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.
For as long as I could remember I have wanted to spend a day in Gettysburg. I started the day with a child’s excited anticipation and Charlene and I headed out with no real plan other than to “look for the big round painting” she remembered seeing when she was a little girl. We stayed at Artillery Ridge RV Park, which is right on the battlefield, man this made it easy… and they gave us free tickets to a couple of the local attractions. Making a right out of the entrance and a short drive down the street we find the Diorama. The building was a little run down but we find a “free” parking space, there are not many, and head in. The gift shop is cool and they have a show that goes with the diorama which really does a good job of outlining the timeline of the battle and showing you where the action happened. After the show, we decided to take a walk over to the National Cemetery. Awe, Quiet, Solemn, and Retrospect are a few words I can use to describe this site. What really got my attention were the large number of graves marked… Unknown… … … Heading back to the car we decide to grab lunch at a place called the Dobbin House Tavern. A great period place for lunch that was built in 1776 and is still standing. In fact, it was standing for Four Score and Twenty Years Ago and less than ½ mile from where President Lincoln made his famous speech. After lunch we headed over to the National Military Park. Here is where the round picture is; the Cyclorama. This is an almost 400-foot-long by 40-foot-tall painting that surrounds you and makes you feel you are part of the battle. The Park Service has added the dimension of a narration with sounds and lighting to really give you the feel of Pickett’s charge. The Museum is one of the best laid out of any I’ve been in and adds to the story. Driving around the self-guided tour all I kept saying is “wow, can you believe how many people died here. Was it all really worth it?”. There are monuments to men, regiments, battles, states and the one woman that was killed. You really start to understand the horrors of war and that the Civil War really was brother vs brother. Words cannot describe the feelings I felt and the pictures below are just a sample of what can be seen. If you haven’t put this place on your bucket list… do so.
Charlene, never one to forget her niece and nephew, made sure to find a moment to grab a couple gifts for them. I get the feeling this will be a recurring theme on this adventure. I hope she mails them out as we go… otherwise our trailer will look like it’s filled with Lucy’s rocks from The Long Long Trailer… lol. What’s next… a couple day drive to Norcross Georgia. Hope the drive goes well… sounds like Charlene is getting a cold. Ewwww cooties…..
The pastor from the Hot Springs Methodist church recommended that we visit the Saint Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, AR. We did and we went on New Years Day. We called ahead to Sister Kimberly to request a private tour. We decided to come early and go to mass. For some reason, we thought the church was separate from the monastery and drove around the monastery and the school and did not find the church. Then we thought that the church might be in the monastery, which it was. I thought most of the people in the church, which were mostly women, were locals … buzzer moment here, wrong again. They were all the nuns from the monastery.
When you think of a nun, you think of the habits they wear. Apparently, they are no longer required to wear such things. As long as they are modest, they can wear what they want. The nuns can even wear make-up and color their hair. I have to say that the mass was lovely and the church was beyond words. The architecture was modern and positive for women, but you can see their Bavarian roots in the artwork, the paintings and so much more. The monastery is huge and unique. It was beautifully decorated for Christmas. The calm you feel when you walk in is lovely.
Sister Kimberly asked us to come for breakfast and then gave us the grand tour. Those ladies can cook. We were well received and I so enjoyed talking to the nuns. They are light hearted, friendly, well educated (most hold jobs of teaching, nurse practitioner, etc.), and love to laugh. There is so much history at the monastery and too much to put into writing, but I will say that some of the nuns had talents that were certainly God given. When you see the paintings, the old robes and so much more you realize that some of the nuns were not educated in these arts, yet their artwork almost seems to belong in a museum. Unbelievable and just wow!
Sister Kimberly asked that we come back for dinner, which we agreed to, but I wanted to spend some quality time in the church. I wanted to reflect, pray and just breathe. I have to say that I felt a huge burden lifted off my back and I felt happy. We left for lunch to walk the Fort Smith National Historic Site. It certainly does not compare to Gettysburg, but I think we all forget that the civil war was struggled and suffered in many states, including Arkansas. The graveyard is always the hardest to visit, but the most memorable to see. You walk past people from history that you read about, but really know nothing about. Books only tell you a certain side of who these people were. The hanging judge was one of them. Every person who came before him had either murdered someone or raped someone. Per the laws at the time, they had to hang which they all did. He was a wonderful family man and served his country well. It was sad that his nickname was the hanging judge, but such is history.
