Tag Archives: Arkansas

Arkansas-Takes More Than a Tornado To Get Us Down

Photo Credit: Randy Ashley, DVM
Photo Credit: Randy Ashley, DVM

I’ve seen it on the news in the United States, and I’ve received messages from friends in the UK, Ireland, and other parts of Europe checking to make sure I’m ok after seeing coverage of the massive tornado to hit Arkansas on April 27.

The tornado was rated a “high-end EF 4,” meaning it was just shy of being an EF 5 (the rarest and most destructive of all tornadoes).  To be classified as EF 4, the wind speed is 206 to 260 miles per hour. With it being a high-end EF 4, I imagine the winds were more in the 250-260 mph ballpark.  It carved a 3/4 mile wide path of destruction 80 miles across the state, from the southwest to the northeast.  The tornado’s path can be seen from satellite images from space. The tornado ended up killing 15 in Arkansas alone, and after seeing first hand the destruction it left in its wake, I’m amazed (and truly thankful) more people weren’t killed.  Tornadoes are just part of life in Arkansas in the Spring.  You hear about them touching down, destroying a few homes, and within a few days you go on with your normal life, the tornado merely a distant memory.  That’s the way it USUALLY works.  Not this time.

This tornado had my down in its direct path. The national Weather Channel was announcing for my town to take cover immediately and that Reed Timmer, storm chaser extraordinaire, was chasing the storm that would later produce the tornado…straight for where we live.  My family got our dogs, a few cushions and pillows, and took shelter in a small hallway with no windows or outside walls.  The safest place we could have been in the house.  Keeping up with the storm’s track via the TV blasting loudly in the living room, the local meteorologists noticed that there was a “radar indicated” tornado.  We hear this all the time, but it almost always turns out to be nothing more than a wall cloud that never drops a tornado.  We still knew it could happen anytime.  A few minutes later they said, “That’s not a radar indicated tornado, this thing is on the ground.” They could tell because the weather radar was picking up what’s called a debris ball.  That’s when the tornado is on the ground and is so big and kicking up so much large debris it can be seen by satellite and radar technology.  Looks like a storm cell with a long hook on it with a circle directly in the hook.  That’s when you know it’s a bad one.

They said it was headed toward my town, take shelter NOW, then then everything outside when deathly still.  That’s a pretty good sign a tornado is imminent.  The lights flickered multiple times, and according to the meteorologists, we had several minutes before the tornado would reach us. Being the curious (and downright stupid) person I sometimes am, I had to get a look. I left the discomfort of the shelter (try cramming 3 people, 4 dogs, and a mass of couch cushions and pillows into a 3 x 7 foot room) to get a look at what was going on outside.  It was still and quiet.  The only thing I noticed was what I thought was lightning. Then I noticed the lightning wasn’t coming from above me, but from the ground…and it was blue.  Then it registered that what I was seeing was transformers blowing and power lines being hit.  That’s when I knew this was really serious.

I ran back inside, got back in the “hidey hole” as we southerners call our designated tornado shelter spots, and waited.  The power went out. We felt it was about to get ugly. My mom was able to pull up a live stream of the local weather team talking about the storm on her iPhone and much to our relief they said the storm had taken taken a turn and was making a more northeasterly track. It appeared my town would just barely dodge the bullet if the tornado continued on its track.  Well, it did just that and once we realized we were in the clear, we emerged from our hiding place and things got real.

Through twitter, I was able to keep up with where the tornado was going and what it was doing.  I was seeing things like “Mayflower hit hard,” “3/4 of a mile wide,” and many places I see and shop on a regular basis were gone.  I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that these buildings where I shop, these restaurants where I eat, these landmarks I see every day and take for granted…simply weren’t there anymore.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. It was unfathomable to me.

Then they said the tornado was headed straight toward the town of Vilonia, which had been badly damaged by a much weaker tornado 3 years–and two days–before.  Mayflower was hit hard. The area it hit there missed my home by about 4 miles.  What it did to Vilonia, however, was worse.  A mass casualty situation was announced and all emergency personnel was called up.  The national guard was called up.  Most of the deaths happened in Vilonia.  The tornado that hit my state April 27 left one of my acquaintances dead and one of my friend’s homes (and her cars and all her belongings) completely destroyed.

