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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Going Home Again

Historical Fort Smith - Joyce Faulkner

The Grotto

I grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Like most folks, my childhood memories are a blend of happy and    sad -- a journey to adulthood focused on family and education. I left for college in 1966 and haven't been back for any extended time since. So my return to the little city on the border for my fiftieth high school reunion is exciting.  I have spent the last few days becoming reacquainted with my hometown. Both of us, it seems, have grown. So I will take several posts to share tales of my rediscovery.

The things that moved me the most this visit were small. Immaculate Conception Church is  still the most noticeable landmark. As I drove up Garrison Avenue toward the beautiful structure, memories took me back to the 1950s and 60s. I went to Immaculate Conception School for the first eight grades and then to St. Anne's Academy. In those years, everything centered around the church -- from daily mass to singing in the choir for weddings and funerals to practice for special firsts like confessions and communions and confirmations. We would march across Grand Avenue, four abreast in our blue and white uniforms, and file into the soft glow of sunshine filtering through the stained glass windows. Inside, we smothered our childish exeuberance and maintained a respectful silence. That stillness was cool and pleasant and seemed to me, the very essence of peace and holiness. I wondered if the magic was still there for me.

I parked the car in the lot and spent a moment at the grotto behind Saint Anne's Convent. It seemed new and I realized it was not the same one I remembered from my time at St. Anne's which had been in the remains of the chiminey of Zachary Taylor's home. Regardless, it was lovely and inviting.

Inside the church, it seemed the same although surely something had changed. I smiled at a statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched in welcome remembering one of my first visits to IC. I'd stared at  the Sacred Heart of Jesus for several minutes before elbowing someone next to me and saying in a loud stage whisper, "Why's his heart outside of his chest?" My classmates giggled but our teacher silenced us with a steely glance.

I sat down in a front pew and breathed in the place. It had lived many years before me and will live on after me...a monument to the shared history of those of us who grew up in Fort Smith.

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