Old and New Little Rock Memories

I went back this week for a short visit to my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. I’m proud of being from Little Rock. It’s very different from my Malibu home of 30 years (and yet there are many similarities), and it’s  full of so many memories that made me who I am. These memories I share with family and friends there will always make it home, even though that period of my life ended over forty years ago.

In the bridge from The Beatles’ Two of Us*, Paul and John sing,

You and I have memories
Longer than the road
That stretches out ahead

Going home always makes me reflect on those memories, while creating a few new ones on the way.

The day before Jill and I arrived, vicious tornadoes slammed Arkansas and many other southern/midwestern states. One of those tornadoes struck very close to home. My sister Martha’s house was significantly damaged by the winds and falling trees, while my brother’s, my mom’s, and my dad’s houses were spared. But my sister feels fortunate, as many of her neighbors were hammered with far worse damage, some losing everything. Driving through her neighborhood reminded me of my own Malibu neighborhood after the devastating 2018 fires. Some houses were destroyed, some were severely damaged, and others were miraculously unharmed. It makes no sense looking at it. I believe those seeking to understand the reason behind the randomness are asking the wrong question. Stuff happens in life. Sometimes, it’s really bad. Most of the time, we won’t ever know why. What’s really important is how we react to the stuff that happens. 

Our family, friends, and neighbors can give us strength in that reaction. And we can do the same for those we love. And our memories of what we have all been through together and how we have supported and been supported by each other make us even stronger.

I remember one time, my brother Pat, my dad, and I were cycling on one of the beautiful forested roads in Arkansas, one of those roads that stretches out ahead forever, and we needed to eat lunch. The only thing open in town was a small mom and pop grocery. They didn’t have any prepared foods. While we were searching the shelves and considering our options, the mom of the store asked us if we wanted a sandwich, and when we said yes, she just opened up some bread, deli meat, and mustard from off the shelf, and made us three sandwiches. She prorated the cost and said that she would use the rest of it herself. That’s the best of Arkansas – neighbors who will do anything for you, whether they know you or not.

I saw that happening in Martha’s neighborhood after the tornado. Neighbors were helping each other with chainsaws and backhoes. In Arkansas, you don’t need to rent those tools. There’s always someone with the right tools. And if you’re not a tool person (my friend Merlin wisely advised me to stay away from the chainsaws – one more injury would just make things that much more difficult), you can bring a cooler full of water or Cokes, or just help with hauling stuff away. I said in my 61 lessons post that family is the main course in life, but having great neighbors is like pie for dessert, or more accurately, pie with ice cream, which everyone knows is the best dessert. 

The South does not have a monopoly on good neighbors. My Malibu neighbors would have fit right in, helping out and doing whatever needed to be done. It was my neighbors in the Malibu Volunteer Fire Brigade who helped to save my house and so many others. And I have so many work colleagues who are also the same way. Crisis sometimes brings out the best in people and shows us what we are truly made of. If we could convince ourselves that we don’t need a crisis to come together and help each other out, maybe our world would be a little less angry.

In thinking about that line from the Beatles, after 61 years, it’s interesting to recognize that my memories may be longer than the road ahead. It does not make the road ahead less interesting or inviting, but it does make reflecting on my wonderful memories somehow seem even more important. After all, it’s our memories and our choices, far more than our possessions and job titles, that make us who we are. 

So here’s to memories old and new from my childhood home in Little Rock, as well as all of the memories I’ve created with my family, my neighbors, my friends, and my colleagues. Those memories contribute to the hopes and dreams, and eventually the realities, of whatever our road ahead is going to bring. 

Let’s see what that road ahead brings today!


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*If you’re a Beatles fan, then while you may not recognize the lyric, you’ve heard this song before. It’s from the Let it Be album. I got to know it better while watching the amazing Netflix documentary, Let it Be, which contains several studio sessions as they developed and eventually recorded the song. While the song is written by Paul about his wife Linda, some people thing this section is about the impending end of The Beatles, and all of the memories Paul and John share.

The stunning and beautifully tragic lead photo was taken by my sister Martha. Taken through her tornado-shattered window looking behind her house, you see that the woods that used to be there are practically gone, and so many houses were hit by the tornado that swept through west Little Rock. The other photo features my beautiful mom, my amazing father, and Martha and Pat, my two siblings who still live in Little Rock.

Hot, Humid, and Home

Who says you can’t go home? Jon Bon Jovi sang it, but only as a way to prove that you can. What a fascinating career Bon Jovi had – A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, actor (he had a great role on The West Wing), and the first rock artist to ever top the Country Music charts with a #1 hit. And to top it off, that hit was about going home to, wait for it … New Jersey! Darius Rucker did it, too. Hitting the top of the Billboard charts with Hootie and the Blowfish, then crushing it as a solo country singer. His cover of “Wagon Wheel” is so popular that many bars have banned playing it on the jukebox. It reminds me of the scene from Wayne’s World where Wayne tries out a guitar at a music shop, starts playing “Stairway to Heaven,” and is quickly stopped by an employee who points to a sign that says, “NO STAIRWAY!” Denied! You can always go home, but you can also play songs too many times.