My town was as far west as you could go on Interstate 40 for a few days (although at that particular location, I-40 travels North/South for several miles before switching back to East/West).  It’s still backed up for miles with people slowing down to look in disbelief at all the devastation.  I finally made it to Conway, the town north of where the tornado hit, to run some much needed errands yesterday.  I was blown away by what I saw.  Here are some instagram videos I took of what can be seen from Interstate 40 east at Mayflower:

Part 1
Part 2

This doesn’t even begin to do justice to what these hard-hit areas look like.  The thing that struck me most, more than the mangled buildings and cars crushed like soda cans, was something that I couldn’t get on film as it was on the westbound side of the interstate.  A business called Mayflower RV took a direct hit by the storm.  There were RVs and campers, mangled and in huge piles, strewn for hundreds of yards.  I had visited there with my family a few years before looking into purchasing one.  We met a nice man who told us about how his home had narrowly missed being hit by the tornado that hit the town of Vilonia the first time in 2011. We were there shopping a few weeks after that tornado occurred.  He mentioned how worried they were that the business had been hit that time and were so relieved when it hadn’t.  This time, however, they weren’t so lucky.

We had actually just been back there recently looking at campers again, and the very same man helped us look.  I couldn’t believe the place was gone.  As I drove by, I noticed that someone had forged through the mountain of trees, debris, cars, and campers to place an American flag where the sales building had once been.  A symbol to all who passed that they would come come back better than ever, as is the spirit of the people of this country when terrible things like this happen.

The second thing to grab my attention was, right next to Mayflower RV–just to the south–is a vacant, wooded area.  I noticed that there was an approximately 200 yard wide swath of trees that had been snapped in half.  Right in the middle of the trunk.  They weren’t blown completely over, just snapped in half like matchsticks.  And these weren’t saplings. They were 50 and 100 year old trees with trunks 2 and 3 feet in circumference.  All across the area, the trees that weren’t snapped in half or blown completely down were completely bare.  Every leaf stripped from their limbs.  Many had pieces of metal wrapped around them, showing the obvious direction the wind was coming from.  Photos, mail, and other personal items from the towns hit by the tornado were found 80 and 100 miles away.

The thing that impresses me most is the giving, helpful spirit of people since the tornado hit.  People from all over are coming in droves to help clean up the mess, take away all the remains of homes knocked completely off their foundations, cut the trees away that are blocking our roads, and bringing supplies of all kinds to hand out to families who have nothing.  It’s amazing the good that people are capable of if they would just reach inside themselves and let it out.  Neighbors helping neighbors…strangers helping strangers.  It’s a beautiful thing to witness.

Here’s a look at the footage from CNN just after the storm hit.  The reporter was not yet aware of the damage still occurring to his east.  He only had preliminary category reports for the tornado based on what had occurred in Mayflower alone.

Help is still needed.  If you live in Arkansas, there are countless donation sites.  Many churches and hotels are accepting non-perishable food items, water, and other personal items.  They are also still desperately in need of people to loan out their chainsaws, tractors, backhoes, and anything else that can help clear out debris on a scale so massive.  If you don’t live in Arkansas, you can still help by donating to the Red Cross.

Visit this website ( American Red Cross ) , select Donate Now on the right side of the page. You can be sure your money will be used to help people in Arkansas, as well as Mississippi and Alabama after they were hit by tornadoes on April 28.

 

Travelling Fool

I just got home after a trip to northeast Arkansas to visit my family. It was a much-needed getaway after dealing with some health issues. Said health issues are still in progress and are causing me a huge amount of stress and worry. I know worrying won’t change the outcome of the tests, but it doesn’t make me worry any less. Some of them have come back normal so keeping my fingers crossed for the same result for the rest of them.

My family lives just across the Mississippi river from Memphis, Tennessee.  It amazes me how much different that part of Arkansas is from the part where I live.  East Arkansas is called the Mississippi river delta.  It’s flat and mostly nothing but farms and fields of winter wheat, soybeans, and cotton as far as the eye can see.  A few trees here and there.  Where I live, on the other hand, is the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains.  It’s beautiful and covered in lovely forest.  I never lived in the delta, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for it.

