I Re­mem­ber You Well

McDonald County Press - - COUNTY - Stan Fine

I swear, the peo­ple one meets when least ex­pected! Call it co­in­ci­dence, fate or just plain ran­dom good for­tune, but I seem to oc­ca­sion­ally meet folks who bring back the fond­est of mem­o­ries. Whether these en­coun­ters are with new ac­quain­tances or with old but not re­cently seen friends, these special mo­ments are ones not soon to be for­got­ten. So it was a few months ago at the first Fri­day evening of the month event called Noel Night.

“Hi, do you re­mem­ber me?” At first, I didn’t think the ques­tion was pro­posed to me. There was a large gath­er­ing at the once-a-month Noel Night event and con­ver­sa­tions were be­ing car­ried on all around me. That ques­tion could have been asked of any­one but, as I turned my head in the di­rec­tion of the voice, the sight of an at­trac­tive woman came into view.

“Do you have any idea who I am?”

I be­came cer­tain that the ques­tions were be­ing asked of me; so I be­gan to search my mem­ory for that face and voice. Only a few sec­onds passed and, with­out an an­swer to the ques­tions form­ing in my brain, I de­cided to an­swer the ques­tions with the only plau­si­ble an­swer avail­able to me. “No, I’m sorry to say that I don’t know who you are. I’m sure that when you tell me your name, I’ll feel em­bar­rassed over my lack of rec­ol­lec­tion but, as I age, so too does my mem­ory.”

“Well, I guess we have both changed a lit­tle. I’m Donna and we spent some time to­gether here in Noel dur­ing the sum­mer of 1964.”

I didn’t have to search my mem­ory be­cause rec­ol­lec­tions of that sum­mer and Donna were right there for me to clearly re­call.

“Of course I re­mem­ber you, and you’re right we have both changed quite a bit. The 54 years that have passed have grated on my mind and body. How have you been?”

“I’m well. I’m mar­ried and my hus­band of 45 years and I live on a farm near Grove, Okla. We read your sto­ries in the news­pa­per and in mag­a­zines and I wanted to say hello and say that those mem­o­ries of years gone by bring back such great mem­o­ries.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “I’ll share some­thing with you which you might find to be quite sur­pris­ing. Over the many years that have passed, I have of­ten thought about that warm sum­mer and you. I guess child­hood mem­o­ries seem to some­how last for­ever.”

The con­ver­sa­tion abruptly ended as those stand­ing around us be­gan to speak about what I then con­sid­ered to be quite unim­por­tant mat­ters. Donna smiled and gave a slight wave as she walked away. I re­turned her wave and watched as she blended into the crowd of peo­ple even­tu­ally fad­ing from sight.

That sum­mer of 1964 in Noel, as was the case for sum­mers that had come be­fore it, was a time for base­ball. It was a clear Tues­day night and the spec­ta­tors seated on con­crete bleach­ers set­tled in, sip­ping Cokes and en­joy­ing bags of pop­corn sprin­kled with salt. Noel’s op­po­nent that night at the Noel ball field was the peren­nial strong team of Pineville.

I was the pitcher that night and threw the white leather cov­ered sphere to catcher Bill Selby. I was lucky that evening and, as the seven in­nings passed un­der the dimly lit base­ball di­a­mond, I and the team from Noel pre­vailed and we came out on the win­ning end of a 5-0 score.

As the Noel vic­tors talked about the shutout, the catcher asked if I wanted to pitch for Sul­phur Springs the fol­low­ing evening. Feel­ing as though my right arm was in­vin­ci­ble, I agreed. That Wed­nes­day night, I pitched seven in­nings against the team from Gravette. Al­though the op­po­si­tion play­ers crossed home plate twice, Sul­phur Springs won, 3-2. I seem to re­call that Bob Mor­mon made a nice catch of a fly ball. I was happy that we won but, af­ter those two nights and 14 in­nings of hurl­ing that base­ball, my right arm was spent.

As pre­vi­ously agreed, I met Donna at the en­trance to the Ozark The­atre the fol­low­ing Fri­day night. The the­atre was lo­cated on Main Street and, even now, I can al­most hear the mu­sic float­ing up the street as a band at the lo­cal nightspot, Shadow Lake, played while cou­ples danced on the floor that over­looked the wa­ters of Elk River.

Donna said she was anx­ious to see the movie show­ing that Fri­day night, “A Shot in the Dark,” star­ring Peter Sell­ers. Al­though I knew noth­ing about the movie, or Peter Sell­ers for that mat­ter, I agreed with her and we met at the old Ozark The­atre. I reached

into the pocket of my shorts and re­moved enough money for two tick­ets. “Two tick­ets please.”

