I Live at the Albert Pike Hotel
has nothing to do with the P.O., or family disputes, or Eudora
Welty, although I did know Eudora in her WPA photography days,
and I dont think shed mind my bit of playfulness.
I was working as the East Arkansas stringer for the Arkansas
Gazette in those days, the only real Arkansas newspaper as
far as Im concerned, first paper founded west of the Mississippi,
best in the west, too. She was taking pictures of people in shacks
and I was covering a local election between two men whose fairly
recent ancestors had called themselves owners of the fairly recent
ancestors of the people in the shacks. We drank moonshine together
at a black honky-tonk and told each other our maiden-lady secrets.
All that was before I married a Rotarian and became Respectable.
Two children. Methodist Church. Sunday dinners. Volunteer work.
Pearls. Gloves. Proper, mostly, in bed. Mrs. Harmony Carmichael,
Lady. Of course everyone asks about his name, Harmony. Even he
didnt know the real reason for his name. Of course there
was a story, theres always a story: that his mother, being
the church organist, named him for her favorite musical term.
In which case, good thing it wasnt Adagio or Forte. But
once when his mother had had a glass of sherry at one of my luncheons,
when she was up in Little Rock visiting, she told me that she
had named him Harmony because he was her first boy after five
girls and she had hoped that his birth would finally bring peace
to her marriage, and to her marriage bed. By the time he was born,
she was plumb wore out with trying, and her socks had lost their
elastic after all those babies, if you know what I mean.
So Harmony it was, and Harmony he was. His life was dedicated
to it. His courtroom was known for its quietness, and the reporters
used to say you had to put your ear to the door to tell whether
court was in session. Not only was there to be no yelling, not
even a raised voice, and no untoward comments from either side,
he frequently talked the litigants into settling their cases within
the first hour of trial. In a compromise, he used
to say, we promise, together, and each gets some of what
he wants. A beautiful word. Com-pro-mise. Sometimes he would
make the litigants repeat the word after him, if they were being
I fell in love with him because despite his calm manner he was
a powerful, I would even say passionate, man, and the contrast
between his outer cool and his inner steam was too much to resist.
The only thing he insisted on was clean sheets every night. I
kept the laundry busy washing and ironing and my maid busy changing
them. Said he wouldnt wear garments hed worn the day
before, why should he sleep in sheets hed already slept
in? Didnt seem the same to me, but it was a small thing
and I always had them changed by 10 a.m. And now that I live in
the Albert Pike, I do enjoy fresh sheets every day, with no trouble
to me. Guess I got used to it.
The Albert Pike. I came to live here ten years ago when Harmony
died. Put the house on the market, sold it lock, stock, and barrel,
and moved my clothes and personal items into a seventh-floor suite
in the Albert Pike. It suits me. I can lunch at the City Club
when I want to, shop at the downtown department stores, have coffee
in the morning and a cocktail in the evening, and I never have
to clean house or even do my own laundry, except of course my
Buddy, my son, thoughacted like I was selling off the homeplace
when I said I was getting rid of the house. Where will we
come for Christmas? What about the grandkids? How can you leave
the house I grew up in? Where you and Papa were so happy?
I said he was welcome to buy it if he wanted to, and that he and
Becky, his sister, were welcome to take whatever furniture or
china they wantedbetter to go ahead and divide it up before
I die and save all that nasty post-funeral squabbling (or pre-funeral
skullduggery: I have known families where one or more members
actually snuck into the house and took things while the rest of
the family was at the viewing).
I did not tell him this, nor Becky, but I never liked that house.
Harmony had bought it for me as a wedding present, so pleased
with himself he could have burst, and I loved it because he loved
it, but when he was gone I was done. It was a fine new bungalow
then, with hardwood floors and big windows and a lot of open space
from living room to dining room to kitchen, but it always felt
sort of cramped to me, no place to go for privacy, and the houses
on each side were in spitting distance of one another. You had
to keep your curtains closed to dress or else youd find
yourself putting on a peep show. It did get better once the shrubbery
grew up a bit, but Id rather live out in the woods, like
I grew up in, or an apartment. So the Albert Pike suits me fine.
But now it is to be sold. To Baptists, no less. Buddy says since
its going to be a retirement home I should just stay put.
But I can imagine it now: mandatory group sings, cheerful helpers,
bad food. I love the Albert Pike: the polite, reserved staff,
the Sunday dinners, the quiet, carpeted hallways, and I do not
need to go into any rest home. I am only seventy and in full command
of my faculties and my bladder.