All four of my grandparents grew up in that part of Arkansas.  My dad’s family, who I visited this time, grew up in Dyess, Arkansas. It’s really only known for being the boyhood home of Johnny Cash now, but I assure you he wasn’t the only one to grow up there.  I saw his old home, they’re fixing it up and turning it into a museum.  It looks nicer than I bet it did when he lived in it.  If you grew up in Dyess, odds are you were poor as church mice (that’s how my granny describes the level of poverty her family experienced when she was a girl).  Most of the old homes where the families lived are gone now. They lived there after President Roosevelt turned the area into a depression relief project.  Families (my own included) who qualified were given 40 acres of land and a mule to help plow it. They grew cotton and used the money to pay back the government when they could afford it.

My great aunt, granny’s sister, showed me where their farm had been, and where my great grandmother lived after my great grandfather died and she sold the farm and moved into town.  I saw the old high school, where my granny was the only one of her eight brothers and sisters to graduate.  The rest of them quit school by the time they were 16 to get married or start working.  The town is just a small community now, but thanks to it being Johnny Cash’s hometown, the town square is being restored to look like it did in the 30s-60s, when most of the poor farming families lived there.  It was amazing to see where my family was and how far they each came in their lives.  They may have been poor, but all the kids did well and the ones still living live comfortable lives now.

I come from a long line of cotton farmers.  All of my grandparents had 7 or 8 kids in their families and picked cotton all their growing up years.  Makes me thankful for how fortunate I am.  My grandparents, on both sides, are the only ones who left the area.  I’ve had to grow up away from my family, so I love any chance I get to visit my aunts, uncles, and cousins…of which I have MANY.  They are sweet people with thick southern accents.  I notice mine gets thicker when I’m around them.  I wish I could spend more time with them.  When it comes down to it, though, my home is near the mountains. I’m not sure I could be happy living in a place where there isn’t a mountain for over 100 miles.

My great aunt let me stay with her.  We talked for hours and travelled all over northeast Arkansas seeing the old ancestral homes.  She cooks like you would imagine any southern grandmother to cook–everything from scratch and tastes DELICIOUS.  No one makes sweet tea like she does. I think I drank half a gallon while I was there. I experienced true happiness this week, time with my family…and gained 3 pounds thanks to all the southern food and super sweet tea. That’s the good life, y’all.

Follower Q&A

So, here are some questions I’ve been asked by my followers, be it twitter, tumblr, or here on my blog.  Most of them were answered privately, but I thought I’d compile them and make them public knowledge.  I do this sort of thing from time to time, and I have had a pretty interesting crop of questions lately.  Enjoy!

What was it like attending a private/church school?

Interesting.  It started out ok enough, but things can get a bit hairy when you attend a church school which observes religious beliefs different from your own.  I have always been a very open, accepting person and I have no problem whatsoever with religions that differ from my own or the people who practice them.  I do, however, have a problem with a particular religion viewing their beliefs as the only “true” religion, and thus, the only true way to God…and I have a problem with those who observe said religions trying to shove it down my throat, making it their constant mission in life to convert me.  Going to a church school like the one I attended for 8 years, you are required to attend theology classes and chapel services.  Things I never had a problem with until I got older and some of the staff began treating the students who had different beliefs with disrespect.  My particular beliefs are actually quite similar to those of the school’s.  I attended a church at that time that was just a different branch of the same religious group, but the small differences were made into very big differences eventually.  The last straw for my parents was when I had my personal bible taken from my locker by the principal.  I was reprimanded publicly for possessing a bible other than the school’s required translation, even though I wasn’t using that bible for school use.  I just had it in my locker.  It was shouted into my face that my personal bible was a translation “from the pits of hell” and would not be tolerated and that I should be ashamed.  It ended with my dad having a long conversation with the principal that resulted in my being taken out of school at the end of that school year.  I got my bible back though!

