My folks are living their retirement years down in Sherwood, a town of about 32,000 people that blends pretty seamlessly into the Little Rock/North Little Rock metropolitan area.
The only thing I knew about Sherwood as I grew up in southwest Little Rock came from TV commercials by Fred Rains TV and Appliance, whose owner urged TV viewers to visit his shop in "Sherwood's only skyscraper -- two stories tall."
Its grown a bit since then. And that's where my mom and dad took root after living and working in and around St. Louis. The Union Pacific Railroad had transferred jobs out of the North Little Rock rail yards, where Dad had worked in an office for years. For the last dozen years of his career, he worked in a building in downtown St. Louis considerably taller than Fred Rains' locale.
They moved to St. Louis after I'd departed for college to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, so my time with them in the Gateway to the West was limited to school breaks and, after I graduated, to the occasional weekends or vacations.
I can vividly remember being there on Friday, June 17, 1994. That was the day Los Angeles police announced O.J Simpson was a fugitive from justice and, that evening, Simpson and Al Cowlings engaged in the most famous police chase scene since "The French Connection."
Also at their home in the suburb community of Imperial, Mo., I remember my two brothers and me, all of us adults in body if not in mind, on sleds sailing down the snow-packed streets in my parents' neighborhood. I remember thinking how much better the snow was in St. Louis than we normally got in central Arkansas.
As with many families, just getting us all in a room together makes for good times.
I think it took about 20 minutes for my parents to pack and point their vehicles south once my dad left his job for the final time. They were eager to get back home to Arkansas, settling just about midway between my brothers' homes.
In the years since they returned, my wife, my two boys and I have traveled south every Thanksgiving, occasionally for extended stays but most years for a quick turnaround day trip so I could get back home on Friday to work on the weekend's newspapers. The holiday celebration, which years before often happened at Grannie's house in Warren, eventually came to alternate between my parents' home and my aunt's house in Pine Bluff. Between the Hartons and the Colliers, the event normally draws 20 to 25 family members and guests.
As with so many families, there's joy in sharing those moments, in hearing family tales and experiences, in looking at photos of the latest deer hunt or some big feral hog taken down, in learning about everyone's new adventures. And there's always laughter, lots of it.
This year, it's not happening. Everyone agreed the large-scale family gathering we love could be suspended one year to protect everyone -- but particularly, the older and more vulnerable members of our family -- from the potential spread of covid-19. We'll stay here in Northwest Arkansas, giving thanks everyone is well and praying for the people who have devoted themselves to developing vaccines. As much as we want to be together, there are bigger issues to consider.
We're doing our best to keep everyone safe so that next year, we can restart this cherished, annual tradition unmarred by memories of any negative outcomes -- or positive tests -- in the aftermath of short-sighted decisions in 2020.
And we'll give thanks.