The Ravine

*The following essay was written by one of my students, Samantha Jones, in English Composition I about a place of significance. While this essay is not in letter format, it does pay homage to the memories of her childhood and her sister. For that reason, I asked for her permission to share it with all of you this month.*

arkansas pinesThere are many places that make lasting memories, but there is one special place I will never forget. Lynn, Arkansas, is where that special place is for me. Take a right on Lawrence County Road 318. Pass the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, and Dry Creek Cemetery on your left. Then there is the old Highfield place down the road. The next driveway leads to my childhood home. Behind the house there is a barbed wire fence. Crossing over the fence leads to a thicket of pine trees. Those pine trees enclose my special place, the ravine.

As children, my brother, sister, and I spent many days in that ravine. The pine trees surrounded the entire circumference of it like a security fence. This kept our hideout a secret. The pine needles blanketed the ground, making it a great place to take a nap. When I woke up I would smell of pine, and would have to pick the pine needles out of my hair.

We gathered old pots, pans, and other miscellaneous things from an old dump pile. Throughout our childhood we hoarded up quite a stockpile. We even had old tables and chairs. We used rocks, mud, and grass to pretend we were cooking. We made good use of the pine cones too. They made good baseballs and kick balls. The ravine was our own little paradise.

We would spend the entire day down in the ravine. There was not a game we did not play. Sometimes we would play house, school, or hide and seek. I liked hide and seek the best. I would cover myself in pine needles. When my brother or sister got close I would jump out and scare them. I can still remember how they would jump and giggle. We would also use the fallen branches as swords. That usually ended up with someone tattling to mom and the swords being confiscated.

When we got older, we thought we would camp out in the ravine. I was scared out of my mind. My brother kept making coyote howls. He was trying to scare my sister and me. It sure did work. However, he did not know that a real coyote was going to visit us that night. We heard something moving around outside our tent. Even my brother was scared. So we unzipped the front zipper. That is when we saw the vicious coyote. All we had was a pellet gun. Thankfully, that was enough to scare it away. Needless to say we went running and screaming to the house. That was the last camping trip in the ravine.

As we grew, so did the pines around the ravine. It seemed as if they touched the skyline. We got too grown up to play the silly games we used to play. Even though we did not play there anymore, the ravine still served its purpose.  My sister and I would go there to talk about boys we liked and all the things girls talk about. I can still feel her head in my lap, and hear her talking about the cutest boy in school. We were at peace there. It was the only place we could go where it seemed as if the world stopped for us. Anything we said inside the confines of the pines stayed within them.

The biggest trouble we ever got into was in the ravine. We would ride the bus to school. After first period classes, a friend would drive us to a field that was near the ravine. We would climb over a fence and walk through a pasture. That is where we would all hang out and smoke. My brother even snuck us our first beer there. One day the school called our mom to ask her why we were not there that day. So mom waited at the ravine, and there we all came running through the pasture. She had gathered our empty beer cans, and cigarette packs, and was waiting inside the ravine. We were grounded for what seemed like months.

I guess you could say we grew with the pines. My roots are planted there just as theirs are. Every time I smell pine in the air I am instantly brought back to the ravine. With each memory I get to be a child again, even if it is just for a moment.

Now that we are all adults, it is hard to imagine what our childhoods would have been like without the ravine. My brother and I lost our sister in a car accident five years ago. The memories we made with her and the trouble we got into in that ravine are priceless. Even nowadays when I see those pines standing tall, I can still see her trying to get us to eat her famous mud pies. Those pines and that ravine gave me a place to make the happiest memories of my life.