But overall, I enjoyed my time there.  I grew up with the kids I went to school with.  It was small and everyone knew each other.  I made long-lasting friends and connections in that school.  I was bullied there, but growing up with physical handicaps would have made me a target at any school.  It was probably better being where I was, considering most of the kids knew me and left me alone.  That left only a few who didn’t know me and felt it necessary to bully me.  While some of the educators there had very different opinions from my own, many of them were wonderful people and I loved them.  I also credit going to that school with my success in school.  That school held its students to a much higher standard than the state did.  I entered a public school in 9th grade and was miles ahead of the other kids in my class.  I had always been “smart.”  I typically scored at the top of my class even at the church school, it was just me.  Entering that public school, though, showed me just how far ahead I was.  It also prepared me for university, which I was able to get through quite easily.  Nursing school is never EASY, but as far as the “book” knowledge, I had that covered.  I graduated from high school and university with honors, and I think that was partially due to attending the  church school.

Tell us a little about where you grew up.

I grew up in a very poor neighborhood of North Little Rock, Arkansas.  Poor and rough.  There were some very scary people living around us.  We didn’t have much money, but I never thought of myself as poor.  I never had to go without anything and I went to a private school with a tuition every semester.  That’s part of why we lived where we did.  My dad grew up in that neighborhood, so that’s where my parents lived when they got married.  It was inexpensive to live there, so they stayed there in order to keep me in my private school and ensure I had what I needed and usually what I wanted.  I had a good childhood there.  I had a few friends around, but not many.  There just weren’t a lot of kids on my street my age.  Our house was small, it had one bathroom and two tiny bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room.  That’s all.  My first house I bought on my own after college was substantially bigger.  That was home, though.  I still think about that tiny house all the time.  So many memories are there.  My little bedroom, the furnace in the hallway floor that I fell and burned myself on many a winter night.  The kitchen window I was hoisted into on several occasions when my parents would leave the house and forget their key, locking themselves out.  Yeah, that happened way more often than it should have.  You would think my parents would have heard of a key ring.  The neighborhood was close to downtown, so it was close to where my parents worked in the center of the city.  It was close to the Arkansas River, and my dad said that had something to do with why the soil was so fertile.  I loved that little house.

We ended up moving away from there, finally, when I was 11.  Two rival gangs got into a fight after a party going on near my home.  The fight led to a shootout.  We heard gunshots outside, numerous shots, and my dad picked me up from my seat in the living room and ran me into the bedroom, literally throwing me under the bed.  My mom wasn’t far behind me.  I remember dad lying in the floor blocking the door, in shock to the point I was unable to scream when the shots were being fired outside the room.  I remember him calling the police and being told they were already on the way.  We could hear them on our front porch and in our yard, shooting at each other and screaming.  I was terrified for my friends–Ronnie, the kid across the street who was my best friend, and our neighbors, Mrs. Chism and the Shooks, all elderly.  They loved me and treated me like I was their grandchild.  I’d visit them often and received gifts from them every Christmas.  I remember after the shooting incident, our house had a for sale sign in the yard less than one week later.

What “handicap” did you have as a child?  Does it still affect you as an adult?

I had something called a tethered spinal cord, which is technically a form of spina bifida.  The difference is that it usually has better outcomes and your spinal cord isn’t exposed.  It does, however, cause physical problems and requires neurosurgery to correct.  My spinal cord has been repaired, but I will always have spine problems.  My spine didn’t develop normally after a certain point.  It was normal up to the lower part of my thoracic spine.  My lower spine vertebrae get smaller progressively from the point where the normal development stopped.  This results in a very narrow spinal canal which makes any injury to my spine more severe than it would be for a person with a normal spine.  That plus having a weak spine to boot, left me pretty well jacked.  To look at me, you wouldn’t know I had spine problems apart from having a slight limp, but it actually causes me severe pain every day now after sustaining a fractured vertebrae and herniated disks.  Unfortunately there isn’t too much that can be done for me now.  Just have to live with it, which I do!

Who is your favorite celebrity and why?

