As spring whispers promises of summer, The Observer has been trying to remember the songs that our Grandpa-Boo would sing on long trips.
Back in our youth, Grandma and Boo ferried The Observer and our cousin around the United States in an RV. We were, respectively, the faves of each, so their retirement plans included taking us all across the Wild West and up the Western edge of the U.S. Twice.
Mount Rushmore. The Grand Canyon. Annie Oakley and Jesse James' final resting places. Old Faithful. Yosemite. The Grand Tetons. The greatly gaudy lights of Las Vegas and dune-buggy rides in the sage bushes of Reno and Sacramento. Beef-country Nebraska. Bison, moose and elk-teeming Montana. The Great Divide. All the stuff that inspired “America, the Beautiful.”
The Observer would sit in the back seat, head nodding drowsily, lulled by the sights that unfolded outside behind the safety of the sepia window. Ah, what a lucky little girl. Boo would sing. He was from Fordyce. He was in the Air Force in WWII — drafted out of Fordyce, as a matter of fact. We wonder now if those two things had anything to do with his a capella song selections. We've since learned that our favorites were old Tex Ritter songs. “Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey, I cry. If I don't have rye whiskey I think I will die.” And with a slight yodel in his tone, “Over there … Over theyer …over theyer, I'm gonna wear that starry crown over theyere.”
These memories are locked deep in the velvet-lined recesses of our heart. We pull them out and dust them off from time to time, and the experience is always two-fold: the places we saw, and the old-timey ditties springing from the driver's seat on those travels, a special solo vocal appearance by Grandpa-Boo.
The Observer was in Wal-Mart over the weekend. As is our custom, while our lovely companion wheeled her shopping cart full of grub slowly through the checkout line — why are there 77 checkout stands if only three of them are going to be open at any one time? — we parked it on the old-fart bench at the front of the store and took to people-watching. After awhile, a well-dressed young man in a giant black cowboy hat came over and sat down on the far end of the bench. He flipped open his cell phone, and dialed a number.
Part of the job description for The Observer is being an unapologetic eavesdropper, and the cell phone boom of recent years has been a godsend to us. You'd be amazed at what you can pick up from only one end of the conversation.
In a twang that made us think of old westerns — so thick it almost made us think it was a put-on at first — the young man began telling someone on the other end of the phone that he had made it to Arkansas and rented an apartment. He was, he said, waiting on a cab to take him back to his new place. We glanced over at his cart, and it was full of kitchen and bath stuff — a shower curtain, a bathmat, a cheap skillet and a spatula, plastic coat hangers, a toilet brush.
Over the next few minutes, the young man in the hat went around the horn of his family, saying: hello to what seemed like a prodigious brood of cousins and uncles and grandparents, repeating for all that he'd made it to Arkansas, that he was OK, that he was at Wal-Mart buying some stuff for his new place.
The Observer has been there. We haven't moved as much as some people in our lives, but we have done some scootin' around. Particularly vivid is that first day in a new city: new apartment, new shower curtain, and a whole new set of maybes — some of them exhilarating, some terrifying. Lying there in an unfamiliar room that first night, we always fell asleep thinking of the city or town lying out there in the dark like a green continent, full of possibility.
Spouse came through the line, folding her receipt into her purse. The Observer rose and walked away, leaving the young man in the hat there to say his goodbyes to his far flung relatives. We imagined them somewhere out there in the fields of the Republic, thinking of him, missing him, and perhaps saying a little prayer that he would be OK so far from home.
Welcome to Arkansas, cowboy. We hope you find what you need.