The Making of a Southerner
In reading some essays I wrote in college, I came across this one and wanted to share it. I’ve edited out the flowery, inexperienced writer and hopefully improved upon what I still think is good writing.
My existence in Arkansas happened purely by chance, the result of several coincidences, beginning two generations ago. In the 1940s, my Cajun grandparents took a vacation in beautiful Hot Springs, Arkansas, courtesy of my grandfather’s job. At the time, Hot Springs was much like it is now: a popular resort town, untainted by technology and the glitter that some tourist traps fall into.
I have a picture my grandparents took of downtown looking similar to how it looks now, although Central Avenue, the main thoroughfare, was more modest, and had grand-looking automobiles traversing it, rather than the angry-looking plastic cars of today. This picture sets off my imagination, and I envision rosy-lipped women pushing old-fashioned prams down the sidewalk, their “daringly” short knee-length skirts dancing in the breeze. Ella Fitzgerald wafts down from an open window at the Arlington Hotel, as boys with red caps and missing front teeth play ball in the adjacent park.
The Other Disney
Hot Springs, in the early part of the 1900s, was one of the vacation hotspots, before theme parks became the shiny new thing. My grandparents probably felt like they were in someplace glamorous like Paris, coming from a teeny tiny town in Louisiana. They stayed in a modest motel, one that is still alive, if not exactly well. Returning to their five children (my mother, the oldest), they raved about all the wonderful sights they had seen and the exciting places they had explored.
This obviously had an effect on my mother. Years later, as a twentysomething beauty planning her wedding, she came across brochures advertising Hot Springs. She and my father decide it would be the ideal place to spend their honeymoon. After the wedding, the newlyweds drove eight hours north to the town that would one day be the home of the future Guillory family. They stayed at Pretti Point, the kind of resort that preceded the golf-course-condominium-athletic-club resort — the kind that was nothing more than a few tiny cabins, and even tinier sparkling blue pool, and exactly one rentable fishing boat, sans motor.
My parents (before I was even a sparkle in their eye, of course) avoided the usual tourist traps like the IQ Zoo (where a skateboarding chicken would roll an egg down a chute), Mid America Museum, and the Mountain Tower. Instead, they hiked the meandering trails of West Mountain, waded in the cool spring at Gulpha Gorge, and drank in the natural beauty of this city-sized national park.
It was, as the stories go, love at first sight. It was also the start of the Guillory family annual vacation. Over the years, as the family grew, my parents brought my brother (quickly followed by a second brother just 11 months later), and then me, 12 years later, along to the Spa City. I remember zoning out on the long car ride from Houston to Arkansas, but perking up as I picked out the landmark rocks near Lake DeGray, signifying that the endless ride was nearly over.
Hot Springs was our Disneyland growing up. What could be better than fishing with Mom, feeding the ducks (watching out for tiny, vicious duck teeth), and dipping our toes in the scalding hot springs downtown? We spent each vacation at Buena Vista Resort, a decent-sized property with cabins, a fishing dock, game room, mini golf, and playground. I befriended the manager’s fiery-haired daughter (we’re still friends on Facebook), and we turned Buena Vista into our own play place. With steep hills to roll down, a pool to cool off in, and secret spots around the property, we were never bored.
Making Dreams Come True (Ahead of Schedule)
My parents vowed they would retire in Hot Springs, but one day in Houston, they asked themselves, “why wait?”
We first moved to northern Arkansas, and then three years later, made their dreams a reality by making Hot Springs home. I spent my formative years there. Hot Springs is where I started writing. Where I had my first kiss. Where I first fell in love (in 8th grade, no less). Where I formed ideas about what I wanted out of life. It’s where, despite the fact that I’ve spent years trying not to identify as Southern, I still sometimes slip and call home. There’s truth in our slips of the tongue.
Although my dreams have carried me to California for the moment (and will take me to countless countries down the road), my story of how I came to be a Southerner in Hot Springs, Arkansas, inspires me and reminds me that I am but one piece of an ongoing story, and one I’m proud to be a part of. When we visit Hot Springs, I take my son to the same haunts I enjoyed as a child, including him in this long storychain of our family.