|My Grandad and my Daddy. Diamond Caves, Arkansas. 1958|
My sister Dyan and I made our first visit in April 2010. We wanted to do some family history research at the little gray stone courthouse in Jasper and see if we could find any whisper of my Grandad's past there. Me, I was feeling unmoored and adrift, a hurtful divorce finally over. I wanted to reclaim my maiden surname with some ceremonial act that I chose, rather than in the sad legal language of a dissolution decree. My Grandad was one of those first good men in my life who loved me unconditionally. It made sense I'd go looking for him again, even though he'd been gone a long while. I was looking for a piece of geography-- a solid and real place-- to hang my memories upon, since I couldn't actually have his strong brown arms around me.
|Me 'n' my Grandad, 1968|
You can't get much more solid than the rocky faces and impenetrable green depths of the Ozark Mountains. In addition to this beautiful place, we found good people, polite to strangers. Only we weren't really strangers. We would explain our story to them, and when they heard our name they'd say, "Why yes ma'am, and I am kin to you," and explain how. There was never any cold "distant relative," only the soft southern warmness of "kin." There's a mountain there, too, with our surname on it, and kin still lives there. I couldn't have asked for a stronger homecoming at a time I was so starved for it.
I think it would have amused my Grandad to know we sought out his childhood home when for the most part, he never returned. He left the Ozarks when families here, poor to begin with, were still struggling out of the depths of even grimmer times, the twenties and thirties. He was looking for a better life. But so am I, now, for different reasons. So the place he came from became the place I came from, at a time when I really needed it. It's not so much geography, but geography of the heart. I think he'd understand.