30 March 2009

Lakeport Plantation - Lake Village, Arkansas

Before 2007, I had never heard of Lakeport Plantation. To me, Lake Village, AR, was just a dot on a map. In September 2007, I was introduced to this fabulous treasure of Arkansas by Dr. Jeannie Whayne, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas. Dr. Whayne and I, along with two other history students, went to the Grand Opening of Lakeport Plantation. We had an AMAZING time! Lakeport is an Arkansas Heritage Site - part of ASU’s preservation work in the Arkansas Delta. The 1858 plantation was donated to Arkansas State University in 2003, and after 4 years of hard work and dedication to historical accuracy, Lakeport was opened to the public.

The weekend of spring break, I had the opportunity to return to Lakeport with my family, and it was just as beautiful as it was at its Grand Opening! So much more work has taken place in the house and on the grounds. Sarah Long, Museum Assistant, remembered the University of Arkansas group from the Grand Opening, and she was just as hospitable this time as she was in 2007 - she gave us a first-class tour. The plantation and education center are both open on weekdays at 10:00 and 2:00, and a tour is well worth the trip!

When the U of A group went to Lake Village in 2007, we discovered a place called Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales on St. Mary Street. I could not let a trip to Lake Village pass without stopping in to say hello to Miss Rhoda and to eat a few tamales and a fried pie! Miss Rhoda kept my family laughing the whole time. We can't wait to go back!

Thank you, ASU, for your dedication to the Delta, a place full of culture, history, and beautiful places. Thank you, Sarah Long, for the fabulous tour (and for the fried chicken in 2007 from the Lakeshore Cafe!). And thank you, Miss Rhoda, for your famous hot tamales and beaming personality. Looking forward to another trip!

23 March 2009

Coley's Truck Stop - Dermott, Arkansas

This may seem odd, but I’ve never taken a real spring break. I've never been to Cancun or Panama City Beach (though I'd like to one day!!). My family and I go to small towns, battlefields, state and national parks, and out-of-the-way museums. This spring break, we spent 4 days going to some of the places we’ve always wanted to go. One of the places we've all wanted to track down for a while was Coley's Truck Stop in Dermott, Arkansas. Here's why...

In 1955, my grandfather, Kenneth McKee (I called him Gengan), was an Arkansas State Trooper stationed in Dumas. A local man named O.T. Coley and his wife ran a truck stop and restaurant in Dermott called the Twin City Diner. It was a place to sit, visit, and drink coffee with local people, which is something my grandfather did very well. He was 27 years old when he made the acquaintance of three young men on a journey to make their marks on the world. They were on their way to be on the Louisiana Hayride, a radio show based out of Shreveport, Louisiana. My grandfather visited with them on a fairly regular basis, and on this particular day, a picture was taken of them drinking coffee. My grandfather, dressed in his state trooper uniform, had his picture made with Bill Black, Scotty Moore, and Elvis Presley, who was holding my grandfather’s revolver. Gengan was always very proud of this picture, and he could say that he knew Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys before they were really famous. We‘ve had the picture hanging in our house for years. I asked about it when I was a little girl, and he said, “Yes, Elvis did have blue suede shoes on.”

My parents and I have always wanted to see the old truck stop where my grandfather befriended Elvis Presley, so on Friday, March 20, we did just that! The only remains of the old truck stop and restaurant on U.S. Highway 65 are the bases of the old gas pumps and the metals poles of what may have been the entrance to the diner. Another building has been built around it, but no businesses are there now. If anyone has any pictures of the old Coley’s Truck Stop (or Twin City Diner), I would love to see them!

Thank you, Dermott, for giving me a little piece of my Gengan's history!

22 March 2009

The Beginning of My Arkansas Tour Journal!!

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a long time…I admire people who can keep journals and write in them every day, and it is always a good idea to write your thoughts and experiences down so you don’t forget them later. After the amazing spring break I’ve had, I figured now was as good a time as any! So here goes…

My family and I spent the week traveling through Mississippi and the Arkansas Delta, and last night was the ultimate end a much-needed break from school and teaching! Last week I received an invitation to an open house for the new home of the Arkansas Studies Institute in Little Rock, which includes the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. As an author for the EAHC, I was automatically invited to the event. I had NO IDEA what to expect, but I am SO thrilled that I went.

When I arrived at the new ASI building (right across the street from the River Market in Little Rock) and sat down inside, I scanned the program - the guest speakers for the night were Governors Bumpers, Pryor, Tucker, Beebe, and President Clinton! Each man spoke briefly about the importance of preserving the history and culture of Arkansas, something very near and dear to me.

During his speech, Governor Bumpers said something that truly spoke to my heart - “you choose your legacy.” We all have to choose the directions we wish our lives to take, and when making those decisions, we have to think about what kind of future we want for ourselves, for our children, and for later generations of Arkansans.

Arkansas has SUCH a deep and fun history and culture! So many things to do - so many places to go! Our state is like no other, and it is up to us to keep our culture alive.

OH! And I got my picture taken with President Bill Clinton!!!