Monday, May 24, 2010

On a more personal note, I am greatly saddened by the recent violence…

posted by Bill Arnett @ 12:45 PM Permalink

…in what used to be the idyllic small town of West Memphis, Arkansas, the place of my birth.

A Small Town in Arkansas Mourns Two Slain Officers

Sergeant Paudert and Officer Evans were shot to death on Thursday during a traffic stop on Interstate 40 East, prompting a wide dragnet that paralyzed the area and ended in a hail of gunfire between the police and two suspects — Jerry R. Kane Jr., 45, and his son Joseph, 16 — in a Wal-Mart parking lot here about 90 minutes later, as shoppers scurried for cover.

The Kanes were killed in the gun battle, and Sheriff Dick Busby of Crittenden County and his chief deputy, W. A. Wren, were wounded.…

…as the authorities worked to piece together the sequence of events that led to Thursday’s shootings, residents of West Memphis continued to wonder sadly how their small community had become the scene of such a gritty tableau — one that left their police department’s drug task force cut in half.

The town of about 30,000 sits just west of the Mississippi River flood plains and the Memphis skyline, near Interstates 40 and 55…
It saddens me also that such violence has hit this town which has grown to 30,000 people from the 3,000 who lived there back in the fifties.

My grandparents were the only pharmacists there and ran Arnett's Drugstore. A polite young man named Elvis Presley, a truck driver then, used to deliver supplies to the store and occasionally, upon invitation, would come to sing with the choir at our small Methodist Church.

It took me years to figure out how my grandmother would know everywhere any of us kids had gone or what we had done there: she was the town's only pharmacist, she knew everybody and everybody knew her; all she had to do was pick up or answer the phone to receive all the information she needed to either praise us or punish us for good deeds or transgressions.

In the background of the site where interviews and updates were given, off in the distance, I could see the hugh water tower located by the Community Center, a giant brick building overlooking the expansive playground with all the accoutrements, towering slides, several merry-go-rounds, monkey bars, and just about everything a kid could desire as well as the town swimming pools.

It is shocking to me that such violence has stricken the community that was essentially as crime-free as any small southern town could be. We lived in a big brick house at 501 Arlington Drive, if memory serves, where the most exciting events were the bells of neighborhood ice cream trucks and the sounds and fog of the jeeps spraying DDT that rolled out in waves that would block the starlight and which we kids followed as far as we were permitted. That house cost $3,650 in 1954, a year after my birth.

I will never forget [hopefully, as my memory is problematic nowadays] walking past the Chevy dealer's lot on the way to the barber shop and stopping and looking with awe upon the 1963 Corvette priced at $3,700, shocked that a car could be more expensive than our house.

I remember the lessons of "duck and hide" under the desks at school in the event of nuclear attack and the warnings to not eat the snow until it was determined whether or not it had been contaminated by the fallout of above-ground atomic bomb testing.

It's sad to contemplate not just the natural growth of the town, but the taking over of it's economy by Walmart, which itself was created in Arkansas by Sam Walton, and the consequent collapse of the societal norm that brought drugs and violence into the lives of West Memphis' current residents, as I would bet there is no larger employer there. We've all heard of the devastation and poverty that can befall a small town when Walmart moves in with slave wages they can get away with paying in the absence of competition regarding employment.

My heart goes out to the two slain officers and their families.

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