For the first 12 or so years of my life, my family trekked from Houston (and later Fort Smith, Arkansas) to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for vacation. We stayed at Buena Vista Resort, a throwback to the 1940s when this lakeside oasis drew people from all the neighboring states. Even in the ’80s, the place was booked in the summer, and we’d often see the same people year after year.

hot springs resort

I made friends with the resort manager’s daughter, Wendy, and every summer I’d run up to her house, and then we’d explore the property, playing mini golf and rolling down what I now see is a dangerously steep hill next to the lake. We explored every inch of the property; it was our magical paradise.

fishing lake hamilton

The Connection Continued

When my family finally moved to Hot Springs (a longtime goal for my parents), we bought a house down the road from Buena Vista. We couldn’t let the tie go, it seemed. One summer when I was maybe 14, my mom worked in the convenience store attached to the resort game room. It was there I had my first close encounter of a “boy” kind: I played ping pong with an older boy who was staying there with his family, my mother looking on as a chaperone.

My brother would bring his young family to Buena Vista for holidays, joined by aunts and uncles from Louisiana and Texas, and we’d all gather at the barbecue pit or hang out on the spacious porch of the rooms we rented. My memories of this place have always been sepia-toned and lovely.

Reuniting with the Memory

swimming dock

Sometime in the past 20 years or so, Buena Vista was turned into condos. I don’t think it could have survived as an old-school resort in this era of modern conveniences. So people — many locals — started buying up the rooms and converting them into condos. More were built. Over the years, I’ve driven down to keep tabs on the place, but hadn’t spent any significant time there.

This summer, I decided to amend that long separation. I reserved a two-bedroom condo, anticipating that my son, brother, niece, and nephew could all pile in for some nostalgic fun. As soon as I arrived, my body took over. It knew the curves of the road and where to go. I could feel the exact angle I’d have to lean back if I headed down the hill toward the lake.

retro bathroom

Everything was mostly the way it’d been nearly 30 years ago, though the game room and convenience store had been replaced by a community room. The tiny room where my dad would clean the tiny bream my mom caught was now a bathroom. The shuffleboard court was painted over. The mini golf and volleyball court were gone. The slide and diving board disappeared (and, my brother Paul swears, the pool got more shallow). But the cabins stood, identical to how they’d always looked. Sure, they had some younger siblings built in recent years, but the place was the same.

I walked around, feeling ghosts of my younger self. There’s Susan and Wendy rolling down the hills like maniacs, trying not to fall in the lake. There’s Susan, tiptoeing onto the boathouse, a little afraid of the rocking motion. There’s Susan feeding the ducks, feeling a thrill when tiny duck teeth nibble the bread from her hand.

thunderstorm

The first night, I went nightswimming with my family, a pleasure I don’t experience nearly enough. I lay back in the water and gazed up at the abundant moon, and felt at peace. Sometimes there are places that feel like home. Saorge, France is one for me. Buena Vista is another.

gilroy kids 1990s

gilroy kids now

When the rest of the family joined us the next day, we shared old stories and laughs about the place. I was filled with such joy and fulfillment, reliving such happy memories with the people I love, as well as introducing the next generation to the place (not that they looked up from their phones to care).