Saturday, January 26, 2008


My dad and one of his younger brothers, 77 and 75, have spent the last few years trying to piece together the family history. Working off the margin scribblings and tucked in scraps of notes in the family Bible, they've chased a number of metaphorical rabbits down holes, over hills, through hollers, and back again.

Many dead ends.

My great-great grandmother and great-great grandfather, it seems, were married in the home of her parents in Lamp, Arkansas. Trouble is, Lamp no longer exists.

But they got lucky last week, when a distant cousin sent them a collection of old, old maps of the region. And there was Lamp, about 5 miles from our property and on the other side of the churchyard where all the family is buried.

My dad and his brother got up early this morning, loaded up two metal thermoses of coffee and some leftover biscuit and sausage sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, called all the dogs--who leapt into the bed of the truck, howling and dancing--and took off in search of the town that no longer is.

They pulled the truck over onto the shoulder about where they thought the center of town would have been, and lowered the gate on the back of the truck. They spread out the maps on the truck bed and weighted the corners with stones.

There they sat, drinking their coffee, eating their snack, and talking about the kinds of things that brothers can say with few words. The dogs sniffed around in the field next to the truck, and after a while, another truck pulled up behind them. After all, why would two old men choose to have an early-morning picnic in the dead of winter on the side of the road in the foothills of the Ozarks? Were they OK?

Turns out, the couple in the truck knew all about Lamp, since their family had lived on this road for generations. There had been a school, a store, and even a post office at one time, see? right here on this spot on the map...and they knew our family name.

After an exchange of phone numbers, the couple left and Dad and my uncle folded up the maps, gathered up the dogs, and took off, too.

Dad was so excited when he recounted this to me on the phone just now. A ride in an old truck, some simple food, the steam off a metal cup, a beloved brother, a wide place in the road where a part of his life still pulsed, and some new friends...

May I have such Saturday mornings when I'm 77.

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