The Last Word

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - The Last Word - – Melinda Gas­s­away

While re­cently din­ing at a pop­u­lar lo­cal eatery, my friends Mac and Ann Caruso, John and He­len Selig, and I en­joyed a light repast and then turned our con­ver­sa­tion to var­i­ous as­pects of our com­mu­nity.

It was an an­i­mated ex­change, a lively dis­course in­volv­ing five in­di­vid­u­als who have called Hot Springs home for a col­lec­tively lengthy pe­riod.

Our in-per­son, two-hour chat was wide rang­ing but even­tu­ally came to fo­cus on arts and en­ter­tain­ment and the myr­iad things there are to see and do here if one is only will­ing to look around and con­sider the op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Af­ter this pleas­ant get-to­gether, I smiled — al­beit a bit be­mus­edly — at all the times when my mother gen­tly chided me for com­plain­ing that there was noth­ing to do here and I was just plain bored. Per­haps some of our read­ers will re­call those for­ma­tive years and their youth­ful as­ser­tions that ev­ery­thing that was truly ex­cit­ing or in­trigu­ing was just over the hori­zon.

Of course, be­ing cu­ri­ous about what's hap­pen­ing else­where is just a nat­u­ral part of grow­ing up and want­ing to learn more about other peo­ple and places. When a stu­dent asks about a change of scene, I al­ways say, “Go, spread your wings, and one of these days you might re­turn to your roots with a whole new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the old home­town.”

I cer­tainly did and now I marvel at how Hot Springs still re­vi­tal­izes it­self and draw more and more in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies who add their tal­ents and en­er­gies to our di­verse hu­man re­source pool.

In pe­rus­ing the Spa City cal­en­dar of events for any given month, I see true af­fir­ma­tion of progress, of cre­ative vi­sion, of think­ing big, of push­ing for­ward with con­fi­dence.

Among my me­men­tos is a poster from the 1997 Hot Springs Jazz Fes­ti­val. This Septem­ber, we cel­e­brated JazzFest 2015. Ku­dos to the Hot Springs Jazz So­ci­ety for not only pre­serv­ing this iconic mu­si­cal genre but for mak­ing it such an in­te­gral part of our cul­tural land­scape.

Af­ter work took me to live in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, New Or­leans, and the Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast in the mid-to-late 1960s, I made it a per­sonal mis­sion to pro­mote the pos­i­tive as­sets of Hot Springs.

When an as­so­ciate would boast about his or her lo­cale's out­stand­ing at­trac­tions, I would talk about the moun­tains and lakes that sur­round our berg; I would point to the in­ter­est­ing mem­bers of our artists' colony; I would enu­mer­ate the theater pro­duc­tions, the fine arts venues, the eclec­tic mix of recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties and aes­thetic of­fer­ings.

And to­day, when I con­sider the Hot Springs Doc­u­men­tary Film Fes­ti­val, the re­vival of Ok­to­ber­fest, the sound of more mu­sic — ev­ery­thing from blues to opera to coun­try to show­stop­ping tunes — all find­ing their niches and their au­di­ences among us with great style and pas­sion, I am cer­tain the Re­nais­sance will per­sist.

I am just as cer­tain that when other Hot Springs res­i­dents gather to share a meal and toast an an­niver­sary, mark spe­cial oc­ca­sions, or just find con­vivi­al­ity in the com­pany of like-minded friends, that the con­ver­sa­tions will go on in earnest about how we can make our lit­tle part of the world even bet­ter.

Dur­ing the sum­mer, I en­gaged in just such an on­go­ing dis­cus­sion — via tele­phone and email — with a Chi Omega soror­ity sis­ter and jour­nal­ism school men­tor. Dee McRae hails from Alabama, but ca­reer choices long ago took her to points East. She wrote for Smith­so­nian mag­a­zine and now bus­ies her­self with ed­i­to­rial ser­vices, com­pos­ing verses, putting to­gether an im­pres­sive news­let­ter, and serv­ing as a homilist for St. An­drew's Epis­co­pal Church in Mary­land.

When I men­tioned all the talk about a per­form­ing arts cen­ter down­town, a new up­scale ho­tel, or even a classy movie theater, too, she replied, ” Would it be pos­si­ble to com­bine a cul­tural cen­ter with a ho­tel? It would no doubt take more space than the orig­i­nal ho­tel foot­print, but it seems to me it might be ap­peal­ing for peo­ple who come to town to take ad­van­tage of the arts cen­ter.”

So many ideas to pon­der. So many rea­sons to be thank­ful for all that we al­ready have.

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