Note: This story was written after The Dream. One would much better relate to this story after reading The Dream first.
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e stood looking down the narrow winding road which turned to red gravel just on the other side of the new bridge spanning White Walnut Creek. He was nearly home again, standing on the junction of Hwy 49 and Clay 430 roads, looking east.
The long forgotten scent of Honeysuckle hung heavily in the air bringing back memories of happier times; running barefoot through fresh plowed fields, chasing lightenin' bugs, fighting wasps and bumblebees with a wide slat, eating watermelon in the field, corncob fights with the cousins, Grandmas' fried chicken and gravy, chicken and dumplings. . . It made his mouth water all over again. Another trip through the memories of his childhood.
Had a trucker from Corning AR. not given him a ride across two states he could have been a lot longer in getting here. But here he stood, on the road that would take him home to the place of his dreams: Hwy 49 and Clay 430.
As he soaked in the scents, the sounds, the ambience, he felt a happiness long forgotten settle over him. His mind ambled back to the ordeal of the trip here. As he considered it just standing in the peace of the surreal surroundings, the whole scene played back to him . . .
His car was running on fumes as he crossed the Texas state line into Oklahoma on I-40. In hopes of working a few days for some cash with which to continue his journey, he took the decommissioned US 66 off ramp heading east to the little town of Texola. Always willing to work for for a few bucks, maybe, just maybe he might be able to scare up some cash for a meal, fuel and another tire to replace the spare.
But his hopes faded like the summer sun as he pulled into the now ghost town. This town had suffered the fate that would be experienced by many towns dotting the old US 66 highway all across the U.S. As the new I-40 freeway was built, it bypassed all the little towns, making ghost towns with the loss of commerce.
Here, no gasoline was to be had, and his car was sputtering as he pulled up to the bar/restaurant/motel/barbershop and town hall.
When the I-40 was built to the north of the town, the bulk of travelers would opt for one of the modern on-freeway stops, and like many other little towns, Texola simply died. The occupancy dwindled from simple attrition as the old timers died off. But even in its hey day, Texola had never been more than a few buildings and a few people who stopped for a moment there and never left. At one time it sported two bars.
It is the only spot between Erick, Oklahoma and Shamrock, Texas where one might find emergency items. There were two other towns within close proximity that suffered the same fate when I-40 opened and Route 66 was decommissioned. While Shamrock and Erick are rebounding with nostalgia and folks who refuse to let their towns die, there is no hope for Texola.
Sitting right smack on the state line, once the old timers pass away, it will be just another ghost town to explore for travelers tired of the interstates. Just some old collapsed buildings as it is carried off parts and pieces at a time.
Currently, all that remains is a bar, a couple of houses, and several foundations barely describing the buildings which made up Texola. They remain as constant reminders of past tornados and serve as conversation fodder for the old timers idly awaiting their own demise at the old bar.
Texola was founded in the early turn-of-the-century and commissioned after Route 66 was paved in the 1930's. It never boasted of more than 40 residents and more than two dozen houses. But it did have a cafe and an old gas station and stop. Probably named after TEXas and OkLahomA on a now long gone Stateline sign with special lettering to draw the attention of early trail travelers to the town rather than further west.
With the last of his money down to just a few dollars, he bought a meal at the little cafe, asked around if someone was interested in purchasing his car. "I might be interested if the price is right," remarked one old timer. "What you askin'?"
Gil didn't have a lot of confidence in getting anywhere near what the vehicle was worth, and, it looked very ragged with road dirt, rain and other grime. The wheels, one on each side exposed from hubcaps deposited inadvertently along the way. With it sputtering as it was, it sounded as if a couple of the pistons were swapping holes; but all in all, it was a pretty sturdy ride.
"Well, bluebook for the car is about $2500." Gil responded.
"That ain't what I asked ya," the old timer retorted.
"I don't know. You want to make an offer?" Gil knew this was not going in his favor and he was about to lose the bulk of what the vehicle was worth. But, try he would.
"Naw," came the reply as the old man chimed the little coffee can serving as a spittoon with another dark spurt.
Gil exhaled a long sigh of air, wondering what to do. His fuel tank was empty, and he didn't think he'd even have enough to drive the five miles to Erick.