Dear Daddy

*Today’s letter is written by my friend Samantha Herndon Hogan.*

Dear Daddy:

As I sit here trying to write this letter of thankfulness to you, I have so much to say, yet am at a loss for words. I don’t think I could put into words every single thing you’ve done for me that I’m thankful for. But on this day, I will make a feeble attempt to show you my appreciation.

samantha with her dad 1In my eyes, you have always been a giving, selfless man, always putting your family’s needs before your own. Even as a small little girl, I remember you giving me your “last bite” of ice cream, rather than eating it yourself, just so you could see me smile. As I got older, you put in many hours at a tough job to make sure we always had not just what we needed, but what we wanted. We even took vacations, and even when I was 15, you let me drive across New Mexico on the way to Las Vegas. Wow, how brave you must have been! A little later, I graduated high school, and on to college. I’m not sure how many times you’ve moved my stuff over the years, but I know it was a lot. From apartment to apartment, couch after couch, you’ve never complained.

Samantha with her dadAs I look back on all of those things, I cannot help but smile. You’ve always been there for me physically, but with wisdom and advice as well. Although you don’t give it freely, if I am ever in need of advice, you are always there to give me your thoughts, when asked. You don’t force your view on me, only offer your opinions as asked. You’re always quick to forgive my shortcomings. You don’t judge me when I make mistakes or hold grudges when I do wrong. You’ve loved me through everything from parenting to car problems, to marital issues, to job situations. You’ve advised me on all of it. Kindness, wisdom and love I could never repay you for.

As we enter this time of Thanksgiving this year, there are so many people in my life that have poured into my to make me who I am, and so many I am thankful for. However, today, I choose to honor you, Daddy, for always going above and beyond your job description for me and the rest of our family. I am so thankful for you. I love you so much!

Love,

Samantha

Day 5–Remembering rightly

*Big thanks to Brandon Davidson for agreeing to serve as today’s guest writer in my “28 days of love” project. His post speaks to me personally; I can relate to his story. I’m sure some of you can as well. I’m grateful for the chance to see love bloom in unlikely places.*

Remembering Rightly.

emilyMy Daughter loves my Dad. I’m learning to love him again. It’s hard.

Not long ago I went back to my hometown of Batesville, AR. 

I had just finished reading Miroslav Volf’s book: The End of Memory. Simply put, it is brilliant.

Volf is now Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale University Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He has also been a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.

You’re probably wondering what this book by a Croatian theologian has to do with this picture taken in the second oldest town in Arkansas? (If you’re not wondering, you should probably stop reading.)

Volf was once considered a national security threat in Yugoslavia. He was tortured and interrogated for months.

My parents didn’t get married until I was three. My mom then 18, loaded me on a Greyhound bus and headed toward San Antonio, Texas. My dad was in his early twenties and had strong doubts as to whether or not I was his son. He still does.

My brother was born when I was five. I was sexually and physically abused for the next few years by family members and neighbors. Both of my parents used drugs, and my dad had a problem with alcohol and his temper. I often found myself being beaten with whatever was handy. I still scratch at these wounds. Mental illness is no stranger to my family tree.

Volf found himself confronted with his memories of abuse during the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal. He replayed the hours of interrogation and saw the faces of the perpetrators.

In his book he talks about “remembering rightly.”
Not adding anything to it. He said he found himself having imaginary conversations with his accusers.

I have had more imaginary conversations with my dad than real ones.

I cannot change what happened to me. I will not forget it either. But, I would be repaying his mistakes with a double mistake of my own.

To be honest, I am not sure what kind of relationship Emily will have with my dad, if any.

I know that I will never leave them alone together. I know what little time they have been together has done great things for my soul. I watched them collect “rollie-pollies” and construct a habitat for them. All of Emily’s memories of my dad are positive. 100%
It doesn’t change who he is. It doesn’t change what he’s done.

I am forever grateful for seeing him through her eyes.

I will remember a tyrant.

She will remember a “rollie-pollie” catching old man.

We’re both right.
me[Brandon is a New Media Journalist at the Tyler Morning Telegraph in Tyler, Texas. He tries his damnedest to be a loving husband and father. He also performs stand-up comedy across Texas and hopefully close to you soon. He’s sorry this post isn’t funny. Follow him on twitter for that stuff @brandondavidson]