Do you have a place you like to visit now and then that has pleasant memories of your childhood? Maybe it’s the town where you grew up or maybe the town where your grandparents lived. I have two. One is Florence, Colorado, home of my maternal grandmother and step- grandfather. (I will write about them another time.) The one I write about today is Malvern, Arkansas. My paternal grandparents lived there. Technically they were my grandmother and step-grandfather but who gets technical when you’re a child?

Their names were Jessie and Jack James. Yes, Jessie James was my grandmother. To me they were Grandma and Jack. I never got around to calling him Grandpa. We had an agreement from the moment I began talking.  He called me Martin Keith and I called him Jack. It worked pretty well. I spent a week or two with them every summer, always after my baseball season was over in Little Rock, about 40 miles away.

For me Malvern was  like many small town in the 1950’s. Life was pretty simple. Jack left early in the morning to go to work in the mine outside of Magnet Cove. He returned home around 3:30 and we had supper promptly at 4:00, always consisting of something fried, something sweet, and some pea or bean that I had helped shell. In those days people actually hand-washed dishes after a meal and then it was time for a few rounds of dominoes (the game, not the pizza), a television show, and then closing the night with an hour on the front porch.

I loved the porch. I had my dart gun (rubber-tipped darts that would stick to metal) and shot at some toy soldiers. Sometimes I even shot at the metal swing because it had circle designs which made a perfect target. So did my grandparents. We just talked, had fun, and I would sneak a couple of shots at their legs. Being good grandparents they didn’t care. I could get away with a lot more at their house than I could at home.

One of my favorite things to do was taking the one-mile walk with my grandmother from their house to downtown. That was before Walmart and the interstate so everything was downtown. My favorite store was Ben Franklin’s Five & Dime, a variety store and toy central. It had a selection of darts and toy soldiers you wouldn’t believe. It was almost as much fun as riding with Jack in his 1952 Chevy to take the trash to the dump. Coming back he would cut the engine halfway down the street and we would coast the rest of the way home.

It has been several years since I went through Malvern on my way back to Tennessee from Glorieta, New Mexico. Jack and Jessie are long gone. The house was in disrepair, the garage was in bad shape, and the hedge along the sidewalk was gone. The porch was still there. I had fun with my grandparents. They reinforced values I learned at home like being nice to people, loving God, and showing kindness when anger would be easier . . . simple, yet profound.

Do you have a Malvern? Life can still be simple. It is what we make it. It is our choice. Be nice. Be kind. Love God. Love people. What about you? Do you shoot darts without rubber tips at others? Are you coasting through life with no power like that ’52 Chevy? Are you so busy with your life that you have forgotten how to live? Matthew 6:33 says “and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” (NLT) Return to your Malvern. Well, you really can’t go back to Malvern, but thank God, Malvern will always come back to you.

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