Well, anyone who follows me on tumblr knows I have a lot of actors and actresses I admire.  The top two being Barbara Stanwyck and Carol Burnett.  If I had to choose one of them, though, I’d have to go with Carol Burnett.  I admire her for so many reasons.  The first–and most obvious–reason being her insane talent.  She can literally do it all.  She can sing, she can dance, she does drama, and of course is one of the greatest comediennes ever born.  She’s also a brilliant writer and one of my top 3 favorite authors.  She is also a very kind, generous person.  She does so much good for others and she’s highly respected.  She appreciates her fans and, despite being a huge celebrity, writes them all back when they write her a letter.  That means the world to a fan, the fact that the person you admire is willing to acknowledge you.  She is just an amazing human being.  Her movies and, of course, her show are some of my favorite things to watch–and I watch them over and over.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

America.  I love it here.  It’s familiar to me.  That’s not to say I don’t like other countries, because I do!  There are many places I long to visit.  I want to visit the places my ancestors lived.  I want to visit so many places!  When it comes to where I call home, however, I want to stay right here in the United States.   We have our problems in this country, but what country doesn’t?  My ancestors chose to make the journey across the Atlantic from England and Ireland and they did so because they wanted to raise their families here.  I love that they did that and I don’t have any plans to leave.  And specifically, I want to stay in the South U.S.  The South is home to me.  The culture is very different in the south from other parts of the country.  People here tend to be friendlier and the pace of life is slower.  People aren’t in so much of a hurry and that appeals to me.  People in the South also have a strong sense of pride about their beloved “Dixie.”  I love to venture out and see the world, but I like to come back and settle in to the comfort and familiarity of home at the end of the day.  I live in Arkansas, and it is a beautiful place.  A fact most people don’t know about this state.  My family moved from state to state when they came to this country, but finally settled in Arkansas.  Put down new roots and made memories.  This state has history for me and my family and is very important to me.   I love the natural beauty of my state with its mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests.  This place will always be “home” even if I don’t happen to live here.

Back to Belleville: A Pilgrimage to Carol Burnett’s (and My own) Roots

A Review of Carol Burnett’s latest writing endeavor, and it’s unique connection to me.

That may seem a little strange to read.  “Why would someone make that particular pilgrimage?”  Well, the answer is simple.  I am absolutely in love with Carol Burnett.  Her talent, her incredible personality and kindness, the whole package.  She is phenomenal.  When I read her first memoir, One More Time, I was delighted to find we had something in common.  Both our ancestors come from western Yell County, Arkansas!  Hers come from the beautiful beyond description Belleville, Arkansas…Mine come from the equally beautiful–and slightly larger–Danville, Arkansas, located just a few miles down Highway 10.  I had been to Danville before, not often, but on occasion.  My family visited a popular Arkansas State Park in the County, Mount Nebo State Park, every year when I was growing up.  On our visits to that lovely place, we would often venture away from the coziness of our stone cabin and venture down the mountain for a drive through the Ozark and Ouachita mountains.  The area is beautiful beyond description.

The area is known as the Arkansas River Valley, as the Arkansas River carves a path straight through these mountains, creating a spectacular sight to say the least.  Knowing we had some ancestors from the area, we enjoyed making the 20 mile trek from Dardanelle, Arkansas–location of our vacation spot Mount Nebo–up to Danville.  The drive between Dardanelle and Danville is beautiful.  Lovely farmland, picturesque homes, cattle and horses grazing peacefully in the fields.  The occasional farm outlined with a white picket fence.  It’s the stuff of legend.  What one thinks of when they think of the South…well, that and the old cotton plantations you hear so much about in historical southern lore.  Suffice it to say, the area is beautiful in a way that words can hardly do it justice.

As you make the short drive between Dardanelle and Danville, all these lovely farms and open pastures are presided over by the majestic Mount Nebo and Chickalah Mountains in the distance, keeping watch over the serene landscape below.  Growing up an only child, constantly surrounded by people older than myself, I learned from an early age to appreciate the beauty of nature and all it had to offer.  I would often wonder as a child if the animals living in these pastures realized how lucky they were to be living right in the middle of perhaps the most beautiful place God ever created–at least in my mind at the time.  I have since done a lot of travelling across this massive country.  I have seen the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Santa Monica Mountains and other gorgeous peaks found throughout the Los Angeles area.  While they are all beautiful, my heart will always remain partial to the gorgeous Ozarks and Ouachitas of home.  They are unique and hold a special place in my heart.  I grew up there, and Lord willing, I plan to get married right in the heart of them–on top of my beloved Mount Nebo.

