Recently I took a journey I never thought I would make, a journey to discover my family roots. To be honest I always thought this journey would take place by traveling to Ireland and visiting Castle Doh not spending a few wonderful hours in a little town called Gravelly in Arkansas. My mom past away many years ago and was raised in Los Angeles, but I remember her saying she was from a little town outside Little Rock. Little did I realize the Charlene would encourage, embrace and even push me to go “take a look”.
Back in its hay day Gravelly was a town of almost 1000 people. If you look for it in the internet you will find a very short reference and maybe a picture. Today there are somewhere short of 200 people and a town that could easily pass into obscurity. We stopped at a little store that until someone step out of you would have thought was closed for business. At the store, we met a wonderful woman and her husband who made us a cheeseburger and fries… or tater tots if you wanted them. To describe this little place, “The Gravelly Verity”, could never do it justice; but let me try. The outside is in need of repair and is getting a new coat of whitewash. The owner and the local painter/handyman are chatting outside. Stepping in we find a few chips, hostess cakes, and sodas for sale. On the wall are pictures of Arthur Hunicutt, an actor born here in 1910 with over 40 movies on his resume and a lynching at the railroad trestle back in the 30s. These are the towns claims to fame. My cousin Janice told me Arthur could be a distant relative… cool!!! The bubbly and friendly lady inside offers us lunch and lets us know there is no soup of the day since “the guy that makes it didn’t bring it in yet”. The back room has a dining room table with a few chairs, have a seat. The kitchen is off to side and I notice the stove is broken and she is using an electric skillet, the kind your mom and mine had, to cook the burgers. There’s a TV with an old western movie playing and two lay-z-boys to kick back in. Oh, and the walls have some can goods and a few sundries available. Food was a little greasy but I give it 4 stars for friendly service, treating us like old friends, and for being authentic. Maybe I should send Guy Fieri a note… hmmmm.
Grabbing a Mt Dew (soda not moonshine-lol) I stepped out and struck up a conversation with Mike, the owner, and the Handyman who’s name I wish I wrote down. These are real hardworking common folk who would give you the shirt off their back. I find out where the local cemetery and Baptist Church is, down Young Gravelly Road a piece. I also am told of a man who was old as dirt and a school teacher for 40 years that might know my Mom or the family. We shake hands and head out to the Church and cemetery. Young Gravelly Road isn’t pavement, or young gravel, it’s a dry and dusty dirt road. After heading down the road a piece we find then cemetery and church and pull in. The graveyard is OLD. There are makers that are ornate, other not so much. Some that are easy to read and others that are worn and illegible. Then there are makers that have no name at all or just a last name. We notice there are also stones, common rocks, laying around. We find out later there are actually grave stones. What? Yep, they mark the graves of people who’s family was too poor to afford a “proper” grave marker. We wander around taking pictures of people with my mom’s last name and begins to notice that in 1910 and 1911 so many children died. I wonder what happened.
Heading back into town we make a right down “Blue Ball Rd” and follow directions like “head down there a piece and when you get the white house with the $80,000 Kubota tractor, hell he’s to old to drive so he uses this to get around, just pull in and knock on the door.” House and tractor found we pull in and stop. We see there is “brick-a-brack” all over the front porch as we head to front door. Knocking we hear “come on in, it’s open”. We open the door to find an old man sitting in the La-Z-Boy the house is a little cluttered but overall clean to the left of him is another lazy boy that is empty my guess is it has not been set in or changed since he lost his wife over 10 years ago. This elderly man’s name was Mr. tween Willis. We sent Mr. Willis is a very interesting gentleman born in 1930 son of a sharecropper join United States Army served in Korea got out using the G.I. Bill became a schoolteacher and it was a schoolteacher back in the local area from us 40 years. We chatted for almost 3 hours about my mom’s family and the local area what it was like back in the 30s and what has become now. We discuss the graveyard with Mr. Willis and he found in his records a listing of all the greats the sad part here is the listing of the graves it’s just like we saw most of them did not even have a name attached to them. the people at that time we’re so poor but he could not even afford a Greystone just a rock and unfortunately people are forgotten who is buried there. Mr. Willis remembered that the Poindexter’s have some property down young gravelly Road and lived up on a hill and gave us some directions those directions were more like go down the dirt road about a mile and a half past the Baptist Church and after the second Creek Road turn stop that’s the property and look up on the hill and you should find a house or at least that’s what I remember. Mr. Willis tried to get us more information calling friends and relatives. And when I mean calling friends and relatives I mean picking up an actual telephone looking in the white pages and looking in the phonebook. Cell phones don’t work out here and you have to do it old-school. We left our phone numbers for Mr. Willis just in case he can find out any more information for At thanked him and headed out the door time to go find mom’s place.
We head back down young gravelly Road past the Baptist Church in the graveyard go over the first creek then the second creek come to the corner and just like Mr. Willis said we run into some land it’s a farm that’s one of the families area but we do see your house up on the hill after second discussion we drive on up the road apiece further get up to the house and look around to the left is a Is a form called the red river farm Mr. Willow said that used to be the Poindexter’s property will look around and we see a small house maybe 400 ft.² in size and it looks like a sharecroppers house was this where my mom was born. Where my mom’s parents sharecroppers. All I know is that she was born there and gravel he moved to Colorado and want to been raised in outside of Los Angeles California. I give my cousin a call send her a picture and she tells me that she remembers a picture my mom and her brothers her grandfather being one of those in front of a small house and it’s very possible that this is the house. I get back in the car sit down and chat with Charlene for a bit and I realize I have tears in my eyes emotion in my voice and yet at the same time I’m as happy as a child at Christmas.
But it’s getting dark it’s time to head home got I hope I don’t have to drive back down that dirt road again but on the way home Charlene and I talked about family and we talk about how Mr. Willis came from nothing became something and then maybe think about my family even more so on a day that started off on a journey that might never of happened had I not found myself in Hot Springs Arkansas I may have just found my roots.