We headed back to the monastery to eat dinner and to get ready for our leave the next day to Oklahoma City, Ok. We arrived to the offer of spirits, a lively young violinist and the enjoyment of the sisters. I never knew that eating black-eyed peas on New Years Day provided good fortune for the rest of the year. Don was not touching the black-eyed peas, even with the possibility of good fortune. All the nuns prayed for our safe travels and I was so thankful for the food and their comradery.
If you are ever in Fort Smith, AR, please stop in to say hello, get the grand tour and visit with the nuns. They are so much fun and love to have visitors. They are not stuffy and you do not even have to be Catholic to come, but come.
This time of year if always tough. More so if you are away from family. It has been five months full time for us this month. Wow, time is flying. We have plans with other full time campers to have a smoked turkey and junk food for Christmas. I will need to start that diet next year it seems. I know that I am soooo behind on my blogs, but I could not go any further without being very grateful for my family, friends and for everyone that travels. I want to wish each and everyone of you a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and safe travels. All our love, support and a huge hug!!! Don & Char
One of my favorite B movies is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This is what Jones RV park is all about. No…. not post civil war gunmen killing each other over a treasure. This is about our experience and to give you an insight into “OUR” feelings.
In our last episode we saw that Charlene was a little under the weather, okay sick as a dog, on our trip down. Needless to say, we were running a little behind (no pun intended…lol) and Charlene gave the park a courtesy call to check into after-hours check-ins, especially since it’s getting late in the day on a Friday. The young man on the phone was polite enough and told us no problem… just pull in, go to the left, and take any available space. We get off I-85 make a quick right on Willowtrail Parkway and see the entrance. We get the immediate feeling that this might not be our first choice in the future. Left at the first street where the sani-dumps are located and find a pull through, space 102, that gives us an easy in and out. I failed to mention that the dump station is also numbered spots and both were filled with travelers, hmmmm. Stopping in the space, pretty darn level too, we decide not to unhook yet. It’s been a long drive. Level us out and get Alice up and running. 50 amp service, check; water, check; sewer, check. All good so far. I put down our trusty rug, and you want to here. No real rain for almost 2 months and dust is the word. I see grass… well, maybe that’s grass. Oh, there it is, by the water boxes. Let’s get that picnic table adjusted and ready. Hey somebody took the picnic table?!? Oops, my bad, there are no picnic tables. We could go down the road further and keep looking however the speed bumps look tall enough for Alice to bottom out, so here we stay.
I’m chatting with some people outside with their kids when all of a sudden Charlene let’s out this blood curdling scream… A small furry creature that looks like a racoon in the twilight is coming in the trailer right between her feet. I know this is wrong, but I almost feel out laughing. The small furry creature is a mature kitty named “Ms. Jones”. I’m not sure if the park is named after her or not but she is way friendly and owns the place. I think she was just checking out the newbie. A couple hours later plus or minus, 9-930pm there is a knock on the door. Char, looking like death’s best friend, opens the door. “You are in our space” is the greeting from the woman standing at the door. Charlene is in no mood for this. She was given directions over the phone, she feels like $&!#, it’s late, and the park office won’t reopen till Monday morning. Charlene, I have to say politely although she may have coughed on her accidently on purpose, explained all this to her, there are many other spots open, and the ladies husband even wants nothing of this (I can hear him trying to tell his wife everything is good and they are already in a space with the slides out). Charlene even called their emergency number and received the same story… Take any space open so we did it by the book. We go back inside and begin to laugh again about the scream and the “racoon”. I’m laughing again thinking about the scene.
Now the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
The Good – Easy access from I-85, 50 Amp Service, Water and Sewer and pretty darn level. Close to where we needed to be and Ms. Jones was a highlight.
The Bad – Dirty, Run Down, Transients (people not at park) use the showers and bath, Laundry was in very poor condition (washers had grease, ink, and even toothpick/metal sticking out of holes in drum). This is not just RVs and many are in various stages of disrepair/not road worthy by any estimation. Trash overflows everywhere and people just add to it (my picture was a good day). Speed humps that would bottom out an Airstream and they are scraped up to show it.