As you continue this drive, Highway 27 dead-ends at Highway 10 and you are met with a crossroads.  You can turn left and enter Danville proper, the place of my ancestors (only a few of them hail from this area).  Turning right will take you directly into the middle of Belleville, Arkansas.  Home of the legendary Mae Jones, the “Belle of Belleville.” Birthplace of Ina Louise Creighton, mother of the incomparable Carol Burnett.  In the past, I have made the hasty decision to turn right and just see what Belleville had to offer.  I knew it existed after reading One More Time, and I wanted to see it for myself.  That particular trip was almost disappointing.  Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is absolutely beyond description.  One of the most beautiful places in the state of Arkansas, if not the entire South.  Mountain vistas that will take your breath away.  But I simply drove down Highway 10 straight through Belleville, looking at the breathtaking scenery but seeing nothing of particular interest.  I then turned my car around and headed the opposite direction toward Danville–the intended destination.

Then Carol wrote another book, a magical book entitled Carrie and Me: A Mother Daughter Love Story.  An unbelievably warm and touching tribute to her oldest daughter, Carrie Louise Hamilton.  I read the book in two days.  Not even two full days.  Two nights after work.  I could not put it down.  That’s how it always is for me when I read any of Carol’s books.  She has the most easy, down-to-earth way of writing that you can’t help but read it all in a hurry.  It leaves you dying to know what happens next.  And her stories are so heartfelt and real that you feel you are sharing them with her…and, in a sense, I suppose you are.

There was never any question that I was going to buy Carrie and Me when I learned it was coming out.  I pre-ordered it almost the very day it became available to do so.  I waited anxiously for its arrival, excited to read the next story Carol was willing to share with us about her incredible life journey.  Then I followed a link provided by none other than one of my top ten favorite social media friends, Libby, who provided a link to an excerpt from the book.  It talked about a little about Carrie (who tragically died way too soon from metastasized lung cancer) and her journey across the United States to visit Graceland–Home of “The King” in Memphis, Tennessee as a means to connect with a writing project she was working on.  Along the way, she planned on stopping at her family’s ancestral homes of San Antonio, Texas (Birthplace of Carol Burnett) on the way to Memphis, and stopping in Belleville, Arkansas (where her Nanny and Grandmother originated) on the way back.

I don’t want to spoil the whole book for you, but I was beyond pleased to discover that Carrie felt a special connection to the town of Belleville and thoroughly enjoyed her visit to the small farming community.  One of the locals later told Carol that Carrie had “a smile as big as a barnyard door,” which pretty much sums it up–albeit in very simple, southern terms!  Carrie’s smile is absolutely one of the first things you notice about her.  She was gorgeous, yes, but that smile would soften even the hardest of hearts.  It seems the locals took to Carrie right away, and were helpful in showing her where her ancestors lived and were buried.  An experience that apparently resonated deeply with Carrie.  In the book, Carol says Carrie mentioned “Mama, I want to go back to Belleville.”  It is obvious in her reaction to the town and its people that she felt a deep, almost visceral connection to the place.  No doubt the family ties run deep.  I am not surprised by this.  I honestly believe many people do have another “sense” within them. A way of sensing where they originally come from.  Carrie may never have actually lived in Arkansas, but her very soul felt a connection to it, much like the way my soul will always feel a special connection with this beautiful state I call home.

I understand this from another point of view as well.  I am extremely drawn to Mount Nebo, the place I spent so much of my childhhood.  I feel like my spirit partially belongs there.  I think Carrie felt the same way about Belleville.  Carrie’s ashes were divided between Los Angeles, her beloved Colorado Rockies–where she had a cabin–and on the grave of her great great grandfather, F.C. Jones in Belleville, Arkansas, which were scattered there by her Mother Carol Burnett on a visit to Belleville sometime later.

