Sometimes life will unknowingly hit you with a spate of pleasant surprises when you least expect them. Such was the case last week when my wife and I made a spur of the moment road trip to the bustling region of Northwest Arkansas to meet and have dinner with our son, who had flown in from California for a business meeting. Since we rarely travel to that section of the state, even though we both graduated from the University of Arkansas in the early 60's, we had decided to take in some of that area's sites and attractions, some already known to us, some unknown.
First, we took advantage of its proximity to visit the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art presently under construction in Bentonville through the generosity of Alice Walton, one of the heirs of the founder of Wal-Mart. As many already know, millions of dollars are being spent to construct a spectacular facility to house and display one of the great collections of works by American artists. But the real surprise was the beautiful walk through the woods to get to the observation deck to view the building itself which is scheduled to open this November 11th. When completed, it is expected to draw people from all over the world to enjoy this great body of work, but to see for yourself the status of this endeavor, please go to http://crystalbridges.org.
Next, of course, was the obligatory visit to the U of A campus in Fayetteville to seek out old haunts and memories. One of the first things to grab our attention was the face of the campus. With the exception of the area of green space that still exists in front of Old Main, virtually every square inch of land seems to have some sort of new structure on it including a library, dorms, fraternity houses, sorority houses, parking garages and, of course, the huge athletic complex which is soon to undergo another multi-million dollar expansion. Another thing that caught our eye was the undergraduate dress code, or lack thereof. Long gone are dresses, slacks, khakis, button down shirts and blouses. Boys now wear baggy shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, and girls go for short shorts, T-shirts and ball caps and all are perennially linked into their tech gadgets, be it cell phones, smart phones or I-pods. Think beach. Naturally, as the old folks searching for our chiseled names in our respective senior walks, we were the object of their humorous entertainment, but we persevered and actually found them. But thanks to the digital age, those names have both been recorded for posterity, so, thankfully, we will not have to suffer that embarrassment again.
Our last stop before leaving campus involved a trip to my wife's old sorority house, Kappa Kappa Gamma. Three young members greeted us on the porch, one of whom escorted us through the downstairs and brought my wife up to date on what was happening within the "Kiss Kiss and Giggle" crowd, including the fact that 135 had just pledged, so they both were happy about that. Additionally, they got a kick out of comparing notes on life in KKG now verses then, including no date call, pledging freshmen instead of sophomores, many members living outside of the house due to shortage of space and having to conduct chapter meetings elsewhere for the very same reason. In bidding our goodbyes, I asked the girls why they weren't upstairs studying, to which one held up her I-Phone meaning, I guess, that in fact she was.
As we were leaving the campus, we happened by Underwood's Jewelers on Dickson Street, which held some fond memories for me. For one, Bill Underwood, an old friend, had played an instrumental role in my acing one of my senior business school classes which I have never forgotten. For another, he had been the source of several purchases through the years, not the least of which were the wedding rings that adorned both my wife's and my fingers. Hers had grown tight over the years, so I thought this would be a perfect time to get the original creator to fix the problem. As it had been twenty-five years since I last dropped in to visit with Bill, I fully expected him to have retired, but lo and behold he was not only there but was still doing what he had always done - creating unique and beautiful pieces of jewelry. What was intended to be a fifteen minute visit turned into over an hour of enjoyable quality time with an old friend and one talented guy still plying his craft. And, yes, we left her ring to be fixed by the old master.
And, finally, on the way home we detoured slightly to the north and east to see what was going on at the Medieval Castle currently being constructed outside of Lead Hill, Arkansas, which presented a true contrast to all of the new and modern structures we had been exposed to above. No one is in a hurry here. Started in 2009 on sixty acres of donated land, these committed artisans are doing it the old fashion way from making the tools they use, quarrying the stone, chiseling and laying the sections in exact patterns, constructing ancillary structures true to that period in support of their work (e.g. a blacksmith shop, horse stable, working farm, etc.) and actually dressing the part. Unlike many modern construction projects, this one has a twenty year time frame, so the investors are not in it for the quick buck. You can learn about it all at
Having done the "north by northwest" bit, perhaps our next trip will be south by southwest area of the state with which neither of us has a history or any knowledge. In the meantime Happy Labor Day weekend to all!