The Ugly – Spot 101 didn’t have sewer hookup so the <insert favorite expletive here> so they dropped their tank on the ground and let it run under our rug and Alice then they boogied out late at night so no one would notice. We did and let management know. They did nothing to assist us…. Period. We of course disposed of the rug, I couldn’t be like others in the park and just left it behind. Maybe the fact they allow campers to use the dump station as spots has something to do with it… yes people were parked with slides out at the dump station.
Kin folk said Jeb move away from there… it was time to load up the car and head to Kenmare, Bay that is, great friends, great scenery. So after a great, but too short, time in Dublin we packed our bags, jumped on M50 and M7, and headed south to Charlene’s friend Katherine (Kate)’s place just outside of Kenmare. A motor way is a motor way; however, it only takes you so far. Then the real “driving experience” begins. Roads were built in the US for the car; In Ireland they were built for the horse and just paved over when cars arrived. Experience is really a word for… wrong side of road, no shoulder, HUGE trucks and busses coming the other way and wondering why you said yes to a $3000 deductible on the rental.
We get to Kenmare and call Kate for the final directions. Turn left where the green pole with the yellow hiker symbol is. Really? That’s the directions? Okay…. Left it is. We head up hill and up hill and up hill on a road that was even narrower than any we had been on so far. A bunch of S’s, backing down the hill to find a wide spot so a car can pass, and another left and we are almost there. We see Kate standing in the road, cell phone in hand and Charlene starts jumping up and down in the seat like a 10-year-old that just saw the entrance to Disney. We pull in the drive and see Kates cottage. Okay cottage may not be descriptive enough so here is couple pictures of her little place.
After picking our jaws up off the ground we settle into our bedroom in west wing then head to the kitchen for a quick nosh and see her view. Only one word describes this…. WOW. What would it be like to wake up every morning and see this. Wait!!!! We will have many of these views as we travel full time in our Airstream so this is just the first of many.
The food is great, the drink is great, the people are great, the friendship is ever greater. Kate and her Husband Sean take a day to show us the Cork County coastline. Ireland is such a beautiful place. The weather was the best we could have asked for. Slow down Don…. Rewind the tape…. I have to say Sean is a real trooper. This tour started with picking him up at Shannon Airport where he arrives after a 13-hour flight from Jakarta. Sean was entertaining and stayed awake and pleasant the entire day. I would have been grumpy and fallen asleep early on. Back to the story. Along the way they take us to a Light House. We stop to see the sights and all of a sudden two farm dogs, one black and one yellow, obviously well cared for join us for our walk. I could not have ordered a more perfect moment. I hope you enjoy these scenes as much as we did.
The next day we decide to head out on our own and drive the “Ring of Kerry”; a scenic road trip that starts at Kenmare Bay and goes a hundred or so miles around the peninsula. There are many artisans, we have been told, along the way. If you see a sign, just follow the road and pop in. We decide to do just that and make a right up a drive marked “wood working for sale” and pull up to a small house and workshop. Out steps a woman in her 60s who greats us warmly. She asks us about “us” with genuine interest and tells us that with her first husband they lived in a 34’ caravan (trailer) for 20 years driving around New Zealand. Small world. Her and her late 2nd husband came to Ireland to do woodworking, okay maybe art would be a better word for what they did, and make Irish Pipes aka Uilleann pipes. She even invited us into her beautiful home for a tour. The interior was all done by these craftsmen/artists and was breathtaking, sorry no pictures… I didn’t even think to snap any photos I was enjoying her company so much. On display in the living room was her pride and joy, a set of pipes. These weren’t just any pipes… they were hand hewned out of ebony, ivory, and silver by her husband. He did his own silver smithing…. everything. These were a work of love and took him over four (4) months to complete. They were not just an instrument; I think they were her husband personified. There was so much to see, so many people we spoke with and even a life size statue of Charley Chaplin who lived there. Here are a few pictures.
Our time was drawing to a close and it was time to head back to Dublin, the airport and home… My next blog will tell you about that experience…. LOL.