"$500"? he queried.
"I'll give you $50, your meal, a nights rest, and a .38 snub nose revolver." The old timer 'tinked' the can again as he worked the chaw of Red Man without his teeth, a little stream seeped down the corners of his mouth to each side of his chin. It wasn't no secret he was needing a shave and bath. "Take it or leave it," he finished.
"How much would it cost to store it for a week. I'll hitchhike to Erick and make a few bucks and come back for it." Gil thought he had hit upon his best options.
"$500." And the little sput-ting sounded again. "Tain't no place round here what's safe."
So, Gil came away rested, a full belly, a .38 Ruger, a small suitcase and $50. That was a week ago, and he'd sold the revolver for another $50. He now found himself stranded at a dingy truck stop somewhere west of Oklahoma City, broke, disgusted, and depressed. He was having little success at securing a ride with his thumb.
In his mind he counted out $4.38. He would be living on bologna from here on out . . . that is as long as the small package lasted. He didn't have enough to buy bread with. While he was mulling over his situation and what to do, he noticed the old truck pulling in at the empty fuel stall giving him view of the logo on the door and heard the hiss of the air brakes as they were set.
His heart was pounding as he read the location of the hometown which said Corning, AR below the company logo. Corning was just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from his own hometown of Rector, AR.
Here may be his chance! His mind was awhir as the driver got tiredly out of the truck. Not an old man, but one who looked as if he was tired of the high fuel prices and little pay with an over-abundance of demanding work. If he couldn't hitch a ride with this guy proper, then, he was going to hitch a ride on top, or underneath . . . or somewhere! This was his ticket home!
Gil quickly paid for his meal and hurriedly walked outside to see what he could drum up. He spoke to the kindly man, and said he was needing a ride to Rector, AR. Could I have a ride?
The old gentleman looked him up and down wistfully sensing his plight and said, "I'll tell ya what, if you can drive this rig, I'll let you ride." He paused a second and said, "but you'll have to pay for your own meals."
Gil was an old hand at truck driving, and stuck out his hand and said "Deal."
At that, the old man replied, "OK, you can start earning your keep right now. Fill her up, thump the tires, check under the hood, wash the windows and mirrors, check my lights, and see what else needs attending to while I eat."
"You got it" he said enthusiastically.
The old man turned and headed for the diner then called back over his shoulder, "better get you a snack and a pee bottle. I don't stop until I need fuel." If I have to stop for you, I'll leave you there." He never slowed his walk while talking over his shoulder. He opened the door to the little cafe and sat down in full view of the rig.
In twenty minutes, the truck was ready to go. Gil still had his little suitcase carrying his meager collection of earthly goods. Far from being full, it was all he had. But, at least he'd been able to hand wash his clothes and hang dry while stopped there in Texola. The bed there in Texola was rumpled and probably several times used since changing. But beggars can't be choosy, and he really appreciated the shut-eye. He'd slept in worse conditions and the way in which his life was headed at the moment, he'd probably sleep in worse.
The old man came out of the restaurant, hiked up his britches and said "OK. Let's go. You drive." In less than five minutes they were in the rig with seat belts on. "OK," said the old man. "Wind her up."
As they pulled out of Erick, Oklahoma Gil felt relief flood over him. Finally, luck might be pulling his way. His mind went back to the last few months. Only recently he'd decided to go back to the state of his origin and just live off the land. He was tired of the fast life, working day and night in the cities trying to get ahead and acquire his one earthly dream: buying the Randall farm just outside of Rector, AR.
He felt a wave of overwhelming depression along with a twinge of "I don't know what I'm gonna do" flood over him as he thought about the impossibilities of buying the Randall farm. He knew there was no way he'd ever get it, and actually wondered what in the world he was doing coming back here. He goaded himself for the decision. "Talking about a wild goose chase . . . "
Then his mind drifted to another subject; his Tina. He always longed for his first love, Tina. As of right now, he was putting all the memories behind him. Even his cherished memories of Tina. He would be happy with a room and a job to keep him clothed and fed, never considering the chance to ever own the farm of his dreams. But one thing for sure, he would go by and see it before he did anything else!
