Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Best Presents

I got a great present from my parents this year: the 2006 calendar published by in and support of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. ( if you’re interested.) Now, this is cool in a lot of ways, not least because the January photo shows a rabbit from the I.Q. Zoo in Hot Springs, a place I loved when I was little. This was a piano-playing rabbit, as opposed to Henry the Home Run Chicken, my personal favorite, but it dated from the time when we were going there a lot. (About Henry: you paid your money, a bell rang, and Henry came out. A ball came from somewhere in the innards of the machine - that whole set-up was a lot like a giant pinball machine, really - and Henry worked a lever that swung a bat. If he hit the ball, which he mostly did, he ran around the bases. If I remember correctly, there was information on how the animals were trained, which was on the reward system rather than with punishment, but I was more interested in watching Henry hit that baseball.)

There’s a lot more in the calendar that I remember in the same vague way. For example, the entry for December 4 reads “State Speaker of the House John Wilson stabbed and killed Representative J.J. Anthony on the House floor, 1837.” Now, I seem to remember that when my 7th grade civics class toured the Territoral Restoration (now the Historic Arkansas Museum), we were shown the room where it happened, which was the second floor of a tavern becauase that was where the legislature met, and were told that the legislature adjourned, reconvened downstairs as a court, and acquitted Wilson, though I don’t remember why....

And then there were all the things I’d never heard of, like the fact that Craighead County was founded on February 19, 1859, and named after the senator who opposed its establishment. Or that a “bazooka” was first of all a musical instrument invented by an Arkansan; the anti-tank weapon and the bubble gum were both named after the instrument, not the other way round. (Makes you wonder what it sounded like, doesn’t it?) Best of all, there was the Paragould Meteor, which fell to earth February 17, 1930.

I’ve already mentioned the project that’s growing out of my short story, “Mister Seeley,” which is about bootleggers in the 1930s, and the more I find out about the meteor - which exploded into three parts somewhere over Paragould; two parts were found, the larger of which sold for $3600, and the third disappeared completely - the more sure I am that the meteor has to feature somewhere in the novel. I don’t know how yet, exactly, but the unearthly quality of it, and the money to be made from it, seems to make it a perfect choice. And, as Lisa said, doesn’t “the Paragould Meteor” sound like a car??


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