BANNER MOUNTAIN GIRL # 25 “A Tough Old Bridge”

Train Bridge at Shirley, Arkansas

A Tough Old Bridge

The railway bridge at edge of my hometown
no longer hears an engine’s  chugging hiss,
no longer shakes with jar of clacking wheels.
Old-timers spin tall tales of how they miss
the whistle blaring near the mountain bend.
Though trains no longer cross the Little Red,
the bridge has earned the honor to remain–
iron-clad above the restless river’s bed.
The swimming hole beneath the overpass
attracts both old and young from off the ridge.
The local preachers hold baptisms there
in sight of that old tough and rustic bridge.

© copyright, Freeda Baker Nichols

BANNER MOUNTAIN GIRL #24 In the springtime

copy-cropped-cropped-homeplace.jpg                                    (Homeplace from a painting by Yvonne Baker Hall)

As I remember Banner Mountain in the springtime, I think of how the apple blossoms and plum blossoms greeted me as I returned from school. I might not have noticed the fresh blooms in the orchard as I left the house to walk up the trail to the Banner School. But always on my return, the orchard welcomed me back home from a day of “readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic” and playing with my friends.

Yvonne & Freeda Baker

Yvonne & Freeda Baker

Yvonne and I at the homeplace, standing between the daffodils and the lilac bush. With two years difference in our ages, we were inseparable. Mama said that when I started to school that Yvonne was very lonely. She’d go outside and call for our dog, named Rusty. “Here, Rust! Here, Rust!” In a couple of years, though, Yvonne joined me on the walk to school. As time went by, Rust met his fate although I don’t recall when or how he died. Another dog named Fuzzy came into our lives, and he was allowed to go with us to school. He waited around for us until school was out and he hurried along as we headed back home.  At the close of school for the summer when certificates were given to those completing the eighth grade, Fuzzy received a certificate, too. I don’t know how much Fuzzy learned but he was well-behaved and friendly to all.

The lilacs, the daffodils, and the orchard’s pink and white blooms were such a pleasant sight–the memory of which I still cherish from long-ago spring-times on Banner Mountain. ~~Freeda Baker Nichols


the bluebird flies purposefully


Birds of many colors
spread your wings to fly
upward to the treetops
on up into the sky.
Birds with sweetest voices
sing now across the way
begin a happy melody
in every heart today.

© Freeda Baker Nichols
redbirdMrs. RedbirdDowny WoodpeckerOld-world FinchBlack capped chickadeeTufted Titmouse - 2
bluebirddoveDSC_0308 (7)cropped-dsc_0187-21.jpgrobin-- cold morning - 1Eagle at Banner Mt.bluebird on rain gaugewoodpecker in flight


TEN CHOICESDSC_0746                                                                           Mystery Birds



DSC_0187 (2)

This red-bellied woodpecker has grabbed a bite of food and is lifting off in flight to wherever he is nesting. The ever-present sparrow at the lower right corner of the photo huddles quietly, awaiting the departure of the bossy woodpecker. Blue jays are often rude and aggressive wild birds, but even they move away from the woodpecker when he flies in.

Bluejayswoodpecker in flight

I don’t recall woodpeckers at Banner Mountain. But they probably were there. My favorite birds were the mockingbirds and the whippoorwills. I remember the red-tail hawk that circled the sky, whistling, and looking for chickens to catch. Mama sent me outside many times to scare the hawk away. We had lots of sparrows around our homeplace. And there were quail. Crows, too, and owls. The hummingbirds were the most entertaining. They hovered over the honeysuckle and raided the sweet nectar in the colorful hollyhocks that Mama planted by the garden fence. Once I found an abandoned bird’s nest that hung down from a limb like a sock.  I don’t know what kind of bird built the nest. But it was an awesome find for a child who would grow up to become a writer with a big imagination.