The old man talked a little bit bringing Gil back to reality confirming his ability to handle the big rig. Finally he said "I'm gonna crawl into the sleeper for some z's. You know the way to Rector?"
"Yes sir, I sure do." He settled a little deeper into the big air cushioned seat to do what he loved. Drive and think about his long lost love. "There I go, thinking about Tina again. I've thought about her a million times every day since I first met her" he berated himself. How does one ever remove the first love of his life from his thoughts?
The old man brought him back again speaking from behind the curtains. "You gonna cutoff at Conway and take the shortcut through Beebe and Searcy?"
"Yes sir," he assured the old man.
With that, the old man was soon pronouncing his deep sleep with long interrupted snores and gulps of air. Gil kept the big rig in trim, humming along with his tach ranging about 22, speed 62, in 8th gear. He had always loved the 10 speed Road Ranger set up, and felt they could pull about any mountain in high fashion coupled with a big Cummings supercharged diesel.
The miles ticked off. Gil drove through most of the night, and was in the middle of one of the times he'd had with his beloved Tina, his girlfriend from youth, when the old man spoke out of the darkness. "Cut off on the second off ramp to the truck stop an' we'll fill her up. You can rest, I'll drive. You go in first and get you a bite, use the head, and then spot me with the chores while I go," he finished
"You got it."
After the stop Gil settled into the sleeper for one of his favorite dreams, of him and Tina in the park, youngsters with their whole life ahead of them, cutting their initials into the tree. "There I go again . . ." And just as suddenly, he was walking along Main Street with his beautiful Tina on his arm, then he was jolted awake by the sudden dreadful thought: "how am I ever going to get the money to purchase the Randall Farm?
He studied on it some more. Where am I going to live while I obtain a job . . . and survive the wherewithals to simply live while I make some of that cash? Lord knows there's no place around Rector where he can earn the kind of dough needed to purchase that place." Slowly, he nodded off again resting uneasily.
The hours rolled by, the old truck grumbled and complained under her load along the rough highway bound for home. Al had taken his turn again in the sleeper, and now he was driving along the beautiful countryside of Arkansas. Gil took in the greenery, the beauty and the laid back styles of the state of his birth; his choice of anywhere in the world to live. Soon, he'd be at his drop off point.
Al asked if he drove much, and Gil explained he used to drive cross country, but had given it up to go back and get his girl, and take her back home to his dream.
When he got there, it was reported she'd married and moved away, thinking he had abandoned her. Heartbroken, Gil had taken three jobs in order to buy a vehicle and obtain some cash to put down on a small farm back home. Then, disaster struck, and he was down. He'd gotten hurt after leaving one of his jobs by a fall off a curb. He had gotten up quickly thinking it had merely knocked the wind out of him, but soon he was down again on the ground gasping for air and wishing for an ambulance.
It had been a nasty fall and he wasn't too sure that all was right within his body even now. He'd been alone while he recuperated and and it had been a long and lonely time for him. He had no idea about what to do for himself now that he was jobless. He was considered a health risk so no one would hire him. Unemployment was non-existent in his case, it was not a job related accident, and he'd had no insurance. He was certainly in a mess.
So, in the lowest time of his life, he decided he'd go and live back home having to start all over in his life. He had struck out for home nearly penniless, had gotten stranded in Texola, OK. In his mind he recalled how he'd sold his car and was nearly to the end of his last fifty dollars received for it. He'd managed to make it to S. Choctaw Road East of Oklahoma City at the Pilot Thunder Travel Plaza and Truck Stop when he spotted Als' truck coming in for fuel.
He felt emotions akin to shame, resentment, bitterness - all related to the sale of that car. The old man to whom he'd sold it had certainly taken an unfair advantage over him. And he felt as if he'd failed. Thereby, the shame. And if he thought about it very much, the resentment would eventually turn to anger. Sometimes, he wished he could have shot that old man with the gun he got off him. He'd probably stolen it in the same way he'd gotten Gils car.
As they came over the overpass of the train tracks going north out of Paragould, Gil went back into his melancholy mood again, wondering what he was ever going to do when he got there. The drive between Paragould and Marmaduke was a very welcome scene, and he took it all in remembering all the stories of little town cops, wrecks, chases and a thousand others. The long curve which points one back north after crossing the tracks on the north side of Marmaduke announced the last leg of the journey to Rector, town of his birth.
