Heavy metal music for Christmas. That's the ticket. Or it was for this Observer.
But the metal was brass — trumpets, baritones, trombones and tubas wielded by the Arkansas-Oklahoma Division Band of the Salvation Army. Tympani provided the beat, rather than the familiar bass drum.
The Army borrowed a Methodist church in Maumelle for its Christmas program last Sunday. The Observer was one of a tiny number outside the Salvation Army community who trooped in. Admission was free, but food contributions were encouraged. We dropped a big jar of peanut butter in the collection box and a small cash gift in a Salvation Army red kettle. The Salvation Army's local commander seemed surprised at the cash contribution. The kettle apparently was there mostly as a symbol of the Salvation Army's familiar seasonal bell-ringing.
The audience and band was full of young people in Army uniform, a sign that it still attracts recruits to the evangelical ministry whose work among the needy is well known. Younger members starred as soloists and actors in a Christmas pageant built around band numbers. You know the story. Traveling couple, she pregnant, is put up in a stable. Some humble ranchers troop to town to find out what the fuss is all about.
The concert? The high brass had a few discordant moments, but the throbbing baritones sang as we had hoped on “Once in Royal David's City” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”
The padded chairs of the First United Methodist fellowship hall were comfortable and warm. But we couldn't help think that a better setting for the blue-suited band this chilly night was a street corner, the horns broadcasting the warmth of the Christmas story to all the world.
It was one of those weekends. Salvation Army Band, a British play about how far pretension will take you in education, a neighborhood Christmas tree lighting, some buzzard-watching at Two Rivers Park. Full. A trip down Highway 65 to the Knapp farm between Scott and Keo.
It's not called the Knapp farm anymore; it's called Toltec Mounds State Park, as in Indian mounds. Real ones, not like the ones up at Spiro, except for a little one off to one side, where one once stood to mark sunrise on the winter solstice.
Arkansas archeology is exceptional in many ways, not the least of which is that total ignoramuses are welcome to join in. They are called amateurs. The PhD types hand you a toothbrush, tubs of water and tell you to wash up the very dirty contents of a cloth bag labeled with exactly where in the ground the objects hailed from. Sometimes, the objects include broken beer bottles — yes, everything is saved! — and so it helps to be in the very diverse — the young, the old, the seven months pregnant — and entertaining company that is drawn to such activity. Next to us in the lab was a UALR student just returned from Yemen, invited by Homeland Security to step in the parlor for a little tete-a-tete on his arrival in Chicago. (“Did you attend a mosque there?” “I don't think you can ask me that, but yes, I did.”) And we heard from a woman who once worked with the Zoo's late gorilla Brutus, and who recalled that extended eye contact with the great ape could really tick him off. It helped The Observer get through an amazing collection of modern garbage.
Old garbage is better, and in some of the tubs wondrous things turned up. Arrow points and darts and pieces of pots decorated in patterns uncommon to Arkansas. Tunican?
Then it was time to walk the site, look at the 1,000-year-old earthworks. New houses now line the oxbow on the northwest side of the site, pushing the 21st century smack dab up against the 10th. We wondered what these very ancient Arkansans who spent their weekends drawing lines on their pottery would have made of our weekend so far, with Christmas trees and British theater and a ticket to a brass band.