© Freeda Baker Nichols



My First Date

The Trent boys drove their dad’s old gray Ford truck
to town each Saturday to buy their goods
and groceries from Privitt’s Mercantile;
I worked there Saturdays from eight to four.
My eyes caught Cade the older of the two,
and I was plumb near dumbstruck lovesick blind
the way Cade’s sparkling eyes returned my gaze.
He caused my heart to summersault in flips,
my face to feel beet-red like flames of fire.
He handed me the cash for goods they bought
and turned to Luke, who now smiled wide enough
to show a row of teeth unmarked by Skoal.
Cade looked from me to him and said, “Here, Luke,
load up,” and quickly handed him a sack
of Idaho Irish, white potatoes.
“Naw, you load up,” Luke said to Cade and smiled
at me as though I were some beauty queen.
Luke stood nearby and watched me counting change
and grinned at me the entire, blessed time.
I checked my petticoat and nothing showed.
My face still hot, I took the dipper gourd
and dipped myself a drink from wooden pail.
Luke stepped up close; I trembled as he held
the bucket while I plunged the dipper down
into the water once more, offered him
a tasty sip this time. “Thank you,” he said
in tones as rich as mountain muscadines.
Cade blended somehow into burlap bags
and boxes, calico and denim bolts.
“Like to go see the picture show?” Luke asked,
the minute he and I were left alone.
“Well, yes,” I said, so eagerly I feared
he would recoil at any minute now.
He grinned again and I saw that his eyes
were bluer than his brother’s eyes, and he
was inches taller than his brother, Cade.
While movie actors talked, Luke held my hand.
As he drove home, I sat right next to him.
My ride in that old gray Ford logging truck
was fine as Cinderella’s in her coach.

© 2016 Freeda Baker Nichols



Banner Mountain Girl—Post # 7
September 12, 1980: “I remember shyly waiting to see Mrs. Vacin, my high school English teacher to show her my poems. She was never available and so I forgot about trying to talk to her. I mentioned to one of my classmates that I liked to write, after I found out he had written articles. He had moved to my school from the city, and I was interested in his ability to write, so I spoke to him about it. He said he thought I looked like a movie star and he named her. He moved away and I never heard from him again.”
But he was the first person with whom I shared my passion for writing. My desire to write was becoming real, like the Velveteen Rabbit. I was happy.
However: “The writer within me seems to be like a bird that flits in and out, appearing now and again in my life. Comes and goes. Comes and goes. I have worked more steadily and persistently with my writing the past five years than I ever worked in my life. I thought it would be easy, that ideas would flow and that I would soon find success. Not only is it hard to get the words written, there are numerous hours of revision, packaging and mailing and waiting for the reply. Then being discouraged when my manuscript is returned and getting over that so I can try again. Is it worth it? No. But I must continue! The drive within me was placed there as a natural part of me. I have to go forward to meet its demands.”
“The day is a peaceful, autumn day with breezes strong. Leaves and acorns falling from the oak trees, the sun appearing and disappearing, playing hide and seek with the breeze. The autumn is my favorite time of year. I wish it would last about six months and that I could work with my writing every day.”
#becoming a writer . . .

© Freeda Baker Nichols


Banner Mountain Girl–Part Two


Summer evenings of my childhood were spent with the family sitting on the front porch. Usually, we kids roamed around the yard catching lightning bugs and dropping them into a fruit jar with holes punched in the lid so they could breathe. With their bright lights going on and off, they lit up the jar until we tired of playing and set them free.  We listened to the song of the whippoorwill as the bird of night sang contentedly from his place out on the dirt road which was edged by tall pines and sheltering oaks. Sometimes a mockingbird sang, too, from the highest point at the top of the house.

The house that daddy built was designed with a gable roof of oak wood shakes. The two sides joined together forming an upside-down V shape. At that point in front of the house, the mockingbird sat to sing, even late at night with only the moon glow to see by. The slant of the roof over the porches angled down, supported by cedar posts with limbs trimmed short to serve as a catch-all. Lard buckets hung on the back-porch posts and were filled with ripening tomatoes in summertime. Or if nothing hung on the posts’ limbs, they were just right and smooth for a kid to climb up and down to get rid of over-active energy.  How can a child be perfectly still as adults? Not even one of us kids could be still as our contented parents were.

Does anyone sit on front porches anymore?  Probably not. Banner Mountain summers are so hot that people nowadays perhaps lounge inside their homes with the air conditioner running full speed. And likely as not, kids are punching on iPhones. Modern architecture has done away with the use of smooth cedar posts at edges of porches. Many houses are built with only a stoop or a small porch at the entry. A place to go in and out as today’s “Mountaineers” hurry and scurry on their way to all that awaits them beyond the rise—out there in the world. Perhaps only a stone’s throw to work or school. But far away from the sound of June bugs buzzing and the sight of flashing lights in a fruit jar.

Surely, the summers of long ago were not as wonderful as they appear in my memory. But even if in memory they are magnified five times over, I know how happy I was to feel the pure dust of Banner Mountain between my bare toes.

© Freeda Baker Nichols