According to the Arkansas.com website, Hardy (sorry for the misspelling in the earlier post…must have been hungry) expanded from a railroad construction camp in the late 1800s, and it still maintains a population of around 700. According to the Census, about 500 called it home in 1990, which would have been right around the time I have any lasting memories of it. The website also highlights the part of Hardy I remember most, a downtown area where time seems to have stopped around the beginning of the 20th century. A two-block stretch of nostalgic storefronts and awnings, long, tall windows, staggered brick, rectangular buildings of various colors where the only things that seem out of place are the newer automobiles parked along the curbs. Ozark Classic Craft Mall. Miller’s Leather. Old Time Candy Shoppe. Pottery. Knickknacks. Antiques. Hand-dipped ice cream. Boardwalk-style sidewalks.
My grandmother would have fallen in love with it immediately.
My father doesn’t remember her taking much with her to Arkansas. Probably just what she could fit in that sparkling white Lincoln Town Car, which, to be honest, probably would have fit most of the belongings from her two-bedroom apartment if she’d wanted it to. The rivers and lakes and surrounding countryside are quite stunning around Hardy. Rich, thick blankets of trees, small streams with perfect skipping stones layering the creekbeds. Kind people. Hot in the summer, sure, but I don’t imagine that was a disappointment for Grandma, having endured northern Illinois winters her entire life.
Even though we can’t get an exact year for the wedding from Grandma Bonnie, it must have been around 1987. Either way, it couldn’t have been more than a few weeks or months before they decided to get hitched. The picture below is from their wedding, a small function, and features (from left to right) Claretta (Grandma’s niece), who played flute at the ceremony, Grandma Bonnie (in turquoise), Howard, Perry, and Dorothy.
Grandma Lafferty had become Grandma Estes. And honestly, I recall stumbling over the name change a few times, but I was young enough that Estes seemed to fit just fine. The fact that many of us just called her Grandma Bonnie most of the time didn’t make the adjustment all that difficult.
The transition wasn’t entirely smooth, however. I can’t imagine the difficulty and patience that must have been required to find love at that age, for Howard and Grandma both. You like what you like. Tastes. Opinions. Hobbies. These things had all been carefully woven into their individual characters for their entire lives. And while I knew them well enough at a later stage in their lives to know things weren’t perfect, they always seemed to figure it out. They always did. Some of the painfully few details that I know about their early life together involve the powerhouse cleaning skills of my feisty grandmother. Howard, after all, had been living alone for some time, and though he shouldered a hefty bag of talents, housekeeping may not have been one of them. My mother recalls Bonnie describing how she had tackled the stove, which hadn’t seen the right side of a sponge in quite some time. Dorothy helped her as they cleaned and organized the entire place until Grandma was comfortable enough to feel like she could relax. In which case, it must have been an all out war against dirt and grime. She learned some hard lessons about the difference in climates as well. For years I couldn’t understand why she stored her loaves of bread the way she did, until Grandma moaned about the Arkansas roaches.
“Oh, goodness,” she howled. “Ugh. I just couldn’t keep them out of it until I figured out to put it in the microwave.”
“Turn right at the what?” my mother asked. “Oh…um, okay,” she followed, her voice unsure. She hung up the payphone receiver and let out a little laugh as she eyed my father. “She says we’re supposed to turn right at the boot.”
I don’t exactly recall the first time I made it to Hardy. I was young, maybe 8 or 9. And the memories are photographs. I mean that twofold. In one sense, I remember things from the actual photographs that still exist in the dusty albums in my mother’s basement. My sister next to me, screaming in a canoe (it tipped over just minutes later, and her real screaming began). My father swinging a golf club at a driving range for the first time. Howard playing the guitar in a small music room at the back of the house. In another sense, there are flashes of memories, little pulsating images, not long enough to be short scenes, but imprinted upon my brain like moving photographs, a few ticks of movie reel. “Ya’ll don’t dunk now, ya hear?” says a lifeguard at the local swimming hole, followed by my Pops’ sheepish grin. Grandma’s hummingbird feeder out on the front porch, dozens of them darting in to feed. An old fishing boat model I finally made up my mind to purchase for $5 at an antique shop in Hardy. “I’ll talk to my daddy if I wanna!” my sister, Kristy, hollering at Grandma Bonnie along the Main Street boardwalk. We’ll get back to that story in a bit.
There wasn’t a street sign at the corner of the road that led to Howard and Bonnie’s house. Just a large, black, workboot, nailed to a tree. We laughed about this for years, and though you could get lost easily in the backwoods roads for miles around their home, there was no mistaking the kind little house as you approached it. It was yellow, if memory serves, a gravel drive that led to a carport along the side. The sidewalk that led to the front steps was intercepted by a long front porch, perfect for sitting outside and enjoying the dying light of the day, as long as the heat was tolerable enough, sipping a cold drink and slapping at the mosquitos on your arms in the evening. I want to say that the porch itself was concrete, but covered, at least partially, in that tough, green indoor/outdoor carpeting, a long putting green leading right to the front door. But perhaps I’m just making that up. There were little figurines along the porch that added to its folksy aura, a sign near the front door that read, ‘Howard and Bonnie Estes’ in fancy writing. I do remember feeling relieved for her the first time our tires crunched into that gravel driveway. That lonesome staircase leading up to her apartment on the second floor was no more. I would feel bad leaving her when our trip was over, but not for the same reasons I had in the past. Grandma Bonnie had her own cozy home with a man who could make anyone laugh. Especially her. And I loved to hear my Grandma laugh.