I’ll be honest. Right now I’m in one of the blackest places my soul has been all year. My depression is quite high. And it’s tempting for me to write on that. To wallow in that. I might get some sympathy if I did. But would it be healthy for me? We all know it wouldn’t be.
So I choose the opposite. I choose a piece that is nothing more than my memory. I don’t know if anybody cares about my memory. I doubt y’all do. This is pure self indulgence. But I write this for my soul. I’m aching. Let me escape as I write.
Huntsville, Arkansas I remember as a fantasy place. I remember it as an idyll. I think of it as a place that existed outside time and space. It’s not. It’s a normal small town in Arkansas. But I remember my trips there, especially my trips between 1994-2002, as if I’d stepped into another world.
Part of why I remember that is how hard it is to get to. It’s not an interstate exit town. It’s isolated. Or at least it was until the highway between Huntsville and Springdale was completed and now it’s a quick drive between Huntsville and a massive metropolis that houses two of the biggest companies in the nation if not world. What I remember is the isolation, the winding curves of the Pig Trail to get there.
I remember the topography of the town. The Escheresque series of hills that form the landscape. Straight streets exist not here. And it’s so green. Pure forest. In the fall it sits ablaze.
I remember the Wal-Mart. My granddad was always baffled as to why I cared so much about going. Growing up in, well, anywhere I had better shopping options. But there was something so magical about that store to me. It sold interesting, neat things to me. Buying a Star Wars paperback to read curled up on a couch at my grandparents’ home is a ritual I still chase. It was never about the store. It was the ritual.
The grocery store next door was different. I remember it as almost a barn before they rebuilt. It was clean with again a normal allotment of things. Noything special but when I bought a bag of candy, it felt unique.
The video store within? That was different. Sure I always rented “A” movies from it but I remember those glorious b-movies it rented out. It was as if I was in an alternate universe from the safe, boring choices of the chains. The family films were really strange, and have shown up on Rifftrax. But the horror? That has to capture my memory. Such strange films as fairy tale characters as monsters.
Honestly I remember the video stores a lot. The grocery store was the only one I spent much time in but I remember them all. The posters. You rarely saw A-titles sold there. Perhaps that’s what gave the town this AU feel to me. If even the movies were another world, then it had to be another world.
There was a theater. I went in that building twice. Two times as it was abandoned. One time as it was a flea market. I wish I’d gone when it was open but it closed before I was two. As the cinema is my cathedral, I long to worship once there.
The theater sat on that perfect town square. I know that square as the epitome of Heaven. Lots of flea markets popped up over time. There was a used bookstore a few months there. It was a nice place.
But if any from Huntsville are reading this, you know I must honor Coger Drug. What a cool, unique place Coger Drug was. It sold everything. I remember it for two things: Candy and comics. I’d go in, buy a Heath and get a kids comic. Only in 2001 would an Amazing Spider-Man leave the grocery store with me. But lots of Disney comics left for the drive home. They sold books. I wish I’d bought one to say I did.
I remember how few chains entered the town. It was world destroying news when Pizza Hut came in though That Little Pizza Place crushes it with incredible food. The Wal-Mart was front page news. Sonic was thrilling, the first chain fast food. Dollar General was exciting too, especially when I found a Marvel/Boulevard novel there! But they were it.
I could go on. I knew every gas station there. I dropped in Ozark Foods. I remember the drive-in with killer fried chicken. So many details.
But the last detail I remember is the quiet. Late at night I could stand in the front yard, look up at an array of stars, and bask in the silence. No noise. Nothing to disturb the perfect isolation.
Now is where I deconstruct everything. All the video stores are gone, following the trend of the death of video rental and eventually physical media. The Walmart moved to a bigger location on the edge of town, lost the hyphen in the move. Coger Drug is long closed. McDonalds came in. So did alcohol. Huntsville is no longer the place it is in my mind. I have not been there in 6 years, mostly due to time and ability.
But I remember it. I carry it in my soul. I go there when I close my eyes and seek an escape. And I love it forever.