The Flavor of Storytelling
The title and picture may have given away half the plot, but there’s more to this story than the obvious. Telling it is a tradition in our family. And traditions don’t become legends because of the facts but because of the flavor.
The flavor of this one is farina. (You might know it as Cream of Wheat.)
Years ago my husband, John, and I went camping with my parents and our infant daughter, Nicole, at the Buffalo River in Arkansas. After checking out their spider-packed and sweltering hunting cabin on the hill, we decided the gravel bar was for us. Just a quick eighth of a mile down the newly-dozed access road a cool paradise waited.
What we didn’t know at the top was that rains had washed a ton of soil from the road, exposing the skeleton of the rocky hillside.
Have you seen those movies where the hero has to cross a maze of stones suspended over an abyss? As he steps from stone to stone, he knows that at any moment one of them may give way. Add to that picture a 35 degree slope and you can imagine what we were up against. Attempting this balancing act in a pickup, with no possibility of aborting our ill-planned descent, the best we could hope for was to “fall with style.”
The lucky ones got to get out of the truck and direct the tires down boulders the size of laundry baskets. The unlucky, including myself and the baby, bemoaned our last moments as we straddled gully-washed crevasses two to three feet deep in an off-balance washing machine.
Oh, I think I forgot to mention that the Dodge 1500 truck wasn’t four-wheel drive.
But somehow we made it to the gravel bar. We celebrated our feat with roasted hot dogs and beans under a beautiful evening sky. Nicole slept the night in a porta-crib castle furnished with draperies against the mist, while the river wrapped us all in the sounds of running water.
The terror just might have been worth it.
Isn’t it funny how the biggest story or the greatest adventure can’t be told without the small details?
A story grows larger than life as it’s repeated through the years. I’m not talking about embellishing it with falsehoods, or even the honest exaggeration of a “fish story,” but of the way in which a story gains the status of a family legend. We may think we are telling the great, bare bones of the thing just because it is amazing or funny, but sometimes it’s the intimate points of focus that make it immortal. As in any good novel or painting, you are drawn into the picture with the smallest brushstrokes.
Here is where the farina comes in. (I know you’ve been wondering.)
At breakfast we discovered that we’d forgotten the milk, so the cornflakes were out. But Mom had a box of farina. Stirring it into the boiling water, she realized that the salt was missing…also forgotten. (This might sound like an unimportant detail if you are used to instant packs of hot cereal, but I promise it’s a deal breaker with the old-fashioned cooked stuff.) A can of fruit cocktail would have to stand in for the missing sugar. Ready to dish up it up, we discovered the bowls too were AWOL.
Who planned this camping trip anyway?
Gagging down cups of unsalted farina and fruit cocktail, John and my dad tromped off to test the shallow, summer river to find the best place to cross.
Those of you who know the river have alarm bells going off in your head about now. Yes, we intended to cross the Buffalo without four wheel drive. But what choice did we have?
There was no going back.