The life of a man is something that runs deep in all history.
Before the war on gender roles, man and woman had a clear, defined boundary that all recognized and respected. Man was the provider, and woman, the nurturer and homemaker. A story and role as old as time.
But, what of the physical boundaries of a man?
My Great Grandfather was born in Vendor, Arkansas, on May 4th, 1919. He would remain there his entire life, with few exceptions.
Wayne, as he came to be known, grew up in Vendor in the early part of the 20th century, with the normal Ozark way of living; he learned to cut wood and make a living as his fathers did before him. It’s not that Wayne’s story is atypical, but it’s the closest one I have a personal connection to that holds true to an age old lifestyle and tradition that most have forgotten or purposefully overlook.
Wayne was born at home. Vendor was his home. He grew up near Big Creek at his parent’s house and eventually married only about a mile from their front porch, to a sweet young girl named Hilpie Edna Middleton. They were married at the Reverend Cain Boling’s home only about a mile from Wayne’s place of birth at Vendor, near the current junction of Highway 374 and McElroy Gap Road. The chimney still stands to this day. That was on December 20th, 1936.
After their marriage they moved across the county road to the top of what is now called ‘Holt Hill’ by locals and settled in what would eventually (in my lifetime) become the garden spot at my Great Grandparents’ home. They lived in a rough cut log home and continued to live there while my Great Grandfather built what would become their permanent home. I was told stories of his sitting up late at night, hand carving the wood flooring with his pocket knife, and hand fitting them together, slowly, yet surely, getting it done.
Patience was not only a virtue, but a way of life with Wayne. He had no reason to hurry. He had his worries and tasks, like any man of his day, but he had a home and a family now. Five children, three boys and two girls, were born to him & Edna (as she would refuse to be referred to as ‘Hilpie’.)
He lived in the house that he finished in 1956 on the top of the hill in Vendor. He would reside there until his death. He was there fourteen years after it’s completion, when his father died. He saw him buried in Smith Cemetery, only about a mile distant.
Wayne continued his life; raising his children and enjoying his grandchildren, until tragedy struck on December 20th, 1968.
His eldest son, Stanley Wayne Holt, and two of his cousins were out on a Friday evening, in a 1961 Ford Starliner, when some unforeseen circumstance landed it upside down in Big Creek, which wound it’s way through Vendor, and provided the lifeblood for Wayne and his family. However, this night it would not be a giving force, but a taking one.
Wayne found the car washed up against the bank of Big Creek, driver’s side up, with some men coming back from a coon hunt that night. It was, sadly, too late for the three in the car. A book could be filled with the rumors, intrigue, and theories on what happened to land them there, but the fact of it is, they died there in Big Creek, not a mile from home.
They buried Stanley in the Smith Cemetery, not two miles from where he died.
Wayne was a different man in some respects after that, always telling his family to be careful on the roads because ‘it was so dangerous.’ He was so right.
Wayne grew old in the shade of the trees on that hilltop in Vendor. He lost a lot of friends, but gained a lot of new family, in the way of births and marriages. The true meaning of life was something he understood and saw in his lifetime. He saw his lineage continue through his sons, and his daughters both bore fruit and had beautiful children whom he loved dearly. Sundays were an eventful time, with him personally calling anyone who didn’t show up for ‘Sunday dinner’ and making sure they were all safe.
He spent his latter days in the large living room, walking that large, hand fitted floor, with a little bit slower gait. He held his grandchildren there, and one special Christmas, opened a ventilated box that contained what would be his last dog ; a blue heeler he appropriately named ‘Blue.’ This dog would outlive him by several years and become a watchful companion to Edna as she aged.
Wayne never cared much for ‘town’, whether it be the small hub of Jasper, or the larger one of Harrison. His grandkids laughed at how you could bribe him into going to town by giving him an RC and a pack of M&Ms. They claimed he would sit there all day if you did just that! However, town was too far from Wayne’s home, and he was never comfortable there.
Wayne died in Harrison, Arkansas on June 19th, 1998, after a valiant battle with cancer, far from his home. It was about thirty miles away.
People today, in an age of cheap and easy transportation, too often forget the importance of place; especially the place where one was raised. The place where one lived, loved, and lost. My Great Grandfather lived a life once common, now, sadly, atypical. The moments of his life, from his birth, marriage, home and burial, all encompass less than five square miles.
To be sure, he spent time out of that area, working and going to ‘town.’ But these were not the things that defined his life. He lived where he died; a monument to a tradition that we should all try and adhere to, if possible. Without, probably, even thinking of such a thing, my Great Grandfather embodied the mountaineer spirit; he was raised, married, and lived within earshot of his close kin. He saw them out of this world and was saw out of this world, in kind, by his own.
He rests in his overalls within a mile of his birthplace, the home he built, and where he was married, all three.
There is a deep lesson here for those of us who are willing to listen.
Rest in peace, Popaw.
God bless you and God bless the South.