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The Observer, Jan. 13

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The Observer’s friend’s son is precocious. Only 5 years old, he speaks like a character out of Shakespeare, if the story told about him is true. The child, besotten with Christmas punch, regressed in the night. As his parents stripped his sheets, they heard this soliloquy as he headed to the bathroom: “Damn it, dingle. You betrayed me again!” “Get used to it,” his father called back to him. Then the day comes when boys come down to breakfast reeking of scent. The Observer’s friend, mother of a middle-schooler, was nearly overcome by what she supposed was aftershave when he arrived at the table. The mother and her daughter held their tongues and they held their noses and made it through the early morning meal. The Observer suggested that her friend’s son had fallen victim to the new middle-school fad of wearing, not aftershave, but a particularly smelly deodorant (marketed as “body spray”) that both the boys and the girls are wearing, with the mellifluous and alluring name of “Axe.” That made more sense to her friend, since her son is yet to have a need, shall we say, for aftershave. We assured her the smell-um application wouldn’t last long. Good, she said. Otherwise he’d be eating breakfast alone. Our white Christmas of sorts — now just a foggy memory after so many days of rain and mist more appropriate to Peruvian rainforests than Ouachita foothills — made a big impression on The Observer’s in-laws, who drove in from Arizona armed with our word that it seldom snows here, and never at Christmas. They arrived at 11 a.m. the Wednesday before Christmas, minutes before traffic down Cantrell and Markham became bumper-to-bumper, a good portent. They were safe, the house was warm, fairytale flakes were falling, and they had the key to the garage apartment up the street that guaranteed them the ability to sleep in a bed and bathe in privacy, with hot water. Then we knocked some family socks off by taking the Arizonan on a walk through Allsopp Park in the snow. He marveled that such a vast woods was preserved in the middle of the city. (Here’s to the Allsopps and the notion, now apparently passe, that donating a large area of woods for purely aesthetic and recreational uses is a good thing.) But the icing on the cake — or the cold beer in the glass, perhaps — was our destination, our friends’ house on the edge of the park. We arrived without warning, accompanied by a wet dog and dripping with melting snow, but were admitted, nevertheless, whereupon we took all their available cash and a backpack to fetch wine and beer and then, on our return, consumed the alcohol and ate all their food. The Observer threw our wet jeans in their dryer and sat in our long underwear by their fire, devouring the last of their fruitcake. Another friend, just next door, cheerfully put his four-wheel-drive truck in gear to fetch an in-law left behind at the house so she could join in the revelry. What a neighborhood! the in-laws declared. That’s just Little Rock, we told them. Once the in-laws cleared out and life slowed down, we took a New Year’s Day trip 15 minutes down the road to Lorance Creek, a nature preserve off Bingham Road. At our feet, crane fly orchid leaves were earnestly photosynthesizing; overhead, a loudly calling pileated woodpecker flew. At eye level, where a display about the woods’ bird-voiced frogs and a button to push to hear a recording of their song ring out into the swamp once stood, nothing. Vandals had cut the wires to the speaker and the display was gone. That’s just Little Rock, too. Observer correspondent Bob Donaldson reports that his holiday adventure — which included a carom off a guard rail that not only kept him from driving into Lake Dardanelle but which righted the car back onto the highway as if nothing had happened; seeing an 18-wheeler that had passed him at 50 mph earlier jackknifed in a ditch, and rescue by a wrecker that happened to be right behind him after he himself jackknifed on an incline outside Morrilton — had an especially happy ending: His cat, Bopper, survived his one-day-turned-to-four-day absence. When Donaldson drove into his driveway, Bopper could be seen behind the glass patio door, jumping up and down. His food bowl was empty and water bowl nearly. He has been on Donaldson’s shoulder or in his arms ever since.

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