Sunday, January 16, 2011
A Vivid Memory
I lived in Heber Springs, Arkansas from first grade through the middle of fifth, when we moved back to Minnesota, as far north as possible. My dad was the pastor of a very small church. He was bi-vocational, which is a fancy word for working like crazy on any job he could find to support his growing family of 4 children. The church was too small to pay a regular salary.
Dad could fix anything, and he set up a fix-it shop in our house. I think I've shared before that we didn't have a television set in those early days of the invention. Dad repaired quite a few sets for people lucky enough to have one, and we would always try to get him to keep it over the week-end before he called them that it was repaired, so we could watch Saturday cartoons.
Heber Springs was a small Mayberry-like town in those days. It was a great place for kids to grow up, and I have fond memories of those five years. One of those strong memories involves Tumbling Shoals Bridge over the Little Red River. The approach to the bridge was a winding country road and at the approach, you could see the far end before the near one. We would go out there to swim in the old muddy river on those incredibly hot, humid days. The other memory of this bridge is that it was rather rickety and scary to drive on.
In 1959, a huge project began which would change the face of Heber Springs. Greers Ferry Dam would bring about this change. The dam’s primary function was to be flood control, but it also would serve as a hydroelectric power plant. The dam was named after the little ferry that used to cross the Little Red River. Greers Ferry Lake, created as a result of the dam, is a popular recreational destination. Tumbling Shoals Bridge disappeared under the new lake.
Dad had been trained as an electrician when he was in the Navy, and he was blessed to get a job on this project, using this skill. I don't remember how long he worked there, but we moved to Minnesota before the project was completed.
When I was a junior in high school (in Nebraska by that time), we heard that the dam was now completed and that the dedication ceremony was to be held in October of that year, 1963. We decided to take an adventurous trip back down there for the big event. I never was a fan of the Kennedys, but it was a huge deal that President Kennedy was going to be the speaker for the dedication.
We all got to miss school for a few days and we headed south from Omaha. I think we drove all night and at one point, close to Kansas City, we stopped to get Mom a cup of coffee so she could drive for awhile while Dad slept. Dad woke up an hour or so later, only to discover that she had turned wrong and was headed back north and we were on our way back home. We had to decide then whether to keep going back home or to turn around and finish the objective of the trip.
We decided to keep going to Arkansas. When we arrived at the site, we were standing on a bridge, looking down at the scene - when we realized we had just missed the speech and, unbelievably, were looking down at the motorcade with John and Jackie in a convertible with his hair blowing in the breeze and hers held down by her signature pill box hat.
I remember saying (though my brother insists he was the one who did) that anyone could shoot him from where we stood. I still get chills when I realize that one month later, that is exactly what happened.
I found this picture on the internet - it is actually from Dallas, but portrays very much what we saw that day. I read an article today that said he wanted it that way and insisted on riding in convertibles, not even allowing secret service men to ride on the running boards, so that he could be more accessible to the crowds. The article said that this trip to Arkansas was his last public appearance before the Dallas trip.
It's one of those defining moments that we all have. I was sharing it with someone this week-end when we got on the subject of having both lived in Arkansas. I thought I'd share it with you.
Have a great week!