Mama's Place: The two little girls

·5 min read
Louise Owens Finney (left) with her sister Patsy at Mama's place in Parks.
Louise Owens Finney (left) with her sister Patsy at Mama's place in Parks.

Editor's note: This edition of Mama's Place previously ran in June 2018.

Mary said she just remembered two little girls in the front yard. I smiled inside and out and exclaimed, “Oh my goodness!” with my signature high-pitched, lilting drawl.

Close your eyes and you can hear the rising and falling inflection and glimpse the little girls playing there at Mama’s place. How well I remember those same little girls – one brown-headed and slightly taller with brown eyes, the other a curly-haired blonde with eyes of blue. As Mary passed in the school bus on her way from Forester to Waldron, the two were invariably within earshot and more than likely within arm’s length of each other, stooped over searching for a four-leafed clover, linked arm in arm each holding a kitten, or gleefully chasing Tigenus the terrier or Oscar the hound.

Neighbor Fritz had told me that Mary enjoyed reading my column, that it triggered fond memories of her childhood in Forester and Cedar Creek, east of Mama’s place in Parks. Although I did not remember Mary, I do remember her younger brother Jerry. I was eager to meet Mary and hear her early Scott County memories.

Although Fritz too has roots in Forester and Cedar Creek, she now lives within sight of me in south Fort Smith. We relish sharing news – friendly gossip – from the land of our youth and have that gut-level bond that comes from having shared rides to school in the back of her cousin Mildred’s 1964 Mustang; her singing and my speaking at Gravelly United Methodist Church; and her bringing my family "Taco Soup à la Fritz" after we made Daddy’s funeral arrangements. Fritz is that kind of friend. After telling me that Mary enjoyed my column, she suggested that we celebrate my birthday at Williamsburg Kitchen on Thursday because Mary ate there after her weekly trip to the beauty shop.

We were sitting at our window table when Mary arrived at Williamsburg Kitchen with her son, who looked very much like his uncle Jerry from high school. Fritz introduced us, explaining, “This is Louise Owens Finney, the one I told you about from Scott County who writes the column in the Times Record. You remember Mama Vick’s little white house there on the highway in Parks where Louise and her sister Patsy lived.”

Mary replied without hesitation, “Oh, yes, I just remember two little girls in the front yard.”

Sixty-some-odd years later, Mary remembers two little girls in the yard at Mama’s place, and I, the curly-haired blonde, flash back to that yard with Patsy, both standing in the white, wooden yard chair craning our necks, looking for twins Pat and Linda Angel across Highway 28 East to come play kick the can, or jacks, or Monopoly. Mary recalls the highway being paved in 1952, the year of her high school graduation, and that the school bus detoured to many different routes on its journey from Forester to Waldron. Patsy and I both recall watching workers during the paving process, bulldozing and rolling the highway surface, cutting down our catalpa tree, and leaving our front yard much narrower when finished. However, neither of us could pinpoint the exact year the highway was paved. Now we know and experience a satisfied sense of closure on a significant life event only fellow history fanatics can imagine.

Reminiscing there in Williamsburg Kitchen, Mary smiled broadly while sharing her memory of riding with rural mail carrier Quinton Laird from her home to Waldron, even sitting in the front passenger seat – if she were lucky – and depositing mail in boxes on the right side of the highway. Biting my tongue to keep from interrupting, I could hardly wait to tell Mary that I, too, had ridden with Quinton and provided valuable assistance in delivering the mail, come rain, sleet or snow. Since transportation was limited at this time, rural mail carriers provided transport not only for people, but also for animals. Mary remembered delivering mail order baby chicks with Quinton. Although I never delivered chicks on my runs, Mother told of receiving chicks on the mail car for her 4-H project. She and Daddy even carried a live Thanksgiving turkey in the mail car to Mama Owens in Waldron. Fritz’s favorite Quinton story recounts how he timed his daily run to be at Chloe Sanders’ store in Cedar Creek right at lunchtime, allowing him to watch “As the World Turns” while he ate his sandwich.

During the hour at Williamsburg Kitchen, two other local friends expressed joy in early memories resurfacing while reading “Mama’s Place.”

Each month, after reading my column, readers share evoked memories, such as, “Oh my goodness! My memories come flooding back and I can see the images and feel the path under my feet walking from the Parks post office and store back to the Beaty house.”

One reader sent an email asking, “Are you by any chance Melba and Mondell’s daughter? My grandad Paul Sorrels loved to sing with them.”

Another wrote, “Being from the same generation I can appreciate the special things that are seldom seen or experienced anymore. It is refreshing to escape the modern hustle and bustle and enjoy the thoughts of simple times.”

Barbra Streisand sang, “Mem’ries light the corners of my mind / Misty water-colored mem’ries of the way we were / Can it be that it was all so simple then / Or has time rewritten every line / It’s the laughter we will remember / Whenever we remember the way we were.”

My ninth-grade students journaled each day in class, and I often encouraged them to keep the journal for a later day when asking the age-old question, “Who am I?”

During childhood we express our authentic selves. Sadly, life has a way of reconditioning us into someone we no longer recognize or understand. “Mama’s Place” takes us back to our authentic selves, the way we were – simple, carefree, open, joyous, expectant, accepting. In spite of the reality of life’s changes, each of us yearns to reconnect with that inner child, full of laughter the way we were. That’s why we share memories. I am the little blue-eyed blonde playing there in Mama’s front yard. Who are you?

Louise Owens Finney is a retired secondary teacher and part-time minister in Fort Smith. She can be reached at louiseofinney@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Mama's Place: The two little girls