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Country at Heart

The Long Walk to Church: Part 2

Country at HeartFragrant wildflowers bloomed along the roadside and down into the ditches. Their deliciously sweet aromas drifted by and caressed our noses as they faded into thin air. But we didn't have time to stop and pick ‘em, and we didn't have time to smell the roses, either. I waved at the beautiful monarch butterflies as they flitted from bush to bush. Then I swatted at the bumble bees as they buzzed dizzily through the hot, humid air, kissing flowers and spreading their sweet nectar from one blossom to another. As we gazed across the vast landscape, the soft, green grass looked so inviting. I wanted so badly to go and wallow on it for a while, but since we were wearing our Sunday best, we couldn't do that. Plus, we didn’t have time to go “fielding” that day.
Little birdy-birds chirped from high up in treetops, their spindly, crow-like feet perched precariously on thin, leafy branches blown by summer’s gentle breeze. Cows meandered through thick, grassy pastures or relaxed under the biggest shade tree they could find; shielding themselves from the sweltering hot sun, their long tails swishing from side-to-side swatting bothersome flies as they chewed their cuds over and over and over again. Unlike us, they didn’t have to go to church, so they could kick back under their favorite tree for as long as they wanted. They were so laid-back that they didn’t even seem bothered by those leechy black birds bumming a ride on their hairy backs. Since they were content with those freeloaders, we didn’t try to shoo 'em away. I was too scared to go into the pasture anyway, so we just kept right on trucking.
When we walked a mile or two on a clear, cloudless day, the sun was shining so strongly that even the dirt was uncomfortably hot. If it is a real Southern summer day, it is hot and humid, so at the midway point we rested under a sprawling shade tree, but we couldn’t linger too long. When we got to the end of that second lane, it dead-ended into an enclosed pasture. Then we turned right onto "Sleepy Hollow" — the most peaceful stretch I have ever trod. At that point, the hot, sandy road gave way to a much cooler carpet underneath our feet. With so many overhanging branches, that path looked like a mile-long canopy of arms stretched out over our sweaty heads. Those giant trees reached across that narrow, dusty road and shook hands with each other. As they did, the sun faded into the background and that shady stretch became a very pleasant walk on a too-hot day.
We finally breathed a sigh of relief and enjoyed the scenery on that last mile before we got to church. If we walked the entire distance barefooted and carried our shoes and socks, we stopped up the road from the church and finished getting dressed. Then, beaming like bright sunflowers, we walked into the sanctuary in clean white socks and shiny, black patent-leather "Sunday-go-to-meeting" church shoes on ... just like the girls who rode to church in their family's old, run-down "limousine.”

cows in field
Photo by Getty Images/R-J-Seymour

The Long Walk to Church: Part 1

Country at HeartWe lived about 3 miles from our church and loved going there, especially on "big" event Sundays. My father went to church in the “old country" near Emmett, where he grew up. We always had a car, but sometimes, if there was a "big” day at both dad's church and ours, he needed the car more than we did. So, if we wanted to go to church, we had to walk.

There was Sunday school every Sunday, and on first Sundays there was a morning service. On special Sundays, we had dinner on the ground between the morning and the afternoon services. However, we didn’t take those long walks to church because we were starving for a delicious meal. We were simply church-going folks whether or not food was served. 

I can't say how many times we walked to church, because similar experiences seem to fade into one. I do remember, though, that we did, on occasion, have to walk to church. For us country folks, walking is no big deal. It is just as natural to us as water is to a fish. When you live in the country, you walk all the time even if you aren’t wearing comfortable tennis shoes, toting an umbrella or wearing hats to shield your head from the simmering hot sun. So, if we wanted to go to church and the car wasn’t available, we simply got dressed and hit the road.

Though we were poor country folks, we were well-dressed and wanted to be as fresh as daisies when we strolled into church. So on each walking-to-church Sunday, we left the house as early as possible so we didn't have to rush. If we walked too fast, we would be drenched with sweat by the time we got there. While we could somewhat take our time or even rest under a welcoming shade tree at about the midway point, still we had to pace ourselves so we would have enough time to get to church before the first service started. However, regardless to how early we left home walking, because of the distance, getting there in time for Sunday school was out of the question.

When we left home, we headed west, walking at a steady pace and taking in whatever scenery there was to take in. There weren’t many houses along our route, but at whatever was there to gaze at, other than those ubiquitous Arkansas pines, we took a long, hard look. With walking being such a slow pace, our looking time was longer than if we had been riding in a car, where everything goes by quickly.

