I have an obsession with old pictures.

I have inherited and hoarded many of them in my travels. Amongst these pictures, I often find a common backdrop of a beautiful, simple white-sided Ozark home with white roof supports. One of these pictures was taken in the mid-1990s or so and shows four generations of my Holt family (myself included) perched on the front steps of that house. Just today I was showing my middle daughter this picture and she was amazed that I was ever that young or small. I also had to point out the others surrounding me and who they were. Sadly, a good portion of them were gone before her time, but some of them she was blessed to know. It never dawned on me as a child, but the times on that porch were some of the best of my life.

Growing up in Vendor, Arkansas, I have often said that I was blessed to be raised in a bit of the ‘Old South’ that is oft written about. The people around us knew who we were and we knew them. We were all, nearly without exception, descendants of the founding stock who farmed and improved this beautiful section of Newton County. Growing up, ‘Holt Hill’ as we came to call it, was bigger than the world to me.

Leaving our home down the hill, I could walk up the dirt road alone at any time and be safe. I would wander up and down it often, and stop to visit my kinfolks who lived above us. Just up the road was my great-aunt and uncle, Dennis Ray and Niva Holt (Bobby and Cot, to me), with whom I spent many an hour on their front porch, and learned much, eating bologna sandwiches and peanut butter crackers.

But, just up the hill from them, lies the home I was originally speaking of.

Wayne Holt married Hilpie Edna Middleton on December 20, 1936 in Vendor, at Rev. Cain Bolin’s home, not far from where they would reside. They moved into an old log cabin home in what I would come to know as ‘the garden spot’ at the top of what would become ‘Holt Hill.’ Here they began their family. They would go on to have three sons and two daughters, who they doted over and loved unconditionally. My great-grandfather, Wayne, often talked about leaving home with an old railroad lamp and walking to near Mt. Judea and cutting timber for ‘25 cents a day’ and using that lamp to light his way to and from work. From his hard work and endurance they began constructing a better home.

Being a small and tight knit community, everyone helped everyone in construction of homes for the neighbors. Wayne selected a small spot not far from the cabin and, with help, began building his and grandma’s dream home. They completed it in 1956, with my grandfather staying up at night and hand shaving and fitting the wooden slats that became the hardwood floor in the front room.

Here they spent their lives, watching the old wooden RCA TV set and sharing many happy memories as they watched their children grow and start their own families.

Of course, life isn’t all roses, and they also shared hard times and sorrow, especially when their oldest son, Stanley Wayne, was killed in a car accident in late 1968. I have pictures of them, sadly holding his senior portrait, on the same old green couch that I came to know so well as a young child, there above the perfectly fit flooring of the living room.

I came along in late 1987, and soon ‘Grandma and Grandpa’s’ was a spot we visited every Sunday, to eat her delicious cooking and visit with all the relatives that came, religiously. My grandma was quite the stern matriarch, but still found time to laugh and smile and play with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was quite the woman!

And ‘Popaw’ (as the grandchildren, my father’s generation, all called him) was quite the man! But he would rarely be found in the house. His place was out on his front porch. I often found myself out near him, and remember him gazing out across the driveway and into the woods, often just enjoying the view and, likely, thinking back on his life. His was a hard, rough Ozark existence, but he was a kind, calm and gentle man. His children never spoke an ill word of him, and they all loved him and Grandma unconditionally, just as they loved them. He endured loss without comment, hardship without complaint, and suffering without bitterness. He spent all the time he could, as he aged, on that front porch.

We would naturally (us men and young boys) find our way out next to him and discuss everything from the weather and cattle prices to politics and local news with him. He was always a ready and good conversationalist, and he brought his calm and reasoned demeanor to all he did and said.

We lost him in 1998. After that we continued to gather on the front porch, nearly every Sunday. Until my great-grandmother got unwell and could no longer cook every Sunday, we would do the same.

We lost her in 2009, after years of missing Grandpa.

After that, the front porch was strangely quiet. Abandoned, sad to say, it was. More often than not, it was hardly ever stepped on.

I began work on the old house and replaced the damaged roof support and painted it, trying to beat Mother Nature at the game of destruction she plays with un-lived in homes, but my marriage, moving and budding family put an end to that for a long time.

Recently, I have began to go back and enjoy the home again, sitting on the front porch, bringing my now curious young children up to the steps and sitting them down, telling them stories of the giants from my childhood, telling them that the giants not only lived, but that they also walked in my time.

Grandpa, Cotton, Pops, Joe Kenneth, and so many more, were all gone before my own children could behold them with their own eyes and know their soft loving touch and gentle voices, but they will live on through me.

The old home still stands, and God willing, we will keep it that way. We will stay on the porch, watching the spring rains blow through and gently bless the yard and flower beds that my great-grandfather Wayne built over 65 years ago.

Sometimes as I stand or sit there, I think I can almost look to the side and see them all again.

Maybe a man can become a child again in his memories, going back to when he was nuzzled up in a hug by his tough great-uncle on the front porch, posing for the very picture I mentioned early in this article.

Place is part of who we are. This is our home. Nobody else has a right to it. Without it we are no better than nomads, drifting aimlessly through life, without a home to leave to our own children.

Remember that, if you draw anything from this scrawl.

Travis Holt

Travis Holt is an independent farmer and historian in Arkansas.


  • Tom Wiggins says:

    As you were blessed with the presence of your kin on ancestral land, your children are blessed to have you.
    Keep up the good work

    • Travis Holt says:

      Thank you so much, sir! I appreciate your kind words and want to do the best I can to ensure my children have a home to turn to, just as I did.

      Kindest regards,
      Travis Holt

  • Ed Wright says:

    What a great story. I was lucky enough to have lived in a time and place where those experiences were a common way of like. Thanks for sharing.

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    A nomad can be an honorable man. Was the porch important, or the hug from your great uncle? You can’t put a price on family.

    But yes, I get it. My grandparents lived on the slope of Walnut Hills near Vicksburg, MS. At night, during a thunderstorm, you could hear the yankees howling and even catch a glimpse of them running back to the river as the cannons flashed from atop the ridge.

    A year ago, I passed thru and CAT tractors were grading off the tops of the hills. Time is finally catching up with Vicksburg, long abandoned, being rediscovered by New Yorkers and Illinoisians eager to put insanity behind them.

    • Travis Holt says:

      I understand completely! It truly is sad to see so many of the Yankee locusts yet again invading and defiling our home.
      One day we have to stop them; or our children will not have a South to turn to.
      Thank you for reading!

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