If you haven’t read Carrie and Me: A Mother Daughter Love Story by Carol Burnett, I can’t recommend many books more highly.  I have many favorite authors, and I am not ashamed to admit that while being one of my all time favorite entertainers, Carol Burnett is also one of my favorite writers as well.  Her books are always touching, open, and honest.  She gives her fans a gift with each of her books, and Carrie and Me is no exception.  It is a brilliant, heartwarming story about the journey of a mother and daughter that will leave its mark in your heart, I have no doubt.  It’s a quick read, it’s an easy read, and it’s worth the day, two days, or week it would take you to read it.  It will warm your heart and endear both Carrie and Carol to your heart.

The end of the book—Part II–is a story called “Sunrise in Memphis” which was started by Carrie before her untimely death of cancer in 2002.  The story is missing some parts in the middle–unfortunately she never got the chance to finish the story, but it is incredible.  Her insight and ability to draw the reader in and keep their attention is astounding.  She had a very different, unique way of telling a story, and although the story was never finished, it will still prove to be a very exciting, interesting read.

On a personal note, after finishing the book, I felt the need to re-visit Belleville, considering it’s only about 80 miles from my house.  An easy drive just over an hour.  I wanted to see the town after reading about some of the places Carrie and Carol visited on their separate journeys there.  I guess you could call it a pilgrimage of sorts.  I wanted to see Main Street, The Memory Lane Cafe, and the F. C. Jones house where it all began, because I honestly believe it wasn’t only Carol Burnett’s unmatched talent, but her unique upbringing that resulted in her becoming the force she is today.  Who knows?  If she had not suffered with dealing with alcoholic parents whom she loved dearly, and being raised by a hypochondriacal Christian Scientest grandmother–her beloved Nanny–and being raised partially in the South and partially in the magical world of Hollywood–albeit “a million miles away from Hollywood.”  I believe it was a combination of all these factors that led to creating one of the most beloved entertainers and treasures America has ever produced.

I made the short journey to Belleville this weekend, book in tow, so I could be sure not to miss any of the landmarks discussed in the book…sure enough, there it was.  The house–at least it was a house that looked identical to the house in the book–the Memory Lane Cafe, and the minuscule Main Street of Belleville.  The two different cemetaries.  It is all still there, exactly as Carrie and Carol described it.  Perhaps the thing that strikes me most of all–or anyone for that matter–is the unbelievable view.  Travelling down Highway 27 toward Belleville is lovely in its own right, but once you near Highway 10, the road to Belleville, you drive up a hill and at the top you are met with one of the most incredible mountain views you can possibly imagine.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you it literally took my breath away. It is not somewhere I would want to live, personally.  It is 30 minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart–practically the ONLY shopping facility in the county–and I was born and bred a “city girl” who needs to be near civilization.

When you reach Belleville, whether you look left, right, in front or behind you, all you see are gorgeous mountains.  As far as the eye can see.  It’ll bring a tear to your eye.  I can understand why some people who are born there choose never to leave that magical, beautiful place. I met a couple of people at the gas station, all curious what a stranger was doing in those parts.  I just told them I had relatives from Danville and decided to turn right instead of left and see what Belleville was like.  The people were so friendly, and I learned this by taking the advice of Carrie herself, “When you smile, the whole world opens up to you.”

This beautiful, loving tribute to an incredible human being can be purchased here:  Carrie and Me on Amazon.  I assure you it is worth the small price you will pay for it.  An absolutely beautiful, touching read.  Go buy it, you won’t be sorry.

