When I was a little boy in Arkansas, I remember hearing my folks talk about my grandpas farm being "out in the country". They lived out east of Rector, oh 'bout five or six miles at a location known as "Simmons Chapel." I've always heard this particular expression describing an area or community as well as many others such as Lone Holly, Marys Chapel, Simmons Chapel, Mounds, Purcell, Boydsville, Blue Cane, Hargraves, Leonard . . . On and on I could go, but let me suffice it to say this:
Churches were numerous, and whereever a church was built, usually in the vicinity of a cluster of people, it would take on the name of the community, or sometimes, the dominant family or land owner, and also, quite often, ended with the word 'Chapel.'
But these were little communities in which the barest necessities were to be found. For instance, there'd be a grocery store, a church with graveyard, a filling station, (today we call them AMPM, or 711 - gas station), perhaps a dime store, sometimes even a cotton gin. Usually, when people needed something, they'd go into Rector, which was quite a large town (Pop 2336 throughout the '50's). It had over two thousand people in it, and was usually a weekly migration destination on Saturday nights.
But you identified with a location name. When people mentioned you in conversation, somewhere the location would be thrown in there about you living, were from, or moved to Simmons Chapel, or White Oak, or Leonard.
The conversation might go something like, "Did you hear about Artie's crop of cotton?"
"Well, you know he has quite a mixture of soil out there, being at Simmons Chapel . . . "
So there you have it. The Artie Shelton family lived out at Simmons Chapel, and there was the little Baptist Church (pictured) just east of where they lived. But I remember another term they used as well. That term was, "The Big Red House" I remember hearing all my life how I'd been born there. And so had several of my uncles.
But the house itself, maybe a total of a couple thousand square feet, was huge by comparison of the little shacks in most parts of that country. It was a two story house, with a large kitchen (in which sat the huge table where we all ate), and a living room. It had sparse electricity arrangements, one bedroom upstairs, one bedroom downstairs and a path . . .
(Note: Isn't it amazing how the changing of one letter of a word can describe two completely different eras of time? For example, today we have three bedrooms and a bath, back then, we had one bedroom and a path . . .)
But, it was a two-story house. Only a couple of times do I remember seeing the door open that led to the upper floor. The steps were steep and rickety, there were no closets, of course no indoor plumbing, was dry and dusty, and it was haunted. (Don't ask me how I knew . . . kids just knows these things . . .).
Yep, you heard me right. It was haunted! My Uncle Byron and Uncle Doyne both told me so! Hey, they were older and much wiser than me, and I believed everything they said!
Now the Sheltons weren't too much on ghosts or hain'ts, but being the jolly and happy man that he was, Grandpa Shelton was continually up to something askeerin the boys in some way or another. Many is the time he'd slip a sheet over his head and come out of the dark. And he'd just laugh (stretch that word laugh out in your mind as you read it (for emphasis). . .). And since the acorn doesn't fall too far from the tree, so did most of the boys.
But another distinct feature of the "Big Red House" that made it quite the landmark was, it was Red. People used it for directions until the time it was torn down I figure sometime in the late '70s or '80s. "Yeah, just go 'til you see that big red house. Just a little further is a crossroads, turn left and Artie's place is just on the right . . ."
I reckon the single most endearing piece of information about that house is quite a few of the Uncles Shelton lived there, and were born there, as well as Grandpa and Grandma Shelton. I was also born there; in the same bedroom, in the same bed as my Uncle Byron. And most of the boys lived in houses quite close as well. Right cross the road and a little to the East was the Little House. I don't mean it was small by comparison. I mean the folks who lived there were named Little.
Randall Little, was a classmate of mine, and some kin of his, Shirley, became an Aunt. She is Wayne Sheltons wife. Shirley was the little (and I really mean little! And with a character and heart and laugh love bigger than Texas!!) Little who ran out of the cottonfield that time after seeing the snake. She was a screamin' and clearing those cottonstalks that were taller than I was! You can read about that in another story - something about snakes.
Another thing about the big Red house was it had a problem with the chimney. That think was constantly failing to draw and many times backed up into the house. Many times they'd have to leave a window open to pull the smoke out of the house, even if it was cold out.
I always thought Rector and the surrounding communities were the center of the universe. And if you didn't live there, I felt sorry for you. I believe that for those of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s, it is still very much so. When people ask me where I'm from (deceived by my accent) I am always proud to say "Rector, Arkansas! Where the Labor Day Picnic was born."
Ahhhh. The Labor Day Picnic. Gonna have to write 'bout that on of these days.
But I'll never forget the Big Red House. You could always see it standing there like some big man made mountain, solid, timeless, stark against the sky, bastion of security . . . red . . .