Wonders and Wondering

I knew little of the Bluebell Café and Country Store until yesterday, when my girlfriend (also known as IC and other such terms of endearment) and I went for a not-terribly-long, leisurely drive. We drove Highway 298 from Blue Springs, Arkansas to Story, Arkansas, the latter community which is home to the “storied” café. My beautiful girlfriend knew of the place, but it was new to me. We got there around 2:00 p.m., late for lunch, but the staff happily accommodated our desire for a couple of hamburgers and tater tots. And I was delighted that my request for jalapeños for my burger was met without as much as a moment’s hesitation. The woman who accompanied me to lunch knew even more; she knew the place hosts jam sessions late Saturday afternoons (which she verified by asking). I learned through yesterday’s experience that the Bluebell Café and Country Store is a tiny place at the intersection of Highway 298 and Highway 27. And I learned, this morning, that The Hiking Life‘s website calls the place “equal parts restaurant, grocery store, gas station, live music venue and de facto community center all rolled into one.” Located about halfway along the Ouchita Trail, the spot is one I would not mind visiting again.

Following lunch, we drove down Highway 27 to Mount Ida, where we stopped in at the Ouachita Artists Gallery and Studio. Despite the fact that we arrived after 3:00 p.m. closing to a locked door, we were allowed inside, where we spent a few minutes viewing a variety of pieces of art created from various substances including oil, wood, watercolor, and other media. We saw several pieces of art formed from wood turned by the “artist formerly known as husband.” That is, my lovely companion’s ex, who I met a day or two ago. In appreciation that we were allowed to enter the gallery after closing time, we purchased a bar of lavender-scented soap created by one of the artists whose work was on display.

Before departing Mount Ida, we stopped to gaze at the exterior of a small house that was for sale. It would have been more interesting and intriguing, had it not be situated next to what might have been a hillbilly meth lab, complete with a bunch of guys sitting outside, looking at us with suspicion as we drove by the “no trespassing” signs warning outsiders to steer clear. Then we drove on Highway 270 past liquor stores and barbecue joints and touristy spots (including Shangri La Resort, where I recalled I once ate pie at the resort  while speaking on the phone with my friends who live in Fort Smith), to Hot Springs, thence home.

Yesterday’s drive was good practice for a much longer road trip we will take later, when I drive west to pick up my companion for a long, leisurely excursion through a large swath of the country. I can hardly wait!

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For many years, I have considered the display of Confederate battle flags as overt expressions of racism. Generally speaking, I still consider it to be so. But yesterday, while sitting in the little café where such a flag was on display, I began to wonder whether the claims  that the flag is simply an homage to heritage, made by those who display the flag, might be at least partially true. Why I started to question the certitude of my heretofore unquestioned belief in the righteousness of my opinion is hard to explain. Regardless of why, though, I just started wondering whether the label of “racist” I had applied to people who proudly display the flag might be wrong. There’s no doubt that the Confederate battle flag is steeped in racism. But the possibility exists that it may also be steeped in pride of heritage; pride that is not limited to racist beliefs. The problem I still have is that southern “heritage” is almost impossible to completely divorce from southern racism. Of what, exactly, is southern heritage “proud?” Hard to say; but I think it may be more than racism and subjugation. I wish I could wrap my head around it. Maybe, if I could find a way to understand southern heritage and pride, outside the framework of slavery and a plantation mentality, I could find a way to begin reconciling north versus south and slavery versus abolition. I’d rather be forgiving and tolerant than judgmental and bigoted. Somehow, I might need to find at least a shred of legitimacy in the “states’ rights” arguments that pervade arguments in honor of the Confederacy; but those arguments are so riddled with holes that is going to be damn near impossible. But, still, I must try.

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Philosophies are hard to argue against; beliefs based on the indefensible grasping of mind-numbingly stupid ideas cannot be changed through the application of logic. If such change were possible, I suspect evangelical Christianity would have long since disappeared from the face of the earth. But there I go again, throwing matches on my incendiary bigotry. I should not be so judgmental about religion. I have no argument with the majority of the underlying principles upon which human decency are based; it’s just the quackery used to justify the principles. Resurrection. Transforming water into wine. Miracles. Epic floods and snakes and forbidden fruit. Comic books frequently are more believable than the swill embraced as the word of the Lord. Ach! I’m doing it again, am I not? I just cannot abide the idea that magic has any place in human philosophies. But perfectly rational, reasonable, decent, intelligent people accept on “faith” that the impossible is or has been a common occurrence for millennia. I’ve gotten better over the years; better at hiding my smirking mockery and skepticism. What I’ve not gotten better at is withholding my snide judgments. I’m still working on it. If I have any hope of being a genuinely good person, I have to figure out a way of accepting even the unacceptable, believing he unbelievable, or tolerating the intolerable. Hmm. It’s not working for me, is it?

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It’s odd, I think, that I feel like I know some people I’ve never met better than others with whom I’ve spent many hours (or, collectively, days or weeks or months). It boils down to the level of comfort one has with someone else. How a remarkably significant level of comfort can develop without ever having laid eyes on another person or spoken to them or otherwise engaged, except by way of the written work is extraordinary. Now THAT is a bit of magic; far more so than the story of forty days and nights of epic rain and the ark awash in animal pairs. Why, I wonder, am I so insistent on flogging religion and its thousands of faults?

The same question, but in a different context, haunts me as I try to understand the absence of childhood memories. Are there long, empty stretches of time from my childhood that I’ve blotted out for reasons I do not understand? Was I privy to conversations between family members that revealed I was unwanted? Did I inadvertently learn that I was traded by my real parents for a bushel of papayas? Was I purchased on a lay-a-way plan, rather than born to the people  I’ve always considered my parents? Am I actually the world’s first low-functioning clone? How can all these questions come out of the same head as the ideas for ceramic mask art?

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All right. I’ll stop now and wait for my opportunity to engage in a wonderful conversation I did not even know, and month and change ago, awaited me.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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Please talk to me about what I've written. I get lonely when I'm the only one saying anything.

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