Part III: Going Home
This is the continuing story of Lee Farrier of Norfork, Arkansas. If you've missed the beginning of the story, please click on the links below.
“It was a time when parents wondered if they’d see their soldier boys again. Most sat in front of radios when Franklin D. Roosevelt talked to the country. In 1944, after school was out for the summer, Mama and I stepped onto a train and headed for Wichita, Kansas, where Daddy was a professional painter in a Boeing airplane plant. It was like opening the gate to a new life: planes everywhere and people from all over the country. Everyone’s folks worked on planes, so we kids had endless games of baseball, basketball, hiking, boy scouts, swimming, an all-summer carnival, movies. A far cry from Norfork, where we kids had to figure out what we’d do for the day. Wichita was built around airplanes. I sat on the back porch and watched planes land, take off, land, take off. Now and then, firetrucks ran down the runway after a plane. Most likely a B-29 Superfortress. At my age, though, I did not realize there might be six or seven people inside the plane.
“One Sunday, Mama let me take a bus across town to the municipal swimming pool. where a worker gave me a basket to put my clothes and shoes. It was my first time there, and I forgot to take the numbered safety pin. After swimming, I went back to retrieve my clothes, but they would not give them to me without the safety pin. To make things worse, I’d slid down the slide and ripped the whole seat out of my swim trunks! No shoes, no clothes, no money—only a boy in torn swim trunks. I stepped up into the bus but could not buy a ticket. The bus driver turned and asked, ‘Anyone on the bus want to give this boy enough for a fare?’ Two little girls giggled. ‘If you’ll put your hands on your head and turn all the way around, we’ll pay the price.’ They will never know the price I paid that day. People laughed. My face still reddens when I think of it.
“The war ended, the plant shut down, and thousands of employees were sent home. We, too, found our way home. Gatherings and celebrations were taking place everywhere, even in our little town. The war was won, which meant I’d return to school in Norfork. Soon, our soldiers would be returning home. I’d probably see Uncle Paul Hogan again. He’d been in the Philippines for five years, from the time he went into the military until the war was over.
“Weekends and summers meant time with friends. We’d walk the railroad tracks, just daring the train to come. It was common to walk the tracks to the Upper White Bluffs or Lower White Bluffs, where we could talk and laugh in groups. Norfork Hill was behind our house, a great place to go with a friend or just follow a dog. Baseball and basketball were our games. The Lyric, the movie theater, was where we’d watch a good cowboy movie, usually a Saturday afternoon thing. On weekends, I liked to ride my bike to Matney Tower with Doyle Cope. The ferry took us from one side of the White River to the other. Movement, of course, occurred according to the flow of the current. Once across, we’d actually push our bikes to the tower. There, we’d look and look and talk. Biking from the tower back to the river was shorter and exhilarating.
"Also, Doyle and I would sometimes thumb our way to a Mountain Home ballgame or movie. The real work came when we left Mountain Home to go back home. We’d run back to Norfork. The darkness was never a problem, but there was this one place, about halfway, that had six or eight dogs. They’d chase us. So we’d stop running a little before we got near the dogs but still out of their hearing range. We’d stop to breathe and rest a bit. Then we’d fly past those dogs and run the rest of the way to Norfork. I guess those dogs kept us in good shape. Certainly motivated me!
“Christine Smith won Most Beautiful one year, and I won Most Handsome. I could see how she or my friend Jackie Bonner could win most beautiful, but I don’t know how I won anything. A great mystery to this day.
"One of the hangouts for me was the café on Main Street. And usually on Saturday night, I’d hurriedly eat my supper and leave the supper table early, hoping to see a good fight. Mama would say, ‘Lee Roy, you oughta be ashamed!’ I’d smile and know I could count on the group of young men from Mountain Home to come to town, looking for trouble. They’d drink, cuss, and cause a ruckus with young Norfork men. Then suddenly, the fight was on! I wanted no part of it, you understand, but I did want to see the fight or brawl, whichever it turned out to be. It was like a carnival to me!
"Oh, I was faced with the regular teenage ups and downs, but what I mostly struggled with when I was alone was the fact that I was not blood kin to the Farriers. Even though I was legally adopted, I sometimes had this haunting feeling that I did not belong. Strangely, my friend Doyle and teachers and other friends acted like I did belong. Doyle lived close by, and his parents always treated me like I belonged, the same way Doyle belonged. They treated me that way every day. In time, I surrendered and believed I was exactly where I needed to be, with the people I needed to be with. Wasn’t I the luckiest! You can blame Norfork, Arkansas, for that one.
“Academically, I was slow in school all the way through, but I had the best, most loving teachers. The superintendent Exel Smith lived across the street from us, and he’d often come over for coffee with my parents. Always, he acknowledged me and asked what I was working on in classes. I’d pull out paperwork, and he’d stay and quiz me on it. That’s what I mean. I belonged. Nothing academic about this, but Erma Farris, a girl in school, also kept my attention. Being around her always made me feel good.
“When Sundays rolled around, I knew we’d go to church. That’s where I learned about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We didn’t talk about going, we just went. That’s all we knew to do. Doyle was there, too. Eventually, I was baptized with four other boys at the fork of the White and North Fork Rivers. The water was shockingly cold. The preacher said, ‘It’s going to do you boys so much good.’
"I graduated with less than 10 other people in the gymnasium at Norfork High School. It was a big, big day."
To be continued.…
I had originally believed I could tell Lee Farrier’s story in four blog posts. I no longer believe that is possible. Hang on…. This ride will continue until we are through telling it.
God bless you,
P.S. I have received some touching messages in response to this story, and Lee Farrier is extremely grateful and in a bit of awe that his story is being heard. I'm thankful for all my readers. Know that you always have permission to share my posts. In fact, I appreciate the shares, too!
Christine Smith and Lee Roy Farrier, Norfork, Arkansas.
Voted Most Beautiful and Most Handsome!
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