As they came into Rector, he was gladdened to see the additions of the Dollar General, a little Stop and Fuel place on the left corner. Old Squareshooter Wrights place, a landmark for many years was gone, lapsing into what was merely a soon to be forgotten memory.
Al swung the rig North off Hwy 49 and Gil saw the new Memorial on the right. Stories flooded his head about the little town on Saturday nights, the hustle and bustle, the Saturday evening drawings. The little fountain in the park that ran continuously with sweet and pure Arkansas nectar-like water.
As they crossed the tracks, he looked toward the right. Just past the old French's gas station used to be the train depot beside which was a crossing now gone. He'd walked across it many times going to and from the old Rector school. He remembered when a huge Mayflower moving tractor and trailer had high centered there and was cut in two by the train scattering the owners stuff up the tracks.
He was surprised at how small the park was! It sure seemed a lot larger when he was a small tyke. He remembered the bullet holes left by a robbery gone bad in one of the buildings just to the north of the old Davis jewelry shop on the corner.
While he was glad to see his childhood town of Rector, he was also saddened as to her plight. Wasn't a whole lot in the town any more. Several buildings on Main St were merely burned out hulls, and there were no new businesses. He saw no person he knew.
Al could see the changes of his demeanor as memories of his childhood played through his mind. As he drove past the corner where the two funeral homes sat across from each other standing guard over the crossroads where they used to make a U-turn on Main St as they "drug main" usually with their girl or some buddies, he shifted gears and gained a little speed That was pretty much the bulk of Rector. Blink your eyes and you've missed it. Gilbert sat watching the countryside roll by all the while wondering where he was going to sleep tonight.
He smiled within as he recalled the old song he'd heard all his life: "May I sleep in your barn tonight Mister . . . ."
As they rolled along the highway northward he remembered it had a foundation of Cypress logs which were laid side by side through the swampy land for a road. The huge logs were still there after some ninety + years. Eventually the road bed had been built up with years of gravel and traffic packing it down. It was now paved and the edges where the logs were once visible, had been widened and tapered down to the bottom of the tail ditches on each side effectively covering the logs completely.
But now the highway was beautifully maintained, and unless you knew the history, would never guess the logs were there.
Before he realized where he was, Gil heard Al let off the throttle and start downshifting the big rig. The exhaust brake referred to as the "Jake" grumbled noisily echoing back from the woods as Al used it to slow the loaded rig. Double clutching, he downshifted through the gears. The big rig slowly came to a stop at the bridge.
Al stuck out his hand, wished him the best of luck, and if he ever needed a job, "come see me in Corning."
"Well," Gil thought. There is a possibility. At least, with no one at home waiting for me it won't be so bad."
"Will do," Gil responded as he made ready his bag of munchies and suitcase. "Thanks Al for giving me a hand. I really appreciate it."
"My pleasure" responded Al as Gil shut the door and backed away from the rig. He waved one last time as Al checked his mirrors, signaled, lurched the big rig forward, and poured the coal to the big engine each time he punched another gear. Gil could see the stacks blow heavy diesel smoke at each shift of the big ten speed Road Ranger transmission again and again.
Within seconds, the sound and sight of the rig diminished in the distance, and Gil was left alone in the stillness of the Crowley's Ridge string of hills in NE Arkansas. Once again, he inhaled deep the sweet and heavenly incense of the Honeysuckle, the smell of the woods, and far away, heard a Crow caw.
He heard an old poppin' Johnny in the distance pull down and grunting under a heavy strain. Probably hit a clay bar. You wouldn't think they still used an old tractor like that, but, old habits die hard sometimes, especially for those who were raised drivin' 'em. Them old tractors still pulled as hard as they ever did and were cheap to run as well as cheap to maintain.
He listened to it as it grumbled its way across the field, heard the sounds of the Turtle Dove with his melancholy call, heard a Bumble Bee as it loudly buzzed close. He was instantly caught away into a different era of his life. An era of innocence, of little responsibility, of wonder, of exploration . . . of youth.