I have followed Jon Bon Jovi’s advice. and I have been in Arkansas for around a week. While I thoroughly enjoyed many parts of the trip, I needed to be here. I did not need to be here for anyone else; I needed it for me.

I grew up listening to country music. Actually, as the bartender says in The Blues Brothers, I grew up listening to both kinds of music, country and western. We played the Wanted! The Outlaws album a million times in my house, and Willie, Waylon, Jessi, and Tompall continue to be mainstays in my life. When I do something that makes Jill roll her eyes or otherwise question why she sticks with me, I just sing “Put Another Log on the Fire,” and she knows all is well. Over the course of forty plus years in California, my music tastes have expanded wildly – reggae, rock and roll, jazz, and pop punk. But at my roots, there is always Arkansas and country music.

I drafted this blog post early in the morning under the carport in front of my sister Martha’s house in Little Rock, Arkansas. The weather was warm, sultry, but still quite nice in the early morning. By mid-morning, the heat becomes oppressive, requiring my retreat into the air conditioning. But it’s just part of being back where I grew up, where both of my parents, one of my two brothers, and one of my two sisters still live. I’m home.

People hang out in their carports and front yards here. That’s where you’ll see chairs facing the street, ready for parents to sit in and watch their children, for a neighbor to come and visit, or for an odd relative from out of town to sit.  And it is in this familiar and comforting spot, faithfully accompanied by my sister’s two aging and loving dogs, that I put my thoughts together for a blog post and say hello to everyone passing by.

Enjoying Time with Mom and my sister Martha

That’s a thing in the South. You say hello when you come across people. You look them in the eye, smile, and say hello. When my sister’s neighbors walk by with their dogs or are just strolling by, you say hi and if there’s time, you talk about what’s happening. It feels right. You get to know the security guards and the checkers at the local grocery store, the receptionists in offices, and others in town.  

You can’t be in a giant hurry if you have to say hello to everyone. Taking the time to stop and talk with neighbors builds strong relationships, and those bonds create a community that turns your house into a home. And having a home in a wonderful neighborhood, which is exactly what my sister has in Arkansas, and what I have in California, is one way to transition from feeling like a stone tumbling down a river to feeling grounded and connected – it creates a fencepost that helps to define who you are and give you meaning. And the more fenceposts you have in your life, like music, family, and your neighborhood, the more connected and grounded you are.

As I’ve written before, family dinner has always been one of my fenceposts. There is nothing better than simply stopping what you are doing, enjoying a meal, and having a good conversation as a daily fencepost. My swim workouts are another fencepost. They help me to start the day right. Our Monday evenings with Jill’s parents are definitely a fencepost.

I use the concept of fenceposts in teaching, too. If you look at a fence, the most important parts are the posts. Great care is taken to make sure they are sturdy, straight, and firmly connected to the ground. Then the material in between, wood, metal, or barbed wire (maybe one of the most underrated and culture-changing inventions of all time – it’s inexpensive effectiveness completely changed the wide-open nature of the American west), can be slapped up between those posts. If those break, they’re easy to replace, as long as you build and maintain strong fenceposts.

When I teach, I identify the fenceposts that the course will emphasize. There are only four or five in a semester. I’m going to teach the heck out of those elements of the curriculum, so that students have the greatest chance of walking out of that course with an in-depth knowledge of a few key concepts. The rest of the stuff? I’ll teach most of it, and maybe it will spark an interest that a student can pursue later on. Maybe not. But teaching and hurrying through a new topic every day is just asking for that stuff to be quickly forgotten. In teaching, and in life, less rushing and more connecting leads to a richer, fuller experience.

This trip to Arkansas has been about my family fenceposts. My last trip in October focused on visiting old friends. This time, I’ve loved spending time with my mom, my dad (that’s him with me at the top of this post), my stepmom, my siblings, and my cousins. I feel caught up and much more connected. I better understand the health and life challenges that everyone is facing.  And being able to sit face to face in order to talk, share, and laugh is something that blows Zoom out of the water.

Even though the heat index has risen over 100 degrees most of the days of my visit, it’s been good to be here. I truly appreciate and marvel at each member of my family. They have inspired me with their positive attitudes, their fortitude in fighting life’s challenges, and their humor in the face of it all. This week was about checking in on one of the most critical fenceposts in my life. I’ve checked the sturdiness and positioning of my family fencepost, and I leave knowing that it will continue to give me strength, meaning, and connection for years to come.

Thanks for reading,


To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Best Dinner I Had- Catfish, Hushpuppies, and Veggies at Grandpa’s Catfish. Spectacular!