a party coordinated by the three kids and their spouses. Not an easy task, as they live in Arkansas, Florida and Texas. All five grand-children will be in attendance. As is usually the case, the chatter of the cousins will be dominated by plans for Granny Camp, when all of them spend time with their grandparents. Spoiler alert- this year’s event has been renamed to Grand-cation, and it promises to be a once in a lifetime trip for all involved.
After an appropriate amount of cake and punch is consumed, and happy memories are shared, we leave in the time machine Challenger again. This will be the most difficult part of the plan to pull off.  I take the wheel and drive to the nearby car lot that now sells vehicles that look much like this seventies classic. We park it among its shinier counterparts, and try to imagine the look on the salesman’s face when he discovers it. The time machine can be utilized as needed by the lucky new owners. I take James hand as we walk off into the I-30 sunset together. Because, truth be told, there is no need to change a minute of our past. And the future is bright ahead.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Important Work for the New Year- Preserving the Past

  Social Media is the curse and the blessing of our modern day lives. These days, a casual conversation can explode into action in a matter of minutes. Sometimes the flames that result can be fanned into anger and resentment, but almost as often, it seems, amazing things happen when good ideas go viral.
        A very popular group on Facebook is called “Saline County Happenings and Memories.” Its 5800 members share old photos, recall their childhood, and even keep in touch on current events. Frequent topics range from what “used to be” in a certain location to “what they’re building” on a particular spot. It is a healthy group, well moderated so that the discussions don’t stray to unpleasant or off topic subjects.
        What is really fun is that when the right people see the posts, old photos get identified, lost and found items are returned to rightful owners. A good time is had by all.
        Recently, a seemingly innocent question sparked a plethora of posts with old pictures, ideas for preservation, and even a new Facebook group called “Save the Rowland/Nelson/Smith/Lenz House”. The spark plug of this page is Anthony Rushing, a military veteran, history teacher, and Historic Preservationist.  As a 6th generation Saline Countian, he has a personal interest in this property, since his own ancestors are buried in the nearby Nelson cemetery. In Anthony’s words: “I vision it as a structure to promote antebellum yeoman life as well as late 1800’s immigrant life. I think it could be used as a meeting place for anyone as a historical connection to our past.”
What might have been an idle discussion has blossomed into renewed efforts to restore and preserve a treasure that thousands have admired and wondered about on their daily journeys in Saline County.
        The house itself began as a log cabin that was built in the 1830’s, just after Arkansas became a state.  It was continuously inhabited, remodeled to suit each owner, and has watched history passing by its front porch for many generations. It acquired its most recent fa├žade just before the turn of the 20th century, and has remained much the same on the outside for more than 100 years. The last inhabitants lived here in 1992, and with the help of “Coach” Rushing’s students, it was restored during that decade, but is now badly in need of another rescue.
        So, what is in store for this monument to our pioneer spirit? The home is already on the National Historic Register, but as the friends of the Palace Theater in Benton learned, that doesn’t always count for much. Rushing has been in contact with folks that know what to do. He has already talked to Arkansas Historic Preservation, and even some experts on log buildings, who have their own television show called “Barnwood Builders.” Funds will be needed, a lot of sweat equity will be expended, and there are legal ownership matters to be dealt with.
        The fledgling group is planning a face to face gathering, and then I am sure things will start happening quickly. The recent success of the group who is developing the old Wagon Bridge across the Saline River has inspired this new effort. If you are interested in becoming actively involved in preserving our area’s heritage, watch for future announcements about ways that you can help. Since this column only appears monthly, a better way to keep up with the developments will be to watch the Facebook groups mentioned above. If you are not a social media aficionado, send me snail mail in care of Ouachita Life, or email me at
        An old TV show had a popular quote that said “I love it when a plan comes together.” When this discussion first started, someone posted a negative comment that said the reason the old house was not being kept up was “No-one around here cares.” That, my friends, is not true. The gauntlet has been thrown. We do care. Now, it is time to put action with our words. The future in the Ouachita region is growing brighter all the time.