I moved South ten years ago. My ex-husband and I uprooted four of our five children and moved to his hometown in Northeast Arkansas. I was leaving behind my family and my oldest son, but I was anxious for the move. Our family was in shambles and we needed a fresh start. I was running away from home at the age of thirty-nine. I’m forty-nine now, I’ve quit running and found myself a new home.
I came from Indiana. I was raised in a small town and I moved to a small town. The similarities started and stopped there. This was my ex-husband’s hometown we had visited over the years. I had friends here. I was familiar with the area. I loved the area. Small town. small school, small businesses. I felt like I was coming to a new place with a familiar soul.
Being a photographer, I spent the first six months or so just quietly going around town and taking pretty pictures. I was infatuated with the crop dusters. Farmers don’t use those where I was raised. I was so taken with them. We lived around the corner from a flying service. I would leave the windows open in my house so I could hear the planes start. As soon as they did, Belle and I would jump in the car and take off. We just simply followed the noise.
If you’ve never watched a crop duster, you don’t know what you’re missing. The ground has just been turned. The dark, dank smell of earth is comforting to me. I always want to take my shoes off and walk through the warm soil. It’s not dirty, it’s clean. It’s pure and hot and damp. It sticks to your feet. It’s new. It’s the beginning. Much more than New Year’s, it’s when I ponder what my future will be like. What do I want? Where do I want to go today? It’s a new start for me.
Getting out of the car and laying down a worn quilt, Belle and I would sit there and wait. Digging for bugs and worms, searching for frogs and drinking her Dr Pepper, she lay on the quilt in the sun. Finally we hear him. We hear our little yellow plane. We are both excited. What sort of flip will he do today?
A crop duster is a small plane. Usually only one seat for the pilot and the rest of the room in the plane is for spraying the newly planted field. The crop dusters around here are almost all yellow. My favorite is the bi-plane. It lends to the days-gone-by atmosphere I feel when I am out in these fields. As he sails up and up and up, Belle holds her breath and I ask her what she thinks he will do today. The pilot leads these sharp little birds in an air dance that will take your breath away. Soaring down, surely they will crash, but no…at the last-minute they straighten out and aviate across the open field, spraying their leavings behind. Banking to the right or to the left, the pilot angles the plane toward the ground again. In a wooshhhhh, off he goes. The plane’s engine makes your heart stop. The hot air, a mixture of the ground temperature and the plane’s heat, rushes by you and you cover your eyes out of instinct. Around and around he goes until the field is completely attended to. Never is this tedious. Never mundane or humdrum. It’s exciting. It lifts you up and makes you want to skirt across the sky with him. Once in a while, when the work is done, and if you’re really lucky, the pilot will give you a treat. Laying on our old worn out quilt, sipping our sodas, we wait. Sure enough! Here he comes. He flies right at us. Feeling a bit scared, as if we are about to go down the biggest hill on a roller coaster, we wait on him. The pilot directs his little yellow plane straight towards us. We squeal as, at the last-minute possible, he pulls the throttle up and with a yank and a yawn, he flies directly over us, his belly just feet from our bellies. Oh!! The thrill of that!! I feel like I’ve just performed a stunt. I never try to get a picture of this, I’d miss part of it and it wouldn’t be the same.
Small towns. County carnivals. Hometown Days. Strawberries out of your neighbor’s garden. Sharing a pie with the lady across the road. Hot nights in the river. Loud music on gravel roads. Owls in the old barn. White geese that only stay a while. Town meetings. Neighbors who become family. Town children who become your children. Celebrating birthdays and mourning at funerals.
Everyone is family in a small, southern town. We rally around those in need, even if we think they stole our favorite fishing spot. We buy at Christmas for children who have nothing and we don’t question the whys. Hello’s in the grocery, exchanging recipes at the post office. Riding the tilt-o-whirl with an old friend who is visiting. There is nothing like it.
The South is a home. A home where you can come and heal if your heart is broken. A place where you can come and forget for a while. The food is always like you remembered it. Come and sit a spell or bait a hook. Bring the Cutter though, mosquitoes are a sight this year!