“Would you like some pop­corn and some­thing to drink,” I asked as we walked across the lobby and to­ward the con­ces­sion stand.

“Sure, that sounds good,” she replied. “You can’t watch a movie with­out pop­corn.”

Once again, I reached into the pocket of my shorts and, as I re­moved some crin­kled dol­lar bills, the lady be­hind the counter asked, “Can I help you.”

“Yes, ma’am, can I have two bags of pop­corn and two Cokes?”

For al­most two hours, Donna and I sat next to one an­other speak­ing very lit­tle. I asked what she had done that day and she replied that she had helped her mother at work. She said she heard that I played base­ball in Gravette a few nights ago.

“Yeah, I gave up two runs, but we won 3-2. Boy, was my arm sore the next day.”

“That’s too bad,” she replied.

The mo­tion pic­ture ended far too soon to my way of think­ing and Donna and I made our way up the car­peted aisle. We passed through the lobby, and I still re­mem­ber the aroma of that hot but­tered pop­corn. Ex­it­ing the old movie the­atre build­ing, we found our­selves stand­ing with the cool evening air brush­ing against our faces.

We laughed and talked as we walked along the old bro­ken Main Street side­walk. As we turned left and in the di­rec­tion of the rail­road tracks that in­ter­sected that nar­row Main Street, our hands touched. As I re­call, it was com­pletely by chance that my left hand touched her right hand and I seem to rec­ol­lect that it was she who first wrapped her fin­gers around my hand. It could have been I that first held her hand in mine, but I pre­fer to re­call the hand­hold­ing as ini­ti­ated by Donna. But in the over­all scheme of things, I sup­pose it is a rel­a­tively unim­por­tant de­tail.

We walked past the Har­mon Hard­ware and Fur­ni­ture store. It was there that Phoebe paid $2.45 for a gen­uine Louisville Slug­ger base­ball bat that I was sure would more of­ten than not make con­tact with a base­ball. I don’t know what­ever be­came of that bat, but I re­mem­ber once hit­ting a home run when the Sul­phur Springs team played the boys from Hi­wassee.

Our walk took us by the old drug store. I re­mem­ber those steamy hot July af­ter­noons when my grand­mother Phoebe and I en­joyed the Noel Phar­macy Rex­all’s air con­di­tion­ing while we sat on stools at the soda foun­tain and watched as the lady be­hind the counter created a hu­mon­gous choco­late malt to be en­joyed by me alone. Phoebe al­ways thought I was too thin and be­lieved those de­li­cious choco­late malted milks might, as she used to say, “put some meat on my bones.”

I glanced into Kilmer’s Mar­ket as we walked by the store’s glass win­dow. It was there that Cl­eva Sparks and her fam­ily shopped af­ter mak­ing the three-mile walk from their small one-room cabin. There Cl­eva could pur­chase needed items, and some­times Homer Kilmer was asked to care­fully wrap some fresh meat in white butcher’s pa­per.

I wasn’t sure where our walk would end. At Donna’s house, I as­sumed, but I was in no hurry for the evening to come to a close.

“Well, this is where I live,” Donna said. “You live at the Downey, Woodard, Mooney Fu­neral Home?” I asked as I read the sign in front of the build­ing.

“No, my mother works there and we live in that house.” I turned my head in the di­rec­tion of Donna’s ex­tended fin­ger and saw a small white sid­ing-clad house which sat just across the nar­row street from the fu­neral home.

“Oh,” I said with some re­lief. “Well, good­night.”

When the Noel Nights have taken their win­ter’s respite, I’m sure I’ll think about that chance en­counter with Donna and the night we held each other’s hand as we walked up Main Street.

Was there a good­night kiss? Well, only Donna and I know the an­swer to that ques­tion.

STAN FINE IS A RE­TIRED PO­LICE OF­FI­CER AND VER­I­ZON SE­CU­RITY DEPART­MENT IN­VES­TI­GA­TOR WHO, AF­TER RE­TIR­ING IN 2006, MOVED FROM TAMPA, FLA., TO NOEL. STAN’S CON­NEC­TION TO NOEL CAN BE TRACED BACK TO HIS GRAND­PAR­ENTS WHO LIVED MOST OF THEIR LIVES THERE. STAN BE­GAN WRIT­ING AF­TER THE PASS­ING OF HIS WIFE ROBIN IN 2013. OPIN­IONS EX­PRESSED ARE THOSE OF THE AU­THOR.

COUR­TESY PHOTO

This pho­to­graph is of the ac­tual Ozark movie house lo­cated in Noel as it ap­peared many years ago.

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