That's the Bald Knob Bulldog above. In my mind it's the Bald Knob Bulldog Cafe', despite the sign calling it a restaurant. I'm not sure how that discrepancy came about, but I'm willing to bet that I'm older than that sign, so I'm guessing that it used to be called, and perhaps have a sign saying that it was, a cafe'. I just did a quick Google search and learned that other people have also searched the the Bulldog Cafe in Bald Knob, so I think it must have been called that at one time.
Anyway, I was there this evening. My daddy flew home today from a grand adventure that took him to Rome, Zagreb, Cakovec (where he stayed in our home for a couple of nights), and then a town called Cluj in Romania (where he taught English for several weeks), and to Hungary (where he visited friends made many years ago.) He came home today from all this travel in faraway places. His flight from Europe was delayed, causing him to miss his flight home last night. So he spent the night in the airport and arrived here with almost no sleep in 48 hours.
He amazed me by having the presence of mind and energy to want to go to the AT&T shop to be sure his Europe phone service was terminated, and to go by the truck dealer to schedule an oil change. I drove him on those errands, then we came home. He went out to his garden and picked tomatoes and eggplant and squash. Then we ate supper.
And then he brought up the idea of going to get a strawberry shortcake in Bald Knob. So we did it. Except I learned that they also make peach shortcakes, so I got peaches rather than strawberries. Which was a hard decision to make, because strawberries are wonderful and famous in these parts. But peaches are my favorite, so that's what I had.
A trip to the Bulldog was the perfect ending to a lovely day dedicated to coming to Arkansas. As soon as I crossed the Mississippi River, I felt that wonderful sense of freedom that comes when you see the green masses of trees, the wide open fields, the dirt and gravel roads wandering through them.
Today I was listening to lectures (a graduation gift from my thoughtful husband) on Gerard Manley Hopkins and his poetry as I drove, hearing Fr. Joseph Feeney read poems of Hopkins' Wales surroundings, the hills, the birds, the fields, the sky. And all around me were fields, sky, birds--and even lovely hills, once I came to Crowley's Ridge. It made the drive even more beautiful than usual.
And then I made a stop that made me love Arkansas even more. I wanted to get balloons as a little surprise when Daddy would arrive at his house. I was short on time, and I really wanted to avoid the crowds of WalMart if I could. So when I saw a little local florist sign in Bald Knob that said "more than flowers," I thought it was worth a try. You never know just what to expect when you go into a place like that in a small town (fewer than 3,000 people in 2010). It was actually a large-ish building for a florist, obviously a new business in an old building that used to house some other kind of activity, maybe a farm supply store, given the amount of farming in that area. It was large and fairly plain, except that the new owners had painted huge flowers on the outside of the building, giving it a whimsically charming homemade beauty. You can see a picture near the bottom of this website.
Hoping they had balloons, and that I could get some quickly, I walked in the door to see no one behind the counter. No doorbell rang, no voice called out, no one appeared. I had just begun to wonder if I should go back to the car when out of the back came a little brown-haired boy who hurried right over, looked up at me, and threw his arms around my legs to give me a hug, his head reaching a little above my knees!
I think he said something, but I don't remember what. I don't remember what I said, either. I just remember that he was terribly sweet, and even though I couldn't always understand what he said, he responded to my greetings and questions; and once I had learned that he was three years old and that his mom had gone to the store, he went back to where he had come from behind the counter, and out came a woman who I believe was his aunt.
This all took a very short time, less time than it has taken to write about it and probably less than it will take you to read it. I mention that so that no one can get the idea that he was neglected or unsupervised. He clearly was not. He was just fast!
Happily I did order balloons that they did in fact have, and the whole time carried on a funny conversation with this sweet child, whose mother arrived during my few minutes there. When it was time to pay and go, he was in the back of the shop again. He obviously heard something I said about leaving, because he stopped talking with his mother and said, "Wait! I have to go give a hug!" And he ran out from behind the counter and hugged my legs again as before, this time looking up and blowing kisses at me. His mother and aunt gently "called him off," though of course I said it was absolutely fine with me, and that he was a sweetie pie (I think that's what I said, who knows?), and rather reluctantly, I left.
I feel sure I'll find a reason to stop there again.
Meanwhile I'm left pondering the beauty of a small town and of close circles in which a child is so loved and cared for and has no reason to feel fearful or suspicious of someone he has never seen before. Not only not fearful, but so full of love and generosity. Of course it's a messed up world, and he will learn prudent boundaries as he grows, I have no doubt. It was clear that the big people in his life love him and love life, and so I trust they will protect him appropriately.
Arkansas is a poor state, among the three poorest in the nation, according a study done two years ago. It has problems that come along with poverty. It has problems that come along with other things, too. While my drive home takes me through beautiful fields and crosses flowing rivers, it also means seeing abandoned houses, dying towns, and reminders of racial tension.
I was reading an article the other day about West Virginia, another of the three poorest states, and author John Mark Reynolds' take on some of the problems there. I couldn't help thinking about that article as I drove past some of the dying towns and wondered about the lives of the people there. I know that drugs are a problem in Arkansas, especially meth, from what I've read. Some people are desperate for meaning in their lives, and for love. Without those things, drugs become an easy choice, among the rich and the poor. And once drugs affect one person, they affect families, and then communities, and no one ever knows the full extent of the damage.
But there is beauty in this state. Incredible natural beauty. And today the beauty of a little boy who knows he is loved and cherished. And I imagine it's because of people in his life who also know that they are loved and cherished. And his little heart of love is evidence that they really believe what they have on a sign that was by the front door of the business. They haven't sold their birth right, to reference the West Virginia article. They've accepted it and are passing it on.
It's not the Memphis way of doing business, to put religious posters on the front window. It's not the big city way. It's not cool. It's probably not even allowed in some places. But who knows if having this sign on the window may not open the door to hope for some young teenage girls, leading to conversations and relationships that will save them from turning to drugs or bad relationships in search of love, or failing that, drugging numbness?
I think Hopkins would find poetry in this picture and in my afternoon encounter. Death, disease, decay, drug addiction, dirt, and depression are as real in Arkansas as anywhere. Hopkins knew darkness and despair very well. But the Christian belief in resurrection, which he so powerfully describes in "That Nature is a Heracletean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection," is paramount in his poetry and in his life. And if I am to believe that I am, ultimately, "immortal diamond," I must have opportunities and the ability to see that hope. "Across my foundering deck shone a beacon, an eternal beam." People need a beacon shining. They need to see that beam.
I hope they keep that poster there. I hope it blesses girls who need to see it. And I hope their little boy becomes a grown man who loves with passion and prudence because he knows that he is cherished, that Christ became what he is, and he will be what Christ is, and that this life is only part of a Life we can't begin to imagine. You can handle a whole lot of what life gives you when you know that.