ARKANSAS CITY, Ark. — I’ve always wanted to write that dateline.
The Arkansas Razorbacks play for history this weekend in Little Rock. A near top-10 showdown that means a lot for the bowl fortunes of both teams. Another chapter in what is becoming a classic rivalry. A chance to finish the regular season in the heart of Arkansas.
On this Thanksgiving week, I take a moment to give thanks for my Arkansas roots, firmly planted in the rich Delta soil of the tiny hamlet of Arkansas City. My mother’s side of the family hailed from the once prosperous river port. Perhaps I should say grandmother’s family because it was back when Maude Maddox was a young woman teaching there that Arkansas City was all that.
The great flood of 1927 changed the course of the Mississippi River. Arkansas City lost its port, and became yet another sleepy farming hamlet.
My mother and her cousin grew up as River Rats, playing girls’ basketball for Arkansas City High, fighting against the big town kids from the nearby McGehee Owls. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Arkansas City was a different place than today’s 589 folks.
They spent their weekends heading south to the bright lights of a bigger city — Monroe, La., just over the state line. That’s where Grace Maddox met a roguish night club operator known by all as Smitty.
This also was the time when Arkansas and LSU met on a semi-regular basis in football, and a game at the State Fair Grounds in Shreveport figured large in the family lore of their early courtship. Last year I told the Louisiana half of the story — my dad’s relationship with Heisman trophy winner Billy Cannon.
This year, I’m thinking of Maude’s place. A wood clapboard bungalow that was literally across the street for the Arkansas City School where she taught for decades. Summer days visiting the still active town. She doubled as one of the postmaster’s at the old post office. It was very different from Monroe. We actually had this new thing called CATV and a whopping 12 choices on the dial. Her TV got two channels, both from Little Rock — 4 and 7. With few kids left in the town, running across the street to use the schools’ swingset and slide was about the extent of entertainment.
Coming back from Miss State, I had a chance to swing through and revisit the old town where I first learned how to Call the Hogs, where experienced real mud catfish at Mike’s in Lake Village and read the two statewide papers. The old home is still there, the school is now a civic operations building, the post office is abandoned and the slide is gone.
The one that almost killed me as a child.
They tell me I had gone across to play with one of the neighborhood girl’s who was sort of a baby sitter. I remember being at the top the slide, somebody yelling at me, turning around to look . . . and losing my grip. The rest is only three memories. Two of them make sense. Sitting on the counter of my grandmother’s kitchen cabinets as women were howling and shrieking. Regaining consciousness at the Lake Village infirmary, now I’m the on screaming at the stiches and unable to see out of one eye for the bandages.
And the haunting vision of a girl running with a limp body from the slide toward Maude’s house. Me, looking at me like some Hollywood jib shot.
Otherwise, I don’t remember a lot about that year.
Driving through the area now, I see those fields of rich farm land and think back on the good times around Arkansas City. A flat land that I am reminded by signs and posters in store windows and check out counters that is bound together with river valleys and Ozark mountains by one thing.
The Razorback. The Hog Call my grandmother taught me. By being Arkansans. It’s a bond that runs deep, and one that we’ll celebrate once again on Saturday afternoon.
I’m thankful this week for my Arkansas connections, my family and my not-quite-so young anymore children, who can claim native Arkansan status.
What are you thankful for this 2010 Thanksgiving week?
TWIT TIX WEEKEND: Hog fans who follow the @ArkRazorbacks feed have a couple of chances to win seats for both the men’s basketball game against UAB for Friday night at Verizon Arena and for Saturday’s football game at War Memorial.
Since demand for both sets of tickets will be high, I’m using today’s column as a chance to allow many to enter.
Tweet out this weekend what you are thankful for about the Razorbacks with the hash tag #ThanksArk. That gives you about 130 characters, be creative.
The ground rules again include you must be on-site to claim the tickets. I’ll pick a winner from the #ThanksArk messages.
There is a chance for a bonus round selected by the traditional TwitTix way on Saturday — watch the feed for more.
TV ON CBS: Don’t forget – 2:30 start.