An Autumn Trip – 2001 I

It was the second week of November and I was getting antsy for autumn’s arrival, or more specifically, the advent of the fall foliage. It would be another three weeks before the colors started flourishing in Dallas, and what better place to go than the Ozarks in Arkansas. My appetite was whetted by remembering one beautiful back-packing sojourn that I had taken with Suzie Humphreys and four other couples in the Ozarks exactly thirty years ago. Yes, it was time to return.

My first stop was East Tawakoni to visit with my ex-neighbor and his family. Todd and Rachel along with their two toddlers, Benjamin and Andrew, had to vacate The Village due to financial straits and temporarily move in with Mom Deniger. I had met Todd about three years ago when inquiring about a word processor he had for sale. Since then, we had become close friends in spite of our age difference, he being thirty years my junior! We sated on intellectualizing and philosophizing along with couch-potatoeing on NFL Sunday afternoons. Although I never really told him outright, he reminded me of son Ted in many ways. We just had an unassuming common bond between us.

After 30 miles on the inane Interstate, it was a relief to exit onto the Texas Highways and meander through the small towns on the way to Lake Tawakoni. As per Todd’s perfect directions, I found Lakeview Street, but decided to pull into the parking lot of the local grocery store a block down the road. I suddenly got a quirky idea. I unhitched the velocipede and biked the short distance to Mrs. Deniger’s domicile. They must have spotted me pedaling around the neighborhood because the whole clan was waiting for me as I wheeled into the driveway. It was perfect for my charade. I dismounted, and with feigned fast breathing, I gasped, “Whew, that was one long bike ride. I left Dallas around noon. It was a little hairy on the Interstate, but I made it.” Of course, my ploy fell on deaf ears and dumbfounded stares. Hey, I was just funnin’ with `em, trying to put a little levity into my introduction to Carolyn (Todd’s mom). She thought it was slightly amusing, albeit, a little off the wall.

After retrieving Ol’ Blue, I got a tour of the grounds which bordered on a cove just off the immense man-made lake. The house turned its back to the street and was oriented towards the inlet with an abundance of windows and a pleasant back porch. The interior was focused around a huge living room with a high-pitched ceiling and fireplace with the kitchen and dining area facing onto it. I commented to Carolyn, “This is just the way I pictured it would be. Whenever I anticipate coming to a new place, I try to visualize what it’s going to look like. It’s kind of a fun game I play with my mind. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m right on. Todd never described the house to me in any detail. Just call it intuition, I guess.” She succinctly replied, “You’re an architect. Would I expect anything less?” Point well made, I nodded.

Carolyn served up a delectable dish of her home-made chili for dinner. The two toddlers had their own places at the table, and I suddenly realized how they had grown on me, affectionately. Lest I appear too relenting, I had to give my impersonation of W. C. Fields, reciting in my own inimitable way his classic line: “A man who doesn’t like kids and dogs can’t be all bad.” That got a good guffaw from everyone. After the table was cleared, Carolyn and I retired to the porch and reminisced about old highschool days. It turned out she had graduated from Sunset High in A. D. 1961. I kidded her about our high schools being cross-town rivals when it was the “in thing” to have “rumbles” out on a secluded Belt Line Road on a Friday night. And then there was Cybil’s Drive-In in Oak Cliff that was so big the car-hops had roller-skates, along with the “X-rated” drive-in movies on the old Ft. Worth Highway. The cool night air did nothing to chill out our conversation. It was uncanny. There I was, with my good friend’s attractive mother of fifty-eight years, hashing over the “good ol’ days” in good ol’ Dallas. It was one of those unexpected pleasures that so rarely happen.

Carolyn had to leave early the next morning for her nursing job in Greenville, so that left it up to Rachel to cook breakfast. She turned over two eggs so easy that they looked too neat to eat. Then Todd took me a few blocks over to meet “Ganny” (his grandma, naturally) where we found her out in the front yard raking leaves. She welcomed the break, and we drew up chairs under the carport. Right off, she reminded me of Mom with her spunk and spirit that seemed to exude an aura of independence. And just like Mom, she was born in west Texas and had endured the Depression (it was not all that “Great”, as she reminded us). Ganny related how parsimonious she and her hubby had to be (he was the original Mr. Fix-It), and how Mr. Deniger hated owing money to anyone. I had to say, “Yeah, my dad was the same way. He’d plan ahead to scotch any idea of having to owe anything to a finance company. `If you couldn’t pay cash for it, you didn’t need it’ was his motto. I gotta say, his philosophy really rubbed off on me.” “I can see we have a mutual understanding about these matters,” was her polite response. As we departed, I had to serve up one last volley: “Ganny, in my mind, you are the Grande Dame of East Tawakoni.” She gave me an approving smile.

I was having such a grand time that I felt like I could stay another day. The Denigers certainly welcomed my thoughts. But the open road beckoned me. I headed north by northeast to Paris (Texas, that is) and crossed the Red River into the southeastern corner of Oklahoma, undoubtedly the most picturesque part of an otherwise drab state through which to travel. At Hugo I hooked a right onto U.S. 70 which paralleled the railroad tracks. A freight rolled by with the locomotives emblazoned with a Japanese logo, something like “Kawaki”. I couldn’t believe it! I was just getting used to seeing all those Asian containers on flatcars behind Union Pacific diesels criss-crossing the country. Now the Nippons have their own freightline? This was heresy.

At Idabel I headed north on U.S. 259 to Broken Bow (this state has a monopoly on towns with Indian names) where I decided to stop for the night. Right on Main Street was the welcoming WalMart parking lot. I checked in with the manager just to make sure it was okay for an overnight. I even approached a police car to inform the officer of my intentions. He was most obliging. I unhitched the bike and pedaled down to FAMILY DOLLAR for a couple of quarts of inexpensive oil. On my little sojourn, I started noticing practically every commercial sign on the streetscape had at least one letter unlit. Picture this: Wal-Mart, Texaco, Piggy Wiggly, VideoLand, Family Dollar, Purdy Nissan – the town really had a problem. I wanted to rename it “Broken Neon”. Anyhow, I was safely nestled in next to McDonald’s. Maybe I could have a McSomething-or-Other for breakfast the next morning.