After about a mile, we turned left at MrTom Rainer's house and then traveled south for another mile down a lane that had plum orchards and black berry patches galore but not a single house. Walking on country roads is nothing like walking on smooth, even, city sidewalks. Those rocky, unpaved trails are about as rough and as dusty as they can be. That was especially true of that particular stretch. It was the sandiest road I’d ever walked on, almost like walking on a beach. Such terrain is not conducive for fast walking. Even if you aren’t wearing dressy shoes, walking on soft, shifting sand slows you down considerably. The dirt is loose, like finely-sifted flour, and your feet sink down into it without any effort. Thus, it takes longer to traverse than when walking on compressed dirt.

country road
Photo by Adobe Stock/johnsroad7

Pickin' Clover

Country at HeartAs a curious little girl, I always had my ears open to interesting and almost unbelievable tales, and my hands were always anxious to test those way-out stories that I had heard.  And with that, I'll tell you about my experience in the clover field.

Folklore is that if you find a four-leaf clover it will bring you good luck, and, of course, I was always looking for something that would make my days out in the countryside a little bit better. So, one day I decided to find a four-leaf clover and see what good fortune it would bring me.

I didn't have to go far to start my search because there was a field between the pine forest and our yard. I don’t think clovers are considered flowers, and I don’t think they bloom, but they easily sprout up among flowers and other vines that bloom. So, when no one was around, I ventured into that patch. I'm not sure why I didn't want anyone to see me during my desperate search, but I remember that I didn't ask anyone to go clover huntin' with me.

When I got to my destination, I got down on my knees. Then I slowly and methodically started spreading the grasses and weeds and turning the leaves of the clover "flowers," carefully plucking them up one by one and taking a good look at each. I searched and searched and searched for about half a day without seeing one clover with four leaflets.

Finally, I got tired of turning grass and clover leaflets and began to think that, perhaps, clovers only have three prongs after all, and whoever told me about the four-pronged ones was lying to see if I was naive enough to go looking for a four-leafed one.  About that time, not only had I concluded that I was wasting my time, but I started feeling quite foolish looking for something that maybe didn't even exist.

Eventually, after a rather lengthy and exhausting search trying to find my “good-luck charm,” I finally gave up; packed up my bags, so to speak, and trudged back home, concluding that if clovers have four leaves, they would luckily grow in some other girl's yard and not in mine. You know what they call “freaks of nature?” Well, at that time, I thought a four-leaf clover was one until I saw one online. At this point, I may never see one in person, at least not by my hands plucking one from some field somewhere.

Anyway, it is a fact that four-leaf clovers exist, but they are rare. And to this day I have not seen one of those “lucky” clovers, partially because since I left the country I've never had the opportunity, nor the inclination, to go huntin’ long and hard enough for one. And by the way, I never told anyone about my clover search, mainly because I didn't want to be laughed at for looking for something that I wasn't sure exists.

Photo by Adobe Stock/knelson20

Springtime in Bloom

Country at HeartThis early-year season brings my favorite things — chirping birds, flitting butterflies, sweet honeysuckles draping over walls and fences, and those beautiful daffodils sticking their heads up through the cold, spring ground. Those pretty yellow flowers are the joy of my springtime. When I was young, as soon as their yellow petals opened I gleefully plucked them until I gathered enough to make my first spring bouquet. Then I gingerly took them home, carrying them ever-so-gently, as though they were babies that I was careful not to hurt.

Flowers are the love of my life, and it just wouldn't be spring to me without those attractive, eye-catching petals atop those long green stems. They make springtime complete, and I always take time to stop and smell the roses. I can hardly wait until the first frilly yellow daffodils pop their heads up from the cool, spring soil. When I see those first, fashionably-dressed beauties, I know spring has sprung. It's amazing how everything in nature knows when the seasons change. Just at the right time Mother Nature bursts out of hiding and gets busy doing whatever she has to do during this warm, inviting, and enjoyable season.

Daffodils are my favorite flowers. God knew I would fall in love with them, so each year He sprinkled golden-yellow daffodil seeds all up and down the road near our house. The first time I saw those pretty, deep yellow blossoms swaying in the early springtime breeze, I ran down the road and picked every gorgeous flower in sight. Not only are they a beautiful sight for the eyes, but they are so independent, too. They grow without any personal care or special nurturing. They only need the rain from the heavens to nourish their bodies. Each spring I could, without fail, expect the ditches along the roadside to be ablaze with my favorite trumpet daffodils ... and they always were.

After I gathered my sweet-smelling bouquets of blooms, I hurried home to look for something to put them in. Now, my poor, country family had never heard of or even seen a vase— at least, I hadn't. Our containers were crude versions of vases: old cans, fruit jars, buckets, and anything else that would hold water. When I had stripped the earth of its pretty flowers, I put them in whatever holders I found. I set them across the long porch that ran the length of our house. I can still see it now: a bright row of almost identical yellow blossoms. What a beautiful sight! A warm, delicious feast for my childish eyes. I thought that other people passing by might enjoy the beauty of my front porch nursery.

