Looking over the 2021 calendar, wondering where this year went, along with all the other years, I realized we missed an important family milestone.
Fifty years ago last August, Dad drove the Pontiac station wagon up the dirt road to our Arkansas home for the first time. I remember the headlights panned over the front of the stone house, revealing a structure that was so much smaller than the home we left in New Mexico. Dad turned off the car, and no one said anything for a couple of minutes. Then my 12-year-old sister Marisa voiced the question we all were thinking: "We have to live here?!"
It was a harrowing ordeal moving from Hobbs to Siloam Springs. Dad drove the U-Haul truck with me and my brother riding along. Mom drove my sisters in the station wagon. Dad was definitely not comfortable driving the big truck. He tended to move toward the side of the road when traffic was approaching, his knuckles white on the steering wheel. His demeanor did not fill me with confidence. Somehow, we got separated from Mom and the girls, but we drove on until we arrived at grandma's house in Eastland, Texas. Mom showed up an hour later, crying and frazzled because she had spent time back-tracking trying to find us. I can only imagine the bedtime conversation between my parents that night.
We continued the journey after breakfast the next day. The truck would go no faster than 50 miles per hour, and Mom was not going to lose us again. She stayed behind us regardless how slow the truck drove. We were traveling with our beagle dog, and kids being kids, stops were frequent. Dad may have taken a few wrong turns as well, but for whatever reasons for delay, it was dark when we arrived in Siloam. We parked the U-Haul at the Eastgate Motel ,where we planned on spending the night. Only Dad had seen the house prior to the move, and we kids were excited to see it. We had to keep the dog there for the night anyway, so we piled back into the Pontiac and headed to our new abode.
My sister's disappointed question spoke for the rest of us. The house was in really bad shape. It had been rented for several years and maintenance was obviously not a high priority on the previous owner's list. Dad took the flashlight and led us through the house. If we had taken a vote, I believe my siblings and I would have wanted to head back to New Mexico. The carpet was filthy. The kitchen and bathrooms were disaster areas. There was no central air conditioning (or heat as we would find out in a few weeks). There were three bedrooms, but they were very small.
Dad assured us things would look better in the morning, that we were all just tired. We left the beagle on the back porch for the night and headed back to the motel. No one said much on the drive back.
The next week was spent cleaning and repairing as much as we could. We learned to drink sulfur water. I spent more time outside in the woods and at the river than I did in the house. To me, the grass, trees, wildlife, and river were slices of heaven. We didn't have those back in the New Mexico desert. Here, we could walk in the yard barefoot without stepping on stickers or fire ants. An old apple tree was full of yellow apples. Huckleberries, plums, and blackberries were abundant as were pecans and walnuts. We ate wild persimmons for the first time. Squirrels were plentiful for hunting, and we could fish to our hearts' content. The land upon which the house stood was obviously the reason Dad made the purchase, and where the real value lay.
The house was old when we purchased it, but now it is better than it ever was. Central air was added 25 years ago, the roof replaced several times, water filtration removed the sulfur odor, and additions to accommodate another bathroom were made. Mom refuses to even consider living anywhere else. During that time we respected the land by managing timber, keeping the pasture mowed, and not building haphazardly. Much of the landscape is as it was when we first saw it, and there are no plans to change it.
Fifty years witnessed my growth from a teen to the edge of old age. I left this place once, but it pulled me back, thankfully. So much of yesterday is now just memories, good and bad. Family members have passed on, and new lives entered, completing the circle of renewal. The one constant has been the land, silent and enduring, taking and giving, but always nurturing.
Fifty years ago our family transplanted to this place and set down new roots. Those roots now run deep, anchoring our family tree solidly to this place we call home. We don't have to live here now, but we do, joyfully. Dad was right. The morning made everything look better.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.