The Observer has only fond memories of Huttig, Ark., a tiny sawmill town near the Louisiana border in Union County. His beloved Aunt Luna lived there and The Observer visited frequently. She had a porch swing, a henhouse in which The Observer could gather eggs (careful not to grab the wooden decoys meant for snakes) and a stove that was always cooking something, most memorably Sunday fried chicken and sliced bread browned under the broiler to slather with mayhaw jelly made from berries gathered in the nearby Ouachita bottoms. Others' memories aren't so pleasant. One night last week, The Observer joined a capacity crowd at UALR's Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall for a showing of Sharon La Cruise's "Daisy Bates: The First Lady of Little Rock," a documentary on the NAACP leader who was the adult face of the 1957 desegregation of Central High School. It will air in February on PBS. Bates was born in Huttig. As the film detailed, her life was no vacation idyll. Her mother was raped by white men and killed. No arrests were made. Her father immediately skipped town and never acknowledged his daughter. Her stepfather, the film recounted, tearfully said he could do nothing about racial hatred young Daisy had encountered at the meat counter of a local grocery (could it have been my Uncle Vasco's?). A traveling salesman, L.C. Bates, offered a way out to the teen-aged school dropout and she took it. The rest is a still-developing history, particularly as we learn more about tensions between Bates and the Little Rock Nine. The same day the film was screened, readers of the Arkansas Times were delivered a reminder of the saying that the past is not only never dead, it is never even past. "Trouble in Huttig," read the headline on David Koon's article. Since the election of the little town's first black mayor, he's received threatening letters and KKK-themed graffiti has been sprayed around town.
If only The Observer's own private Huttig was more emblematic of the town. History tells, and continues to build, another story.
The Observer decided this year to do the majority of our Christmas gift-giving either by buying local or making our own self, so we had no intentions of joining the harried crowds on Black Friday, fighting over My Little Ponies and HDTVs. Unfortunately, when breakfast rolled around the Friday after Thanksgiving, we realized we were out of eggs. We reluctantly put on our good-enough-for-Wal-Mart sweatpants and tossed the debit card in a bag. In and out, that was the plan. It was only 8:20 a.m., how bad could it possibly be? Oh, how naïve your Observer was. The parking lot looked like Shakedown Street at a Grateful Dead show. Cars were paying no attention to the designated parking spaces; we saw an Escalade perched on a grassy median like it'd been declared king of the hill. The parking lot was not an option, so we had to settle for being one of about a hundred who had just given up and parked in an adjacent business' lot. Hoping to just run in and grab a carton of eggs, we were not prepared for the horrors that awaited us inside those cheerfully decorated automated doors. Almost everyone was in pajamas, for one, with hair uncombed and eyes glazed from list-making. We were not a pretty group. Children were running amok, as they are wont to do in the face of ten thousand shiny toys, and parents were screaming. Wishing we had a set of football pads and a helmet, The Observer weaved our way past one display after another of things that we're just not sure that anybody needs, but apparently everybody wanted. Instead of the beeline we were hoping to make to the back of the store, where they cleverly stock the essentials like dairy, we were tossed into a shopping mosh pit. Sure, there was no crowd surfing, but bikes were being passed overhead from one consumer to the next. We had to stop a few times and sneak a few photos with the phone. The site peopleofwalmart.com exists for a reason. While it was tempting to snag some deals for myself, we managed to stick to the plan for local and handmade holiday gifts this season. We may regret not getting $15 off that WiiFit, but in the long run, the warm fuzzies we'll feel when we see the loved ones' faces light up over something we made with a skein of yarn and a little metal hook will override any discount that was to be had that day.