The Gate Is Always Open For You!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hometown Glory: The Memory In My Mind.

I’m trying to find my voice, so please forgive me if it jingles like I’m rambling. This sounds extremely cliché, but some things are the hardest things to say. When I was a little boy, I vividly remember listening to Judy Garland sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in that grand scale MGM musical classic “The Wizard of Oz”. I saw myself in the character Dorothy Gale: a person that dreamed of getting out of her small town, and questioning what wonders lay ahead of her from her simple provincial life.  Looking back on it now, I can now say that it was Dorothy and Toto that first taught me it was okay to think outside of the proverbial box and that the dreams that I dare to dream really do come true.

            I’m in my early twenties and the only thing I ever wanted to do was get the hell out of Batesville, Arkansas. It wasn’t easy, believe me. It took a lot of courage to leave my own backyard and all that I knew. I’ll never forget hugging my mother (who was in tears, because letting go is so hard to do) one last time before backing out of my drive way knowing I’d only return for holidays and other special occasions. I had finally made the decision, which was the nucleus of so many late night talks with some good friends of mine who had given me opportunity to carpe de em and start living! I knew that if I didn’t take the chance an atrocious WHAT IF? Would loom and plague my living existence forever more. I couldn’t live with that. As the Beatles so cheerfully sing:  “I get by with a little help from my friends”…indeed…they were so right! I needed wide open spaces…room to make a big mistake, but in my mind I kept singing, “You might just make it after all.”
            The plan: My three best friends, one of their children, and a Yorkshire terrier named Milo were to drive from Hayward, California (the heart of the bay) to Batesville, Arkansas (hometown glory) in2 ½ days. Turn around, and take me back to California with flowers in my hair singing, “San Francisco! Open your Golden Gate! You’ll let no stranger wait! Knock at your door!” in a state of liberation and adventure! In 2 ½ days they arrived.  My red pick-up truck was loaded with nothing more than clothes, a few Anne Rice novels, Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1”, all 7 seasons of The Golden Girls, the 1st season of Mama’s Family (amongst some of other keepsakes), and my TomTom GPS which I had affectionately named Edna, and I was California bound staring out onto the blank page before me!
It was on Highway I-40, as my friend was driving, that I began to realize and appreciate Home for what it truly was…
Bateville, Arkansas: the second oldest town in the state, and county seat of Independence County, is located in north central Arkansas. The town cradles a population of just over 10,000 souls. The Mayberryish community is nestled within a sprawling valley that’s formed by the dark green Ozark Mountain foothills.  The majestic  trout filled White River curls and cuts its way through the valley and a peaceful park by the name of Riverside is set up on the left bank littered with towering oak and pecan trees. You will also see the newly built hydroelectric dam that was just erected on top of the now useless lock that was once used to transport ferries in the olden days. During the fall, many people pick the pecans for their holiday pastry treats. These trees, amongst others, also erupt into a violent explosion of color. Autumn is the greatest season in Arkansas in my opinion.
Batesville’s most famous resident is the race car driver Mark Martin (I’m not a Nascar fan). When you drive down Ramsey Mountain (it’s a glorified hill) and make your decent down into the valley you will come across the “Welcome to Historic Batesville” sign and underneath that happy salutation your eyes will gaze at multicolored blue, white, and black letters that gaily proclaim: HOME OF MARK MARTIN. I would love nothing more than to have my own name placed on the marquee above his. Hey, it could happen. The good Lord knows that sign has more than enough room for me!
My hometown has a church on every corner; or so it seems. Remember, Arkansas is the buckle of the great American Bible Belt. I estimate there are over 40 churches. This includes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The Jehovah’s Witnesses two Kingdom Halls (I dare you to ask them why they don’t have windows!), and the Christian Science Church. It’s a strong religious community. You can drive down Central Avenue and see West Baptist Church (their new sanctuary looks like a giant adobe from the outside), The Church of Christ, and the First United Methodist Church all facing each other from across the street! But then and again, I live within the Bible Belt.

