Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

Key to Treasure2


I hang onto books, especially my favorite ones.

As a youngster I must have read “Ribsy” by Beverly Cleary and “Key to the Treasure” by Peggy Parish at least 30 times each.

Last week, in my basement, I found those two novels and a dozen other childhood books. Holding “Key to the Treasure” in my hands again brought back memories of my Arkansas grandparents so I carried the book upstairs and reread it.

My maternal grandparents were Kansans, born and raised. However, before I came into this world, they moved from Larned to a place in the country southwest of Fayetteville, Ark. Once or twice a year, my family made an 8-hour drive to their house in the Ozarks.

For the final leg of the journey to their home, we left a paved road and drove past Dowell Cemetery, a shady rural graveyard filled with moss and old gray stones. A few miles later we arrived at their house, hidden from view of the road by a thick row of spiraea bushes.

Grandpa built the small, simple house in 1952.They lived there until I was about 7, so all I have are little-girl memories of the place.

Even though I was young, I clearly remember the colors of Fiestaware bowls into which my grandmother spooned sliced cling peaches. Whenever I come across that shade of dusty rose or soft yellow, I think of Grandma’s dishes.

The well on their property had gone dry so they hauled in water. Because water was a luxury, the outhouse was used. I ran to Grandpa one day when I found a snake on the outhouse floor. Spiders and webs were creepy also, but in a less dramatic way.

Behind the house, Grandma kept an ever-expanding flower garden. She pointed out new plantings, mostly wildflowers that she and Grandpa had dug up from the Arkansas ditches.
Further back in the yard, in a grove of hickory trees, brown and white bunnies lived in rabbit hutches.

These images remain vivid today, probably due to my repeated reading of “Key to the Treasure.”

The book was published in 1966, which was about the time my grandparents left the farm.
“Key to the Treasure” tells about three siblings who spend summers in the country with their grandparents. The kids investigate places on the property while trying to solve a family treasure hunt that dated back to Civil War days.

Naturally, as a young reader, my mind set “Key to the Treasure” at my grandparents’ house in the country. Even though the Fayetteville place didn’t have a stream, my imagination could easily add one behind the rabbit hutches.

When the kids in the book sat down to meals, in my mind they were eating off of the Fiestaware that my grandmother had. When those kids washed supper dishes, they were standing at my grandmother’s sink.

Over the past several decades, while reading all kinds of books, I’ve often resurrected the Fayetteville property and placed many characters in my grandparents’ home. When a novel includes a scene with a well-tended garden, my imagination defaults to Grandma’s patch of wildflowers.

If a poem mentions owls, I’ll recall sleeping in Grandma and Grandpa’s front bedroom. With windows wide open on summer nights, I heard the Arkansas owls hoot. And when a short story tells about a character that killed a snake, a photograph taken at my grandparents’ home comes to mind–Dad is standing near the house with a hoe in one hand, and from his other outstretched arm dangles a long, dead snake.

Familiar childhood locations serve us time after time; they resurface when we read. My grandparents’ property is the setting for dozens of stories—some that actually happened there and many that didn’t.

 Copyright 2014 ~ Cheryl Unruh


Flyover People: Life on the Ground in a Rectangular State by Cheryl Unruh is available in paperback from Quincy Press.FOP-blue-cover-front_4001-200x300

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1 Comment

  1. I think I would default to my grandparents home if I read more fiction. Nonfiction makes me see what the author describes. Good one again, Cheryl. It made me think of my grandparents home when I was a kid.

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