Last weekend my wife Mallory and I made the trek down to Ouachita Baptist University for their homecoming game against the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys. This is always an odd game for us, Mal being a graduate of Tech, me being a graduate of OBU, but this trip was even more unique.
Last spring, a short story of mine was awarded the Robert Watson Literary Prize by a literary journal out of North Carolina, The Greensboro Review. That story has served as a catalyst for my writing career, birthing a novel, which landed me a literary agent, and in turn, sent me to bookstores and universities across the state to give readings and talk fiction.
The latest stop along my little literary tour was this homecoming trip to OBU. In the spring Dr. Doug Sonheim and Dr. Johnny Wink got together and worked out the details that would eventually become a magical, baby-free weekend, for Mallory and I (many thanks to the grandparents for pitching in).
Flashback to last Thursday night: I was on stage again, reading the same story my wife has heard me read aloud at least ten times now (it’s kind of become my “Margaritaville”), and this wonderful feeling washed over me.
I was home.
Now Mallory and I are both from Russellville, our parents live in Russellville, but there’s something about Arkadelphia, Arkansas, a small town bisected by the Caddo River and bordering DeGray Lake, that just feels homey.
If I had to try and define my affinity for Arkadelphia, I would say it’s the people. My former professors in the English Department, my former Tiger coaches, the faculty and staff I worked with during my first years of teaching and coaching at Arkadelphia High School—they’re like a second family.
After the reading, we were taken out to dinner by the OBU English Department. Over plates of creamy noodles and Parmesan cheese, we ate and we laughed. By the time the night came to a close, Mal and my stomach were sore from the merriment, and also, I’m sure, the heavy dose of carbs.
The next day I taught a creative writing course with my long-time, literary mentor, Johnny Wink. Without this man, I would not be writing today. He’s edited nearly everything I’ve ever written, including the column you’re reading now.
My time spent in Arkadelphia has always been divided, though. I was the Tigers’ quarterback, but also an English Major, a rare combination to say the least. This trip was split in much the same way. After the reading and the guest lecturer appearance with Dr. Wink, Mal and I turned our attention to the Arkadelphia Badgers and the Ouachita Baptist Tigers.
Sadly, the Badgers lost, but it wasn’t long before we were back in the stands for Ouachita’s homecoming game against Arkansas Tech. This is a game that’s close to my heart. As I mentioned earlier, I’m from Russellville (the town where ATU is located), but I played football for the Tigers.
Needless to say, I was wearing purple last Saturday as the Tigers rolled over the Wonder Boys, 24-7, thanks in part to a 104 yard “pick six,” which was later featured on SportsCenter and Sunday Night Football.
After the game, Mal and I loaded the car and made the drive back home to Russellville, the same stretch of interstate that awaited the Wonder Boys. We were surprisingly tired despite having left our daughter behind, worn out from the weekend’s worth of heavy dinners, belly laughs, and friendships that have stood the test of time.
As homecomings come and go across the country, I hope you’re as lucky as I am. As blessed. Going back to my alma mater each fall is something I always look forward to, a time chocked full of old friendships and walks down memory lane, but still, there’s no place like home.
Russellville will always be home for Mal and me, and our daughter Emersyn. Just don’t expect me to start wearing green and gold when the Tigers play the Wonder Boys.
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