“Well, you been gone again” remarked my uncle; more a declaration than inquiry. “Wandering or meandering?” he did ask; somewhat less judgmental than at first. This uncle was more a “straight-cut ditch” type of guy than a “meandering brook” person, to use Thoreau’s metaphor of education as a base reference.
“A little of both, I guess” was my reply. Now, with only inquisitiveness as a motive, he asked for details. Sensing a ready and supportive audience, I complied. First reminding him of the Tolkien quote “Not all those who wander are lost…”
“We set out to Eureka Springs, that home of healing since the Northern Invasion. Been there several years ago, thought we’d return. Somehow took the more southern route and found ourselves in Calico Rock.”
He remarked at least both were in Arkansas.
“No fishing?” he seemed disappointed.
“That was last week. Went to Rockbridge; through Mt. Grove to drop off a tractor for service and repair.” Being task-oriented, this pleased him. Being a man of basic passions, was even more pleased to hear of our encounter with a young waitress at a local eatery—The Grove.
We had waited, not long, to be seated. I had asked if they, like so many businesses, were short-staffed?
“No” replied a young waitress, “we’re just slow.” Now Lisa, a bit more mature and practiced server, realized how this sounded and quickly pointed out the remark was referring to the crowd—not the speed of assistance.
Both saw to our needs, pleasantly and efficiently. The food was great, too. As often the case, I offered to send them one of my books as part of the tip, and in so doing gave them my card. Reviewing the books on the back, Shi (the younger one) observed “So, you’re small-town famous?”
This last reflection amused my uncle a good deal. Upon my own further consideration, I have to agree. Small-town famous. I like it. My uncle was ready for more details. Mainly how we had got to Calico Rock instead of Eureka, and had we eventually made it?
I explained we had, as it grew dark. Just in time to check into the iconic Crescent Hotel and then to be chauffeured a few blocks to dine at a fine Italian eatery. Our delay, in part, the discovery of the old East Calico Rock of debilitated buildings and lore of the infamous “Peppersauce Alley” of the pre-railroad days of the river-town.
Now, as my uncle defined for me years ago, meanderings are on the basic path; just off-task adventures that cause delay. Like looking at butterflies when replacing guards on a mower in the hayfield.
Wanderings are off-task; straying from a decided direction. Like walking downstream more than a mile to that hole with the tire and rope swing, removing shoes and shirt and swimming; where the original design was to merely stroll to the nearby spring and fill a canteen and return to the field to mow hay.
Calico Rock—wandering. Pioneer Museum on Hwy 86 while headed home—meandering. On course; off-task.
Back to that first wandering (or meandering?). Shi and Lisa were attentive, knew most of their customers and called them by name. Made them feel at home. Brought them joy.
The rest of the Tolkien quote goes as follows:
“The old that is strong does not wither;
Deep roots are not reached by frost.”
Lisa and Shi are not slow, nor are they lost. They are on their path of service. As we are on our path of discovery. Thanks for joining us!