Gil walked the short hundred feet to the new steel bridge stopping in the middle to look down at the white sands, admiring the beauty of the scene. After a moment of reflection to the time he and Danny Stafford had went skinny dipping in one of the deep pools, and him almost drowning . . . and would have had Danny not caught him by the hair of the head and yanked him to shallower water . . . before he turned and headed east again.
He chuckled as he remembered the incident. He had collapsed in the sand on his knees, oblivious to his face in the grainy texture of the sand, bare butt sticking up to the sun, coughing, sputtering and still strangling on the water he'd ingested into his lungs . . . Gil shook himself from his memory and again headed East across the bridge of White Walnut Creek.
The clump clump and the grinding sound gravel makes as you step on it was a welcome sound as he walked along on the old narrow gravel road. The sound was music to his ears.
A cloud was forming in his mind as to the reason he was heading toward the old Randall Farm, again and again berating himself as to this crazy wild idea which had no possibility of ever coming to pass. Where would he sleep tonight? It was gettin' nigh on suppertime and he felt a hunger pain at the thought of doing without tonight. He'd already polished off his last slice of baloney and the scarce bit of munchies left in the little sack would certainly be leaving him quite hungry. He pushed it back to a far corner of his mind and decided to just enjoy the moment.
On the left were two mobile homes which had replaced some old houses. At each place he passed, a passel of full blood soup hounds, some baying, some barking, some just howling as they announced his presence and warned their owners of the unknown person passing.
It was hardly anytime before he made it across the quarter mile stretch of flat land before reaching the first hill. He'd discovered the origin of the sounds made by the old John Deere tractor, and waved, the driver, replete in overalls and cap, three day growth of gray beard and a chaw responded with a wave.
He was soon plodding up the slight incline of the first hill on Clay 430 road as it snaked East through the woods. It was quite dark here even though the early afternoon sun was still very bright. The trees were so thick and huge. Spreading out they created a solid canopy above as they grew, intertwining from both sides making the road seem like a tunnel.
He remembered the ancient old road well. It wound lazily through the woods, passing by the Mary's Chapel graveyard where his cousins, uncle and aunt were laid to rest. He had relatives in nearly every graveyard within a twenty mile radius of Rector. He was lost in another era as he clumped the dusty old gravel road.
Stories flooded his mind of his childhood, his experiences, his love of the country. The story of how his parents used to walk these same roads as newlyweds, so poor they didn't even own a horse much less a car, carrying their baby boy to the tent revival came to mind. The revival was held by Chuck Gray, the banjo picking Pentecostal preacher well known in these parts. That's when his parents came to the Lord.
Deep in thought, Gil was startled by the horn of someone behind him. He'd been lost in nostalgia so deep he hadn't heard the old '59 GMC two tone blue pickup rattling up the road behind him. He stepped to the side and the pickup screeched to a stop pushing a pile of gravel up in front of each wheel.
"Need a ride mister?" the lady asked.
"Naw, it's been a while since I been in these parts, and I'd like to just enjoy it. It's only three or four miles to where I'm going. Thanks anyway." Gilbert responded, tipped his hat and glancing at the woman, but never really looking at her. He stepped back away from the vehicle to allow it to pass safely on.
"OK," the lady responded, then continued. "I'll have supper on when you get home Gil.
Gil froze at the deep recollection of a lady with that unique voice, the same manner of speaking, that same way of calling him Gil. A thousand questions pelted his mind like the angry hail which would strip the leaves off tender cotton stalks in mere seconds around these here parts.
Gil pushed the bill of his cap back as he stooped over enough to peer into the window of the truck. It was rolled about halfway down, the usual position of an ancient old relic of a truck less refrigeration such as this.
His voice stuck in his throat. He was stunned. He could form no words, he couldn't think, he couldn't believe who it was. It was his beloved Tina, his first love, his bride to be, his heartthrob, his woman, his girl, his love . . . his life.
She smiled and said "get in, we've got a lot of of catching up to do. Sure took your time in coming home."
Gil's mind was spinning, as he opened the door and slammed it shut rattling the loose window after sliding onto the worn, dusty seat. The wonderful old smell of a pickup truck assaulted his nose as if he only had a few minutes to catch up on a lifetime of such many beloved aromas.
