Sunday, March 1, 2009
For reasons unbeknown to me, the afternoon of May 20, 2005, while tooling south at a healthy clip on I-540 in north Arkansas, I decided to consult a map to see what I was near. My fingers and eyes ouijaed to Chester. Chester is slightly northwest of Lake Fort Smith, which is north of Fort Smith, Arkansas, the place of my conception and subsequent birth.
Getting to Chester requires some definitive action. You probably won’t get there accidentally, even if you are on a Bonfire of the Vanities kick. (If you don’t click the link, Bonfire of the Vanities is a bestselling novel by Thomas Wolfe about a philandering couple who exited a New York freeway at the wrong place and the wrong time). I wound off the interstate seeking the city limits of Chester.
Chester gives evidence of being in the same boat with other small towns, given the cold shoulder by current events of the last several decades. A nice stream trickles through the town. Chester has a nice store, typical of what you find in a lot of really small towns off the beaten path. It is locally owned and run by the owners. On my reconnoitering swing through town, I noted the store’s presence but did not stop.
Not seeing anything that excited me, I made one last foray, heading south down what would probably stand-in as Chester’s Main Street. After a quarter mile or so, there was the barn. Barn red and long since abandoned to the elements, it is the stuff of which rural photography is made. The sun had nearly crept to the dreaded back light azimuth, but not quite.
The construction is typical. I did not venture into the structure this time. The tall weeds, I surmised, may be home to creatures who would strenuously object to my intrusion into their space. Should these imagined varmints construe my intrusion as unwelcome, they might deploy their naturally imbued defenses — none of which are desirable.
Finished with the shot, I drove back to the store for “comfort,” refreshment, and nourishment, in that order. As I exited the pickup, I noticed my person being given a thorough visual investigation by a couple of good ol’ boys seated on a bench under the porch of the store. We exchanged greetings. I went into the store and bought my health food choices — Cheetos, a Coke and some M&Ms — and came back out. I invited myself to join the guys on the bench.
It did not take long to recognize these dudes as articulate raconteurs. We had a great conversation. I took notes on the barn. To my shame, I must confess that in the ensuing years, the infamous “note-weevils” have consumed the notes. But the picture is there. Let your imagination do the rest.
There must be something about small towns ending in “ster.” I found Lester, nearly four years later, the same way I found Chester.
N O T E S:
Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.