Growing up in Fort Smith was a privilege that I enjoyed personally. My childhood is full of fond memories of places I frequented and people that were there. My earliest memories are of days filled with actual naps and snack times, the fact that we could take care-free walks to school just a few blocks away without the supervision of a parent, strenuously weighing the pro’s and con’s of which friend’s house I was going to as soon as school was over for the day, or simply foregoing all aforementioned options in the interest of making it home in time for my daily dose of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
As a child growing up in Fort Smith in the 80’s and early 90’s, there were all sorts of options for me. I vividly recall planned trips to the Creekmore Park swimming pool during the summer. If memory serves, it cost maybe a buck as a kid, and we got every penny’s worth by staying from open to close each time. There were multiple quick trips to the downtown historical areas where my brother, cousins, and I always seemed to find something new and interesting. Or maybe haunted. Either way, it was a blast. We’d play baseball at the church league fields every season, where Christ the King and IC Buffalo were in a constant tug-o-war for first place and the rest of us were just happy to get a coke or cherry slushie at the end of each game. In fact, that’s where I learned that trophies can actually be purchased, so it really doesn’t matter how well you perform at sports.
Up until around the age of 10, I lived in a house at the very top of North 45th Circle in Sutton Estates and walked to Sunnymede Elementary every week day for school. I had a few close friends at school, and crushed on a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, super-sweet gal that could have broken my heart had I had the inclination to invest any of my adolescent time in her – but, come on, Ninja Turtles were on, and one of my friends starting holding hands with her at recess, so I considered the option null. Our house at the top of the hill was awesome, with a huge backyard and easy access to an alleyway that led to both my own grandmother’s house as well as my best friend’s house. The house also featured a hallway system that was effectively a perfect square that allowed for amazing games of tag, army men, and race cars on rainy days. I can remember the (possibly) hundreds of times that my childhood best friend and I would ride bikes through the community, exhausting ourselves to the top of hill that ended in the cul de sac in front of my house, and then using the momentum gained going back down it to practically sail the rest of the entire neighborhood. I had a babysitter that lived two houses away, and she was only 2 years older than me. And yes, she was totally cute, too, and maybe, possibly, I had a third grade crush on her and you should just mind your own business.
I also remember going to the old Flame Gymnastics building where my brother studied Tae Kwon Do under Tim Grant, and my younger sister began her 10 or so year stint in gymnastics. They had a really cool Pacman arcade game there that I loved, except it wasn’t the traditional Pacman, but rather one where you took Pacman on a side-scrolling journey through a weird land and I always lost after approximately 1 and a half minutes. Also, the Simpsons were playing on the lobby television every time, and I would watch with fervor and interest despite my mother’s strong desires to the contrary.
This is just a small sample of the memories that I have of growing up in Fort Smith. Some of the places that hold these memories still exist, and I can drive past them and observe others making similar memories to mine. Some places don’t stand anymore, or are completely different than they once were. As a result, I could completely allow my memories to be crushed, and become chagrined and disgruntled at the way things have changed. But, in reality, there was not a lot about these places or buildings that was special in and of themselves. They could have been located anywhere in the world, and taken on a myriad of shapes or forms. What made these places special, what makes me recall these memories with such fondness, is the people involved in them. The places, the buildings, and the settings these memories took place in may change, but the memory of them and the people that made them special don’t.
A couple of those old historic buildings I used to visit are long-since gone, destroyed by mother nature or demolished to make way for new infrastructure. The Creekmore Park pool is still there, but now there’s some crazy dome-looking structure that reminds me of that Steven King book and kind of worries me, but at least I know where I’m going in the event of a nuclear disaster. The church-league ball fields seem to have mutated since the days I played there, with newer, bigger fields and I don’t even recognize the building where I procured all those slushies anymore. That girl I crushed on at Sunnymede is still amazingly sweet and has a great family of her own. My best friend from back in the day lives in California now, and I haven’t ridden a bike in a good 5 years. My old babysitter is still gorgeous, but happily married with children (as am I, in case my wife reads this, or anyone seeks to interpret this as the last-ditch efforts of a love-stricken 8 year old). The Ninja Turtles are still around, but they look weird and different and why did they do that? I don’t know who lives in the house at the top of North 45th Circle anymore, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see the inside of it again. Tim Grant is still in town for two reasons, and still hasn’t found any bubblegum (that’s a reference to the Rowdy Roddy Piper film They Live, for those of you who missed it). Flame Gymnastics is still there, but that Pacman game has disappeared. And, good grief, are the Simpsons still putting out new episodes?! Some things change, and some never do. Change is not a negative word, though, and it’s time we began living thusly.
There is a whole new set of minds making memories each day right here in Fort Smith, and they’re experiencing things for the first time, with people who they will remember and recall as special and worthy of remembering. Listening to those they consider wise and elder bemoan the passing of time and tides of change doesn’t exactly encourage them. Don’t be that. Don’t do that. Please? Through this very website and other avenues aplenty, you can find opportunities to get out and do in the community. This area is rife with things to do for both the young and old, but they admittedly are harder to find if we’re just rocking on the front porch and wishing for the earlier times. Your choice! But the impact is larger than just yourself. Remember the times you had, the people that made them special, and seek out how you might become one of them for the new crop of wee ones that are watching you with anticipation and learning how they should react to change.
-Thad Crawford, Fort Smith Native/Ninja Turtles Lover/TTDIFS Blog Writer