Gil had no words. He finally was able to choke out "what on earth are you doing here of all places?" His heart was ripping out, his voice was catching in his throat. His mind was blurred with all the scenes rushing through it like a spacecraft through stars.
She giggled that gorgeous little laugh of hers that drove him nuts with love and admiration of beauty it represented to him. Her angelic voice broke his nostalgic moment. She ground the transmission into first with the old column shifter, gunned the little six cylinder and dumped the clutch.
The rear of the little pickup slid sideways a little, then lunged forward as it slung gravel everywhere. She wound the little six-banger up tight going up the little hill then speed-shifted into second popping the clutch again. Gil thought the little pickup was going to falter, but then the little inline 6 seemed to catch its second breath and gradually picked up speed as it grunted up the steep little hill in the darkness of the canopy overhead.
It was hard to see through the windshield with its weeks of dust, bug splatter, and rain streaks and tree sap . . . all this on a badly pitted surface. And when the sun found a place to break through the ceiling of the overhead foliage, it blocked all ability to see whatsoever. Gil took in a thousand details in just a few nano-seconds. These were all beloved memories of his day of youth.
She broke through his daydream again. "Gil, are you listening to me?"
"Oh yeah, sure. I'm just overjoyed to be home," he said.
"Yeah, I was too. I've only been here about six months waiting for you," she finished.
"How did you know to come here?" he asked.
"Well, you always said you would come back here to finish out your life," she was explaining. "When my husband died young, he left me with a few bucks. I'd always wondered about you; where you were and what happened to you. A year ago I met some old friends and heard you were single and had never married, so, I thought I'd take a chance that you'd come back."
"I came and bought the old Randall place, lock stock and barrel. I remembered you talking non-stop about wanting that place, and someday, somehow, you'd own it."
Gil shook his head in amazement while a thousand emotions wracked his feeble brain and body. He was afraid to speak for fear of sobbing and making a spectacle of himself in her eyes. He never considered what emotions she must be fighting to keep in restraint.
Dreams; all he'd figured they'd ever be, were becoming reality. He'd never had a clue. All these and a cornucopia of other questions came to mind as they meandered through the gorgeous woods on the single wide gravel roads, feeling the 'glee' go up their spines as they topped each hill and started down again in the wonderful rattly old truck.
They passed the entrance to The Mary's Chapel graveyard where many of his folks were buried. He would go up there soon and visit each one of them, then make the journey out to the Purcell Graveyard, then Mounds, and of course, the big one, Woodland Heights. They followed the road around to where it passed where his uncle had lived. One of his sons, a cousin of Gils, and his little boy had drowned in the catfish pond out back of the house in '71.
Just past his Uncle's house, down the huge hill and in the clearing to the left, there sat a mobile home. It sat in the exact spot where he lived as a baby with his parents in a log cabin some sixty plus years past. The road wound on through the woods for another mile then dead ended into another gravel road by the old Mary's Chapel School. He'd wanted the brick out of that old collapsed school building, but it was gone now.
When they arrived at the place of Gils dreams, it brought back a nostalgic flood of memories. Memories he had cherished over a lifetime, memories lived and re-lived a million times. The old place was just like Gil remembered. The old pickup, the barn set off to the side and back with an old John Deere 'poppin' Johnny' sitting under the cover, the old pond, even the old outhouse was still there and functional. The picturesque view was a memory from the past which he had perused often, telling friends about it, going over time and again its detail, land, the crops.
What a wonderful dream he thought. And, that's all it could be; all it could ever be. Because real life situations such as this idiotic dream just do not turn out like this. He figured, by morning he'd awaken only to find himself cramped up and sleeping alone in the back seat of his car as he had for a couple of years now, trying to save enough money to buy this place. No. This was merely a vivid dream. But he was sure enjoying it!
But, the kiss that he got as he exited the pickup, stood up and straightened his frame in a stretch after closing the rattly old pickup door was certainly not make believe! Tina busted around the front of the truck and into his arms and plastering him against the side of the truck. The lip-lock of a kiss she planted on him was the welcome confirmation that he was home, and better yet, he was with the dream of his life.
Yeah . . . . dreams do come true sometimes . . . .