Some photos from my visits to the breathtakingly beautiful Belleville, Arkansas\

Welcome to Belleville Population 371!
Welcome to Belleville Population 371!
Driving Highway 10
Driving Highway 10
Farmland in the valley of Belleville
Farmland in the valley of Belleville
Belleville
Belleville

belleville2

Mount Nebo, 20 miles from Belleville--My favorite place on earth
Mount Nebo, 20 miles from Belleville–My favorite place on earth

My Hometown

So, many people know I’m an American girl, hailing from the southern state of Arkansas.  I haven’t really devoted much time, however, to talking about my hometown.  Whenever I’m asked–especially from a non-Arkansan–where I’m from, I always just say Little Rock, because it’s easier than trying to explain where I’m really from.  Truth is, I am from “the north side,” of Little Rock, or as I like to call it, the better side!  If you ask me, the best people live north of the river!  So, here’s a breakdown of my home…

Little Rock is the capital city and largest city in Arkansas, with a population of approximately 894,000 in the metropolitan statistical area.  My home town, North Little Rock, is part of the metropolitan statistical area of Little rock, with a population of approximately 63,000 people.  A good size city.  Nothing compared to New York or Chicago, but compared to the country towns in Arkansas, my town is enormous.  I spent the first eleven years of my life in the city of North Little Rock.  North Little Rock borders Little Rock, with the boundary being the Arkansas River.  I’ve lived on the north side my whole life, with the exception of my time spent in southwest Arkansas for college.  The part of North Little Rock I grew up in was called Rose City in a community once called Rich Acres.  In the 1930s, Rose City was a decent, middle-class place to live.  It’s where my dad grew up.  By the time I came along, however, Rose City was one of the least desirable places to live in North Little Rock.  Gangs had infiltrated the area, the homes were run down and the middle class families were fleeing in droves.  My family stayed, enjoying a low cost of living and still enjoying decent neighbors who were elderly and had been there for ages.  Then one night it all changed.  A fight broke out between two local gangs.  Shots were fired and people were on the run.  We heard the gunshots from inside the house.  The next thing I remember is literally being thrown under the bed by my dad.  He had my mom and I as safe as possible hiding under the bed while he spoke to the police on the phone.  We could hear the gunshots and people yelling all around our house.  The police came, the situation was brought under control, and some of the perpetrators were caught in our backyard.  Unwilling to allow their only child–me–to grow up in such a dangerous environment, our home was put up for sale within days.

That is when we moved to the much smaller–much safer–town of Maumelle.  Maumelle is what I generally refer to as my hometown.  It is where I spent the majority of my youth and made the majority of my friends whom I am still in contact with today.  Maumelle is a lovely town located on the Arkansas River and and at the foot of Pinnacle Mountain and surrounding mountains at the foothills of the Ouachitas.  I really enjoyed growing up in Maumelle, especially living in a subdivision that had not yet been completely developed at the time we moved there.  So there I was living in “the city” but with a world of forests and other wildlife right outside my front door.  The empty wooded lots surrounding our home provided me with countless hours of exploring, fort building, and make believe.  I treasure those times.

Now, here I am all grown up.  Still living very near my childhood home of Maumelle, but technically living in my first hometown of North Little Rock.  I have the best of both worlds.  I am fortunate enough to own my own home that is much nicer than anything I could have bought in Maumelle, but still near enough to feel like I live there.  I’m in a place where there are just enough homes around to make it seem like a town, but it’s also secluded in a way, surrounded by a forest providing the sounds of wildlife at night which I love.  Any spring night you can sit outside and be serenaded by thousands of tree frogs signing in the woods.  The summer is filled with a symphony of night insects making their beautiful music.

Many people not from this great state don’t believe me when I tell them that Arkansas truly is a great place to live.  Southern hospitality at its finest, beautiful rivers, lakes, and mountains.  I am proud to be from Arkansas!  Click the links where provided to learn more about these places…Here are some photos that may show you why I love it so much.

Little Rock, Arkansas
North Little Rock-Argenta District (Beginning at Cregeen’s Irish Pub on the left and continuing down Main St.) North Little Rock was named Argenta at one time.
The Arkansas River at Little Rock-Headwaters begin in Rocky Mountains Colorado, flows into the Mississippi River
Pinnacle Mountain, Highest peak in Little Rock
The lovely beyond description Ouachita Mountains, foothills begin in Little Rock

 

Home Sweet Home! Maumelle, Arkansas

North Little Rock’s Own, Mary Steenburgen, receiving her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:

Mary Steenburgen, who went to the same school as my dad and uncle, talking about her home state:

There you have it, a taste of the place I call home!  🙂