The two primary streets that carry the majority of the traffic are named Harrison and St. Louis. St. Louis Street is nicknamed “the strip” because the majority of fast food places are located there. Batesville has seven pharmacies (one recently burned), three grocery stores, four pizza restaurants (one recently burned), four Mexican restaurants, two Spanish markets, and four banks. There is no diversity. My hometown is the type of community where everyone says, “Hi!” and knows everything about everyone. God forbid your picture and name appears on the front page of the Batesville Daily Guard for something wrong! You will be the talk of the town. After reading Grace Metaliocious’s Peyton Place, I swore that I had personally lived it. 

Main Street forms the majority of Batesville’s historic district. The street is lined with massive oaks and antebellum southern mansions that are over one hundred years old!  But even those plantation style houses with all their pillars and chimney flus cannot attract all your attention like the gorgeous Queen Anne Victorians that also share the same thoroughfare with their shiny stained glass windows. The majority of these houses are kept up to character and restored by private owners. These houses are immaculate and some are even frightening to look upon because they send the admirer eerie vibes. I’ve talked to several house owners and they say that the floors creak and that some even have secret hallways that were once used by servants! These houses are very special to me because I used to dream of living in one myself. Every year the annual Batesville Christmas Parade is held on Main Street. In addition, all of the houses are laced with hundreds of lights as both sides of the street are crowded with spectators.

Past those lovely formidable houses, First Baptist Church, The Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Church (they are podded together), one will see the original buildings of downtown Batesville still inhabited. These buildings have been transformed into antique shops with names such as “Back in Time”, My Myra”, and “The Spinning Wheel.”  You will also see Wheeler’s Shoes and other classic businesses that have been owned by families for generations like Huer’s Shoes, and Thompson’s Jewelry. But my favorite shop located on Main Street is the Paper Chase Bookstore. It is two stories high and has a black spiral staircase ascending into the ceiling above. It is a treasure trove.

Even though the old courthouse has been demolished, a new one stands in its place. But right beside it a mural resides on the wall of another business depicting what it used to look like. The majority of these buildings are constructed of red bricks. One even depicts an old Coca-Cola mural that was painted on its side from many years ago. There’s even an old Rexall Pharmacy logo where a drugstore once operated. There’s even a park on Main Street that was formed between an old building that had been destroyed. It’s now called Pocket Park.  Across the street from that stands the old Landers Theater which has been recently remodeled into a nondenominational church. The Melba theatre resides on lower Main. In the olden days, these were marvelous movie palaces. The Melba was restored several years ago. Thank God, because I remember watching “Harriet the Spy” with a ferret running loose through the building back when I was a kid! Nowadays For $2.00 you can see a movie once they have made the big money at the commercial box offices. The Melba theatre is opened every weekend. And don’t forget, popcorn and coke are $1.00 each. Beside the Melba, there lies an empty concrete slab which used to be the Marvin Hotel and local bordello where men would omission off the trains for an erotic suare. The tracks ran behind the establishment. That concrete slab is the only thing that has stood the test of time from that period so long ago.

 The local hangout is the Wal-Mart Super Center! It has become the town square that’s opened 24/7 excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If you’re board, you go to Wal-Mart. Have I mentioned yet that there’s a place behind the golf course, down by the river, through a wooded area nicknamed “fuck docs” by all the young people? Yep, it’s there…lover’s lane.  Batesville, Arkansas (hometown glory): It’s frozen in time, and I think about it every day. It’s the perfect place to raise a family. Even though I’m now in the Bay Area, 2,000 something miles away, I still think of my days standing in Riverside Park singing softly to myself “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and dreaming of the dreams I dared to dream…
As of now, I don’t believe happiness is in your own back yard. But I’m banking on one thing: Dorothy was right: There’s no place like home.

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