The Last Word

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Events - with Melinda Gas­s­away

Au­tumn's ar­rival in the Spa City was al­ways a wel­come change of sea­sons by my mother, who on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions ad­mit­ted her dis­taste for warm weather. Un­like me, the sul­try days of sum­mer were not to her lik­ing and in one per­sonal di­ary en­try, she de­scribed the high tem­per­a­ture of the day as “hot­ter than blue blazes.”

A pen­chant for drop­ping a fa­mil­iar adage or two into her writ­ings was some­thing else we shared although I did not fully re­al­ize it un­til after she died in 1981, al­low­ing me to pe­ruse her jour­nals in greater de­tail and with a hum­ble ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our mu­tual love of lan­guage.

Were Mary Vir­ginia Proc­tor Brown here to­day, she would rel­ish how Hot Springs has flour­ished and how it con­tin­ues to em­pha­size the artis­tic as­pects that draw so many to the city for the Hot Springs Doc­u­men­tary Film Fes­ti­val and for other cul­tural events that give our town panache.

If mother ever con­sid­ered leav­ing the re­sort city for big­ger, more fast-paced en­vi­rons, she never ex­pressed such to me. But, it's some­thing I won­dered about given her trav­els to London, Paris, and Berlin, and her post-high school time at a Bos­ton fin­ish­ing academy for young women and a brief stay at Sweet Briar Col­lege in Vir­ginia.

Even after a bevy of beaus and flit­ting about the coun­try for var­i­ous so­cial vis­its, of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by her mother, Mary El­iz­a­beth Parker Proc­tor, my ma­ter­nal par­ent-to-be re­mained in­ex­orably con­nected to Hot Springs and a way of life she found most com­fort­able. Of course, the fact that Joseph Russey Brown, my dad, was wait­ing in the wings with a mar­riage pro­posal no doubt fac­tored into her decision-mak­ing.

While mother and I had a common de­sire to ex­plore new vis­tas, there was no cer­tainty that I would even­tu­ally re­turn home after col­lege grad­u­a­tion in 1965. With my Bach­e­lor of Jour­nal­ism de­gree in hand, I went off to news­pa­per stints in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, New Or­leans, and the Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast. Those ex­pe­ri­ences were in­valu­able — es­pe­cially for a bud­ding jour­nal­ist who needed a broader per­spec­tive on the world. To their credit, my par­ents en­cour­aged my wan­der­lust, know­ing that an only child also re­quired op­por­tu­ni­ties to strengthen her re­solve and in­de­pen­dence.

What they did not re­al­ize per­haps was how “front and cen­ter” Hot Springs was in my heart and mind. It em­bod­ied ev­ery­thing im­por­tant to me —fam­ily, friends, his­tory, a beau­ti­ful and in­spir­ing nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, a sense of be­long­ing to one place that would al­ways nur­ture and shel­ter me.

For­tu­nately, fate brought home in the early 1970s and I re­dis­cov­ered why it had al­ways been mother's `muse.'

And mine, too.

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