I blame, or credit, Carol Gaddy.
She heard me reading poetry between sets of a bluegrass band at a now-defunct nightclub in Eureka Springs, where, if one sentence wasn’t smacking your audience upside the head, you lost ‘em.
Carol came up to me and said, “I’m with the Arkansas Arts Council. Would you like to be part of Arkansas Artists-in-Schools?”
I was 22. I said, “Oh, you wouldn’t want me, I’m a high school drop out.” “Doesn’t matter,” she said. She told me about Artists-in-Schools. How professional writers, musicians, painters, actors, sculptors signed on for a school year, and for one week out of each month, they visited schools, doing what they did with children and teenagers. Four small classes a day. Regular income. Different schools, all over the state.
“I don’t drive,” I told Carol.
"Now that,” she said, “could be a problem.”
But way down underneath I must have had some idea that I might be able to become the kind of teacher I’d never had, who might have reached the kind of indifferent, restless student I had been. For I stopped talking myself it of it. I let Carol Gaddy’s invitation be personally seismic. Over the next few months I learned to drive, bought a car, got a watch, had a telephone installed. Shifted from identification with the so-called counter-culture to participating in that ecosystem of education, geography, history, art, and social interaction which we simply sum up as culture, period.
Driving down the Pig Trail to my first A-I-S gig, I had a serious discussion with myself. “How,” I asked myself, downshifting into the curves, “are you going to do what you do and be comprehensible and palatable to Arkansas school administrators?” “Well, Crescent, are you going to speak the truth to them?” “Sure.” “And isn’t truth truth? Recognizable, universal—or it wouldn’t be truth, right?” “Yes, but—” “Well, then most people will recognize it if you say it clearly in language they understand. Speak truthfully in easily-understood language. Stay away from jargon, hippie and otherwise. Stay clear. Simple.”
Thus do we talk ourselves into growing up.
Here’s how it turned out. I fell in love with doing Artists-in-Schools. I fell in love with the whole state, not just tiny off-the-wall Eureka Springs. Then I fell in love, period.
The next school year, I rented a studio apartment in the Quapaw Quarter of Little Rock.
Little Rock was dab in the middle of the state instead of way to hell and gone like Eureka Springs, which is tucked into the northwest corner of the state and not convenient to anywhere. Whether I was going to Crossett or Jonesboro, Walnut Ridge or De Queen, whether I was working with the children of sharecroppers in the Delta or of attorneys and real estate brokers in Maumelle, living in Little Rock put me closer.
The house in which I rented the apartment was the Garland Mitchell House at 1404 Scott Street, a two-story steamboat Gothic on a lawn punctuated with Tuscarora crepe myrtles. My landlady was a Mitchell—Starr Mitchell, who was gorgeous and about my own age. She lived in the larger, usually messier apartment across the hall. I loved watching as each day she emerged from it butterfly-like: slim, shiny dark hair, immaculately dressed, the picture of order from chaos.
Starr had a weekly potluck dinner. One Tuesday she waltzed in to 1404 Scott and said to me, “I get the prize for inviting the best-looking man in Little Rock to potluck, you just wait and see.”
And, that evening, setting down a hot apple crisp, I did.
And reader, I married him.
Not long after that potluck dinner, before we married but after Ned and I had fallen in love, stepping into the shower one day, I thought, “I could die now, I know how it all comes out. This is the man I marry and live out my days with.” This was not quite accurate.
On an unseasonably warm fall day, about 23 years after I set down that steaming apple crisp on a trivet of Starr’s table and looked up and into the extraordinarily large blue eyes of that handsome man, Ned went out for the bicycle ride he habitually took, twelve miles out to the Conoco where they rented canoes, which he called “Canoe-Co.” On the way back, he and a small pick-up collided, about a quarter mile west of the Lake Leatherwood turn-off on Highway 62.
The large events which shape one’s life do not appear large at the time. They appear typical. Ned had no idea that particular bike ride, out of thousands he’d taken, led to eternity. I had no idea that particular apple crisp, out of the thousands I’ve made (always with fresh apples, always with cinnamon and a tiny bit of black pepper in the topping but never spices on the apples themselves) would lead to Ned.
And what if I hadn’t read poetry between bluegrass sets at the bar, that particular night?
That is why I blame, or credit, Carol Gaddy.
Otherwise, I would be forced to say, “Life is mysterious. It is as sweet and fragrant as an apple crisp straight from the oven. As round as a spinning bicycle wheel. As twisted as the Pig Trail. And at any time, it can change utterly and forever, as it did for me on a day in Little Rock.”
– May 2009