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