A Place Far Off

When I was a little girl, I loved visiting my grandparents up on Mount Carmel. Their house was up on a hill overlooking 40 acres. My Mamaw’s best friend, Lavada, lived down on Shug Road. Lavada’s daughter, Anne, was my mom’s best friend, and Anne’s son, David, has been my life-long best friend.

So, even though I didn’t grow up on Mount Carmel in Independence County, Arkansas, I felt a strong sense of place there. Looking at it on a map, Mt Carmel helps me remember sitting on the front porch with Mamaw and Papaw — watching the rain, listening to the cows bellow, and wondering how Mamaw and Papaw could tell whose truck just sped down the road — by the sound of the muffler.

Mamaw and Papaw are long since gone, but the little road off Highway 233 on the Google map is named Bolin Lane, after my grandparents, Melvin and Irene Bolin. Today, Anne and her husband Jack live in the house she grew up in.

From a place long ago, dangling my little legs off a porch swing, Papaw gave me my first geography lesson. Turns out, it was a lesson on perspective, too.

Papaw said, “There’s not but 2 places in this world that matter — Mt. Carmel and Off.” Since I lived in Little Rock, I was a bit confused. I’d seen lots of places besides this gorgeous hilltop pasture land. “Nope,” Papaw said. “Any place that ain’t where you call home is Off.”

For the longest time, I carried an image in my mind of a great big world map with a speck in Northeast Arkansas. “Mt. Carmel, Arkansas.” And nothing but white space everywhere else. I wondered, “Would you include oceans and rivers and mountains if the were in that vast ‘Off’ part of the world?” Maybe that’s why I’m not very good at geography. My Papaw messed me up. 😉

Truthfully, I’m quite provincial in my thinking about other places. I’m very much a home body. As a place, home is my most comfortable, comforting venue. It’s where I’m me. Completely me.

Papaw might have narrowed my mind a bit about place when he said everywhere else is “Off,” but he broadened my horizon about perspective, and about how “place” is so much more than a dot on a map. The smell of the dirt, the living things that sprout up from the soil, and the experiences I had with people I love are all part of the old home place.

I look at Mt. Carmel on a Google map and I hear the echoes of cows bawling from 30 years ago. I hear laughter from my cousins as we rode mules and explored abandoned cars. I hear my friend David calling from Lavada’s place. And I know the legacy of Bolin Lane is backed by a story much more compelling than, “Old man Bolin and his wife owned that land years ago.” Truth is, they raised 6 kids — 2 sets of twins — on a share-croppers pay, and still managed to scrape together enough money to buy those 40 acres. That little hook on the Google map labeled, “Bolin Lane” represents resilience, toughness, hard work, a lot of love, and the sweet victory of finally realizing a dream.

After my Mamaw died, the old home place was divvied up amongst 6 families. My mom shared her portion with me, and I made a down payment on the place I call home in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Somehow, I think Papaw wouldn’t mind that I moved so far Off. My daddy made me a sign that hangs on my front porch, welcoming visitors to Mount Carmel Manor.

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