Buddy and Becky put their heads together and offered to take me
for six months each, which was decent of them to make the offer
but I know they wouldve had two cows if Id said yes,
and besides I am not a piece of baggage to be moved hither and
yon, at biyearly intervals.
No, I have to find a new home. And if I can just get over the
upset-ness of having my very pleasant life uprooted, I am certain
I will find something suitable. I could buy an apartmentI
have the moneybut I have sure gotten used to this hotel
life. Theres not really anywhere else in Little Rock I could
move to, though, and downtown is going down since they built the
mall. A certain element has crept in, and it is not conducive
to the safety of widows.
So I am considering the Arlington, in Hot Springs. It is a large,
comfortable, elegant place, historic without being rundown, and
only an hour from Little Rock and the children. Perhaps just the
right distance, come to think of it. I have managed to minimize
my volunteer duties by hotel living, but Buddys wife Cynthia
thinks nothing of dropping the girls off for the afternoon when
she needs to have her hair done or go shopping, and though they
are nice enough children, I just am not equipped to entertain
them for more than an hour or two.
I had Buddy drive me over to the Arlington last weekend, to talk
to the manager. A suite is available, at a comparable rate, and
I could have half-board for a modest sum. I never eat breakfast
anyway, just coffee. Its the only way Ive kept my
figure after all these years. Becky has just blown up, after the
children, but I can still wear suits I bought thirty years ago.
Another thing I like about Hot Springs is that I can pick up with
my clubs, which have chapters here as well: the PEO of course,
the Arkansas Federation of Womens Clubswe call it
the AFWC, and no doubt I can find a contract bridge set as well.
Buddy and I had a nice drive over to Hot Springs from Little Rock,
talking about his job, the children, and so on. We stopped and
bought peanut brittle for him to take homeI never touch
itand took a stroll along Bathhouse Row after visiting the
Arlington. Even drank some fresh springwater, coming right out
I could live to be a hundred drinking this water, if what
they say is true! I commented to Buddy.
He half-smiled, in that way that makes him look just like he did
as a boy when he thought he was being patient with his silly mother.
If you do that, therell be nothing left for us,
he said, kind of laughing.
Left for you? I said, a little pricking-up feeling
beginning on the back of my neck.
Well, he said, looking off to one side at some crape
myrtles that were just beginning to fade. Our inheritance.
What Papa left.
Buddy, I said, You know that your Papa left
what he had to me, and that I am leaving what I have equally to
you and Becky.
But what if you use it up? he said, finally getting
to the nub.
What if I do? Are you saying you would rather have me die,
or live in the poorhouse, just so you and your sister can inherit
more money from me? I was mad, and mad on top of it that
Buddy was spoiling this trip to Hot Springs, which had worried
me more than anyone knew.
Buddy winced. He could see he had gone too far. No, Mama,
of course not, he wheedled. Its just, Cynthiad
like to move to a bigger house, and therell be college for
the girls, and before that, cotillion and dresses and so forth,
and it seems we have it coming to us, Im sure thats
what Papa meant, for you to stay in the house and live a modest
life and then leave the rest to us, instead of spending it all
on hotel living.
Well, I never!
I said, You may drive me home now, and we will speak no
more of it.
We did, and it was an icy drive in August. Buddy started to speak
several times but never did, my demeanor being as hard as I could
make it, and I could tell he was thinking that the thing to do
was just let me cool down and then I would see reason. One thing
I hate is when I feel I am being managed, and that is just what
he was doingmanaging me. He had got over the hard part and
was relieved, I could tell, despite the discomfort of it.
When I move to the Arlington, as I have really just about made
up my mind to do, I will drive my own car, even though I had thought
to sell it before leaving Little Rock. The porters at each hotel
will help me with my cases, and I will tip them for their services.
God forbid I ask anything of my son again. Ingratitude, thy name
Now that I am reconciled to leaving the Albert Pike, and Little
Rock along with it, I am thoroughly pleased to be moving to the
Arlington. Hotel life suits me. It is decorous. It is quiet. And
at any time of day, you may put out the little sign that says,
Horne grew up in Arkansas and has lived in Alabama since 1986.
She is the editor of Working the Dirt: An Anthology of Southern
Poets (2003) and co-editor, with Wendy Reed, of All Out
of Faith: Southern Women and Spirituality (2006). She is the
poetry book review editor for First Draft, the journal
of the Alabama Writers Forum. Her poetry publications include
a chapbook, Miss Bettys School of Dance (1997), and
poems in numerous journals, mostly southern.