Sitting on a porch swing as Spring River lazes through the marsh grass, robins call, ducklings spread their wings and learn to negotiate the take offs and landings in still waters, I’m brought to thinking about life in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas.
This home within a stone’s throw of the falls and the spring head is my history. My mother’s history. My sister and mine. It is how we share the bits and stories that matter. It is who we were, how we came to this place, this moment in time, and who we are today, at this moment, that matters.
I’m about to go help my mama go through papers, pictures, to make lists and plans.
The business end after we buried my grandfather, yesterday.
We love this place, its history, what it means to the eyes of my niece and nephews, my daughters.
This place, and LIFE in Mammoth matters. After all, the little things, the simple things, matter most of all.
My grandfather is entertaining angels tonight.
He was a pillar of silent strength. A man of few words, who could say more when he appeared in the doorway with two rods, his jaunty set ball cap, and a nod, than he could have said in hours of careless conversation. Robert Dale Bryan passed away on May 31, 2010, at the age of 91.
Allow me to share a moment, of what my Granddaddy Bob meant—and means—to me. Moments in time, but each one, a memory that sparks a million more…
Their home was the only summer camp I ever knew.
I close my eyes, and see a misty morning, my sister and I crammed in the cab of his pickup truck, heading out to feed the cows—he taught us how to call them. How to call his ducks, the three stooges, he named them—and darned if they didn’t come running.
He taught us how to fish. No wonder we loved it. Our first casts were into the stocked ponds of the fish hatchery. Every hook found a bite. We fell instantly in love with the solid tug, a flash of silver, of a rainbow trout or bass breaching the sunlit waters.
I close them again, and I see Geronimo—his favorite hunting dog. No other ever came close in his eyes, though a few tried.
Next, I see a red tack barn—sugar cubes in the door for the horses in the field—and a sweet treat for me, when I thought no one was looking. In my mind’s eye, I can run my hands across new, brilliant hued nylon halters he purchased for the young colt—Gypsy Rose—the one born for my sister, named by my grandmother at the expense of her prize roses. While I enjoyed watching the horses, Paigie lived for them. He saw that in her. The same drive, the same stubborn beauty of my mother.
I remember riding in the back of his truck, hooting and hollering and singing every song we knew with the joy and abandon of our youth. Of chasing fireflies around the ranch house. Of Ginger, my “Pony Express”—the horse who pranced so daintily in sight of Granddaddy and Grandmamma, and couldn’t wait to buck me off when she had the chance. When that little horse rode me under that tree, darned if Granddaddy didn’t go out there with his chainsaw and all but slice that old oak limbless.
If the ranch house was home base, the fields were our playground—the crystal-clear spring, with the little orange coffee cup on a chain—there so anyone could have a drink. The sagging, stone cottage he had us terrified to enter, lest it fall on our heads. The spiny blackberry bushes where we picked and ate ourselves into a pickle from which only Granddaddy could extract us.
I remember sneaking over to fish out my uncle’s pond to catch a stringer full of catfish. He taught my sister how to drive a truck on rutted farm roads. I vividly recall the gouging squeal of metal on metal as she grinded her way through the gate. He never scolded. Rarely scolded. Tears of hurt or anger quickly smoothed over with laughter—always quick with a story or teasing joke. He made everything into a game. An adventure.
We spent hot summer days at the river—Rocky Top—the house on the hill with a view of Spring River painted by God himself. Rocky Ozark slopes, rutted, red dirt roads, the lonely call of the train whistle. It’s why that Brooks and Dunn song always struck my core—where I drank my first beer, where I found Jesus…where we flattened pennies on the train tracks and fished off the falls.
And my granddaddy always loved all of us kids. First, my mama—who could do no wrong in his eyes. Then, my sister, and me. Of course, Cody, Taylor, Kellie-Dale, then Rachel and Ellie. I can see him crawling on the living room floor, tickling Rachel’s tummy as a baby. Giggling with Ellie. He had a special place for all the grandkids and loved each of them—each of us—completely.
Our Granddaddy Bob is the river. He’s the hills. He’s the misty, August air. He’s the subtle observance of the ebb and flow of time, measured on stones and the falls. He’s the hatchery, and its weeping willows. The man who wrote a famed paper that drew international attention—though he only had high school education, had scientists from far away as Japan calling for further discussion on his hatchery techniques.
He married a girl of nineteen, who set her sights on him on the steps of the Taylor ranch house—they had my mother, Kay, who grew up to believe she could do anything—and raised us the same way. Granddaddy loved Grandma Vivian forever, even when the loving was a challenge. Her fiery spirit and his steady nature made a perfect match. She went on to her reward, and he told her to go find them a place on a river—and he’d be along.
He was stubborn, stoic, sweet, faithful, loving, honest, kind, frugal, inspirational, enigmatic. My granddad, that I had the honor of sharing with my big sister.
I will miss you forever. I will share your stories with anyone who will stop long enough to hear one. I remember all of them. Every word, and the way you told them.
I love you, Granddaddy Bob, more than I could ever express in this world, and I look forward to seeing you in the next…