words and images: Judy Harrington
Scrapbooking serves as my second passion, just behind writing. The creativity of a page conveys a story differently than typed words ever could.
I believe the saying “seeing is believing” can never be expressed any better than through a photograph. I believe placing pictures into a collage creates a moment frozen in time to be seen by your eyes and loved by your heart.
When I open my scrapbooks, stories jump from the pages. One of my favorite themes immortalizes my mom’s outdoor stairway that she started in 2003, when she was sixty-eight years old.
It began with just a few stone steps beneath the Horse Tree, an oak given that name because of the way it grew—bent over for me and my two siblings to ride. Standing the test of time, the tree still remains, no more than 500 feet from our old home place, a small twenty-acre farm outside the small town of Mountainburg, Arkansas, whose current population is 624.
Those first rocks were the size of a large suitcase. Both were anchored with smaller stones and dirt to hold them level. She never used concrete to secure them because she believed it would disturb nature’s beauty.
As the stairway grew stone by stone, it soon exploded with the fragrance of iris, phlox, daffodils, tulips, and wildflowers from spring through summer. Within two years her expanding garden had invaded the entire hillside on either side of the stairway. The sight represented a breathtaking testimony to her labors.
Looking back at it now, I’m amazed at how a woman of slight stature, who carried only 115 pounds on her five-foot eight-inch frame, was able to roll and upend the huge rocks that built the walkway. Some she scooted. Some she dragged with the four-wheeler. All of them came from the bluff far above the country road. Near the end, as she got closer and closer to finishing her vision, the bluff became her destination for the top of the stairway.
Her saying, “From the bluff, these rocks came, and to the bluff, they will return,” revealed her grand plan for the quarter-mile stretch. Since she was over halfway there, I have no doubt she would have done just that, if her health had held out.
I remember driving up one day to find her working in her garden. She squatted to maneuver another stone in place for the next step. I watched her wiggle and scoot it until she seemed pleased to leave it where it was.
“Hey, Lady, are you going to build that stairway all the way to heaven?” I joked.
“Maybe,” she laughed as she stood and arched her aching back. “You know, I haven’t really thought that far ahead, just know I’m going as far as the bluff for now.”
She wiped her brow and left a tiny smear of soil.
That was my momma for you. She always enjoyed digging in the dirt, and she had a green thumb when it came to planting, both flowers, and vegetables. Everything she stuck in the ground grew and flourished.
I waited while she tip-toed down the steps to meet me, being careful not to step on her newly planted phlox.
I handed her a butterscotch malt from Mountainburg’s Dairy Dream. “Where are your gloves?”
Mom sipped the thick delight through the straw and welcomed a break. “Oh, they just get in my way,” she explained. “I can’t really feel exactly where I need to set the next rock with them on.”
I could only shake my head as I surveyed her face. Her eyes sparkled to express that she was so at home with nature. I smiled at the thought. I still do for that matter.
Mom sat down, two steps up from where I sat, content and playing with a ladybug that had crawled onto the thigh of her muddy jeans.
When I looked at her, I saw a pioneer woman who had helped build our house, and then helped restore it after it caught fire, who had even worked on our cars and learned plumbing. But that was just a glimpse of who she was. I thought about the prom dress she made for me when I was in high school, such a beautiful thing.
Mom worked on the stairway another three years, getting closer and closer to the bluff, but never reaching it, until finally, in 2009 she became too ill to continue. It still stands anyway, though a bit overgrown and starting to slide from erosion, like a gift from my mom to me, all that work, all that beauty.
When I think of that day, I so wish I had that picture to place in my scrapbook, next to the photo of her prized staircase. Nevertheless, it will always be in my memory. And will come to life every time I look at those pages.