Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Actually, this blog is in two parts - San Francisco and Pine Bluff,

My birthday falls on February 17 which, occasionally, is during the long weekend named 'President's Day' in the U.S. and 'Family Day' here in Ontario. In 2003 it fell on the Monday of that weekend.

Ric flew me to San Francisco on the Friday so that I could participate in an annual celebration there which is named 'Bears of San Francisco' (BOSF) in which he was very involved as the coordinator of the events being held in the host hotel - the Ramada Inn at the corner of Market and 8th Streets.

Nine years later I can no longer remember what a political debate was about but there was a massive demonstration and a full scale riot in the area near the hotel. San Francisco City Hall was no more than a block away and, in the corner of the hotel bounded by 8th and Market Streets was a Starbucks coffee shop.

Before I proceed, I should give a description of 'Bears'. No - not a referral to the furry four-legged creatures of the forest but burly gay men who are, usually, quite hirsute and sport beards. In Ric's eyes, I display much of that description.

We knew from news reports that trouble may be brewing. However, we wanted no part of that so were up in his room on the 8th floor of the hotel that fronted onto 8th Street just below the intersection with Market.  We could hear the roar of the mob and then, from below, the sound of smashing - the rioters trashed the Starbucks outlet.

That very evening we had tickets on a red-eye flight to Houston, Texas and we were worried about being prevented from accessing the airport. Fortunately, the riot abated and we were able to access the BART station entrance in front of the hotel.

Who can sleep well on a 'red-eye'? Not I! We landed at George W. Bush Airport in Houston, had to take a monorail to another terminal and then to wait for the smaller regional aircraft for the flight on to Little Rock. Ric's parents met us at the terminal and took us to their - and Ric's - home in Whippoorwill Acres northwest of Pine Bluff and near the small town of White House. Ric's Dad was employed by the US Laboratories which is located down the road and on the banks of the Arkansas River.

                                                             Ric's Parents Home

Not only was it my birthday, it was the 60th wedding anniversary of Ric's maternal grandparents, Cecil and Neta Bradshaw, and we were expected at the honorary lunch at a Red Lobster restaurant. On our way there we stopped in Pine Bluff to pick up Ric's paternal grandmother,  Martha Reed, who was one of the sweetest Southern ladies one could ever hope to meet (she passed away shortly after Christmas in 2005). We were at her home two or three times in the two days that we were there. Her husband, the Coroner for Jefferson County, had passed away some years before and had left behind one of the largest private collection of books that I have seen!

The luncheon was very pleasant.

Shortly before that Ric's older brother and wife had welcomed the Reeds' first grandchild. They live in Omaha and were unable to be there for the celebration so, after lunch, gifts were created. Neta drove us to a Walmart where wool was purchased and then we went to Neta and Cecil's home. This was another neat experience for me as they owned a cotton plantation and I had never been on one of those before!

Cecil went to lie down for a nap while Neta, Ric and I turned our hands to making 'octopus dolls' out of the wool that had been purchased. The above is a photo of one of the finished creations.

We were not scheduled to fly back to Oakland until Wednesday afternoon so, on Tuesday, John Reed - Ric's Dad - took us touring.

Our first stop was at the family church, Trinity Lutheran.

From there we toured the more interesting places in and near Pine Bluff.

John's Dad had been a major railway buff and, as Pine Bluff had been a major railway central area, remnants of the former railway yards had been preserved. In one of the old train barns was this model railway plus a railway museum.

Pine Bluff is situated on the banks of the Arkansas River and much of that land has been reclaimed as a nature preserve on which is a large Information Center.


I do not mean to be rude but I was startled and pleased to meet a neighbor of Ric's family plus the wife of Ric's mother's brother (Richard Bradshaw). When we returned to the Reed home from our tour John, Ric and I went out to a shed in the back yard where there was a pool table set up while his Mom prepared supper. When she called us in to eat there were two visitors.

The first was the son of the next door neighbors. He was employed by the Arkansas State Fish and Wildlife and was working down the Arkansas River where it flows into the Mississippi. His task was to shoot cormorants who were raiding the fish farms in that area. He was dressed in hunting camouflage and spoke with a strong Southern accent. He did not stay long but seemed to be very pleasant.

Almost immediately after he left, Ric's Aunt Binny arrived and began visiting. She, too, had a strong accent. However, she is a very warm and engaging woman and was most anxious to catch up on the news from her nephew.

Unfortunately, Hollywood - both in films and in TV productions - has made some accents so much a caricature that it is hard for a person to get around that.

Australians - and Newfoundlanders - certainly have distinctive accents and, when I returned after five years in Australia, I was teased about my 'accent' - which I did not realize that I had. As I was not teased in the same way when I returned from Bell Island, I assume that I did not pick up much of that slang.

I do not know if the Toronto area has that much of an accent. However, with the wide variety of languages spoken here, one has to get used to words and names pronounced differently than the accepted 'norm'.

As the photo of Ric's parents' home indicates it is situated on a couple of acres of land. There is a garage attached to the house and a breezeway from the back door to the back lawn. Ric's Mom is a great lover of birds and has feeders along the back wall. Mainly they are filled with a sweet syrupy substance which attracts hummingbirds. One had to be careful, when exiting the breezeway, not to become impaled by the sharp bills of those hummingbirds flying from one feeder to the next.

Our last day there entailed one more visit before we went to the airport to fly home  A beloved teacher of Ric's is 'Mommy' Snuggs. Ric and I had lunch with her - which was at an old fashioned hamburger drive-in where a tray was placed in front of us from window to window on which the burgers and milkshakes were served. 'Mommy' Snuggs had a beloved dog and the following is a photo of her and her pet.

I knew that Ric's Mom was having a difficult time in accepting Ric and my relationship while his Dad seemed perfectly OK with the situation. During the evening before we left Ric showed me many of the family photos. One thing that I noticed was that most of the 'family photos' were taken with the subjects standing in front of the fireplace in the living room. As that was where John asked us to stand for our photo, I took that as a sign of his acceptance of the situation.

At about the same time Mommy Snuggs arrived to drive us to the airport. The aircraft took off during a thunderstorm but we reached Houston without mishap. Our flight arrived in Oakland late in the evening and Ric's landlord, John, drove down from Concord to give us a lift home.    

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