Once I was done stripping the ditches of those wild blossoms growing along the road, I visited the florist just up the road. Our neighbor, Mrs. Brown, appeared to compete with Mother Nature in growing her blossoms. She obviously loved flowers and no doubt planted every variety that would grow in Arkansas soil. The love of her life was her own nursery with rows and rows and rows of the prettiest petals you've ever seen. I would follow her as she trumped up and down the rows, dutifully clipping stem after stem and politely handing them to me. My little, beady eyes feasted on the labors of her love and the beauty that her hands had nurtured to fruition.

Bees buzzed around the honeysuckles that hung gracefully on the vines overlapping the walls near the old country school house. You could smell their fragrance a mile away. I just loved to tip-toe up to them (as though I thought they were going to suddenly disappear) and gently pull the stems from the center of their little, sweet-smelling bellies. There is a delicious collection of nectar that I sucked out of every honeysuckle flower that I could. I did that to keep the bees from getting to them first, but I'm sure they got their share of nectar, too, as the flowers bloomed and lingered for quite a spell.

When it comes to the fields and meadows, Southwestern Arkansas is mostly pine, and the only things they produce are needles and cones with a fragrance nowhere near that of a dainty rose. They are not as beautiful as a rose, either, but they will do. Pines are green all year, so during the spring there's not much new about them. Actually, there aren't many trees that have buds that blossom into full blooms like apple and cherry trees, which as a child, I never saw.

The nice aromas of this lovely season make the days so pleasant and enjoyable. Just to walk outside, stretch your arms, yawn loudly, inhale deeply, and smell the roses is a special treat for even the happiest soul. Spring just isn't spring if the breeze isn’t punctuated with those air-perfuming honeysuckles and brightly colored roses. What delicious fragrances they emit! When you're surrounded by so many blossoms, the outdoors smells like a big perfume garden.

Daffodil field
Photo by Adobe Stock/Samo Trebizan

The Easter Egg Hunt

Country at HeartI still have fond memories of our first and last Easter egg hunt. That year, my sisters and I boiled and dyed dozens and dozens and dozens of white, store-bought eggs. I say "white" because those brown, hen-hatched, country eggs don't dye easily.

But hold on for a minute. Before the kids go egg-hunting, let me tell you about some expressions that we used that may make the Easter egg hunt a bit more exciting. Then we'll go out to the pasture and watch the kids hunt their loot. We used these terms when someone was looking for something and we knew where it was — or we just wanted to be contrary while they frustrated themselves trying to find what they were looking for. They're your basic "hot and cold" hints.

If the seeker was a little off, we’d say, "You’re cool." If they were quite a bit off, we’d say, "You’re getting cold." If they were way out in the boondocks we’d say, "Boy, you’re freezing." Then, if they were somewhat in the territory of their target, we’d say, "You're getting warm," and the closer they got to the object, the more we'd say, "You’re getting warmer." If they were getting close to the target, we’d say, "You’re getting hot." And if they were right on the target and didn’t see it, We’d say, "Look out. You're on fire."

So after we tucked the eggs everywhere that an egg could be hidden, we eagerly watched to see if the little ones were on the path to finding them. If they started walking in the wrong direction, we’d say, "You’re cold ... cold ... cold ... You're freezing." Then, they would turn around and head in another direction. When they got real close to an egg, we'd say, "You’re getting hot." If they were about to step on an egg, we'd shout, "You're burning up!" That was their clue to look down and move something around. When they did, then, bingo — there was their treasure.

I had fun just watching them having fun while they romped and tromped on springtime's soft, green grass sprouting across the landscape. Then, after we counted the eggs and were satisfied that they had found them all, they gathered them into their little, homemade, brown-paper-sack Easter bags and we headed to the house to gobble them all up.

Doesn't it seem as though colored Easter eggs taste better than just plain old boiled breakfast eggs? It’s as though the pretty colors add some magical flavor to the taste, but that’s probably just my imagination running away with me. Back then, we didn't know anything about high cholesterol, and probably if we had known we would have eaten our beautiful, brightly-colored Easter eggs anyway ...

Dyed Easter eggs in grass

Photo by Adobe Stock/Leigh Prather

Country Memories, Part 2

Country at HeartFlowers do bloom in the city, but it may not be a bright idea to stand and stare at 'em too long. Don't smell them, and definitely don't exercise your freedom of expression and pull them, either. In the country, though, I stood and smelled those sweet, fragrant roses as long as I wanted to and then took my time, pulled the small stems out of the honeysuckle blossoms, and slowly licked the sweet nectar off. It took forever to get a mouthful, but that was okay. I had all day.

