Director of creative writing, University of Arkansas
In warm weather, from early May until well into October, we went to Peveehouse Ford nearly every Saturday and Sunday to swim. Lee Creek ran along the western edge of the old Hays family homeplace. My uncle Paul and his family still lived in the house and farmed the land. If it was a Sunday, we’d go to Uncle Paul’s after church and have dinner in the house. Often dozens of people would be there, all relatives.
After dinner most of the cousins and uncles would play baseball for several hours in the pasture behind the house. After that, we’d follow the old wagon road across the branch and across another pasture and to the fields of tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, squash, okra, peas, watermelons and cantaloupes my uncle raised. Beyond that was the old Peveehouse Graveyard. Sometimes we would stop beside the graves of my grandfather, my grandmother and my Aunt Reba, who are buried beneath the tree whose trunk my grandfather used to lean against as he sharpened his hoe before a day’s work in the fields.
There, graveside, one or another of my uncles might tell a story — and they were, all of them, very good storytellers. Then we’d leave the cemetery, climbing over or through the rusted barbed wire fence, and follow the logging road to the bluffs above the creek. There, directly below the bluffs, was Lee Creek, where my aunts and uncles and some of my cousins were baptized. It was also the perfect swimming hole. We’d dive from the bluff, swim awhile, dive again. It was maybe 20 feet from the very top of the bluff to the surface of the water. But, all along the face of the cliff, there were ledges just broad enough to offer firm footing. So you could choose your height. The little kids could jump from a ledge not two feet from the water, and my father, a superb swimmer and diver, would climb the tree that had somehow taken root in the stone at the top of the bluff, climb out on a limb, and, from there, execute a perfect swan dive. He was a big man who loved life, and this is one of the ways I like to remember him — in midair, high above green water, on a golden summer day.
It’s different now. My father’s dead, as are all his brothers and sisters. The graveyard is still there, but no one has been buried in it for years and it’s poorly tended. The creek still runs below the bluffs, of course, but just up the creek, where once there were shallows, is the Lee Creek Dam. The water’s deeper now and quiet. But still I go there once or twice a year and stand atop the bluff. From there, I can hear us all again, young and happy.