Understand this: most of what takes place in nature (in the country) takes place in the city as well. But in my country years of yore, it was so different than being in the city now. For instance, there is one thing that I dearly miss about the countryside — in all my years of city living, I’ve seldom seen such awesome, breathtaking sunsets as I did then, where there was nothing obstructing the view, only the landscape between you and them. I probably caught the sunset every day of my country life, and I loved those evenings when I could see the clouds and the horizon in perfect, living color. You just can’t have it any better than that.

Even the early spring rain seemed more refreshing and enjoyable in the country than when it falls on the hard, unyielding, and sometimes dirty city concrete. For one thing, we would get as bare as we could and venture outside to frolic in the free-falling drizzle. Unfortunately, my present view is blocked by sky-scraping buildings, but if I were home, I could see the rain falling for miles on end, especially if there were no trees in sight. I loved to see that kind of rain fall. Its appearance was like looking through an almost-sheer curtain. You could see the rain but couldn't see what was on the other side, whether it was a mile away or right up close. Either way, it was a delightful sight to see.

The main reason those springtime memories are so precious and that season so welcomed is because its arrival announced the end of a too-long, freezing-cold, heavy-coat-and-hat-wearing winter. And perhaps best of all, when March came, we had only two or three more months of school, which was always out before the first of June. Hip, hip, hooray!

Living in a metropolitan area affords little of the pleasures, adventures, and experiences of those from my childhood. I can dream, but that’s about as far as it goes. For instance, for over fifty years I've been surrounded by more people than I ever thought existed. Don't get me wrong. I like people, but sometimes, it is a bit much. During my growing-up years, if I wanted to escape, all I had to do was take a few steps out the back door and walk down the tree-lined lane, or retreat to my little girlish playhouse in the thickly forested "jungle." In other words, if I really didn't want to see another human being for a spell and be totally isolated, I was good to go on any front.

But be that as it may, it's always nice to take a trip back down Memory Lane. It’s a pleasure to visit the things that are fondest to me, especially those happy days in springtime country.

Bright orange sunset
By Jessie Eastland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Country Memories, Part 1

Country at HeartWhen the earth warms up and begins to thaw, and the air become crisp and fresh, my mind travels back in time to my childhood home to dig up those memories that are so precious and dear. For instance, every day in the city I see sidewalks and asphalt, but in the country I would see dirt, gravel, and red clay. In the city where I see grass, in the country I saw teeny-tiny purple clover sprouting up among the blades and my favorite bright yellow trumpet daffodils parading in the fields and along the highway.

You can hear happy, feathery creatures chirping in the city as well as in the country; however, in the city I don't always see them even when I hear them. Long ago, I could both see and hear them. And in my childhood folly I even chased them in an ill-fated attempt to catch one of ‘em. Even the cute little yellow chicks (that Mother raised) fit in well with the springtime season, adding their color and charm to those bright, warm, sunny days.

Easter is a beautiful season, and since it comes in springtime it adds its loveliness to this pleasant time of the year. I always looked forward to a visit from the Easter Bunny with his basket full of cavity-causing goodies. He brought us a mini-Christmas, as far as candy is concerned. I can buy as many jelly beans and Easter eggs as I want, but it won't be the same as chowing down on those delicious treats that I ate over half a century ago. I've finally figured out that the reason we had so much Easter candy is because Dad loved candy, which was fine with me — as long as I got my share of the goodies too. That spring holiday was his excuse to buy those sweets that everyone hungrily looked forward to, and since we didn't eat candy every day, those treats were special. Dad always saw to it that we had an abundant supply of jelly beans and Easter "eggs" so everybody could feed their sweet tooth.

In early spring, another one of my favorite things to do was check out the plum trees and berry vines. I was always too early for Mother Nature. Even though I was ready for fresh fruit in March and April, she wasn't in a hurry, so I, too, had to wait. But at least seeing the premature blossoms gave me hope that within a couple of months I would be plum-picking and berry-plucking.

When it was warm enough to go barefoot, I tickled my toes in the first green, baby-soft blades of springtime. I suppose I can go bare-footing-it in the park, but since I don't see anybody else doing that, I don't have the nerve to do it either, tempting as it is. But if I were back home, I would roll up my pant legs, kick off my shoes, and run like a deer down the road and across the pasture ... freer than the Arkansas wind.

I loved to see all the trees and bushes that bloomed — whether they were pink, white, yellow, or blue. Some of the most enchanting sights were those beautiful Monarch butterflies dancing weightless through the warm, spring air, and bees flitting from blossom to blossom, kissing sweet nectar as they go. I couldn't pass by the wall with the honeysuckles overhanging it without stopping, smelling the "roses," and picking as many as I wanted. What delicious fragrance!

Spring flowers
Photo by Fotolia/Paul Maguire