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This too shall pass 

The Observer meets a lot of folks while tramping through the hills and hollers of Arkansas with a tape recorder and a reporter's notebook in our pocket. One of the folks we met awhile back was Little Rock boy-made-good P. Allen Smith, gardener-turned-lifestyle guru, Martha Stewart of the South (or is it that Martha is the P. Allen of New England?), who we interviewed for a well-received cover story back in August.

Earlier this week, we were thrilled to open our e-mail inbox and find an invitation from P. Allen's peeps, urging our attendance at a Christmas shindig at his paradisical spread up near Roland. Always looking to score points in the Game of Matrimony, we had to e-brag immediately to Spouse — who is a fan of Mr. Smith's — that Her Beau is thought of well enough to tread Smith's rugs and drink his sure-to-be delectable eggnog, even without the PRESS tag in the band of our fedora.

"Check this s*** out," The Observer trumpeted to her in an e-mail with the invite attached. "And you say I never take you any place cool!"

Only problem was, instead of sending said e-mail to Spouse, we'd hit "reply."

If the invitation still stands at this point, we figure the only way Yours Truly could embarrass himself further is if we showed up to the party wearing only bib overalls and carrying a Pabst in a "Boobies Make Me Smile" beer koozie. Probably a good thing we're not the party-going type.

It's been one of those besotted weeks, when nothing feels like it will ever be OK again. Actually, it's been one of besotted years. Thank Julius it's almost over. The Observer needed some perspective so, it being an unseasonably warm day — one of those brief respites before winter truly settles — we set off to take in the River Market district.

First we hit up a few galleries at the Arkansas Studies Institute. When we first came to the Fortress of Employment, we wiled away many a lunch hour there. But in recent months, we've let life get in the way of art — even though, not so long ago, we sort of thought life was art. Or maybe, art was life — some conflux of the two. Right now ASI is hosting a fabulous exhibit of student work. The colors, compositions, marks and textures, worked their magic. We've always sought solace in art — when we're overwhelmed, bored, broke (lots of the best museums are free). Doesn't take long, a mere half hour or so, 'til a Zen-like emptiness washes over us.

Next we meandered through the River Market, thrilled to discover that at Sweet Soul, it was $1 pie day. Among the heartier autumn offerings, they had lemon icebox. Lemon icebox — even the name is poetic. And the pie itself is so pale and pretty, so Southern and summery, topped with two smart rosettes of whipped cream. Our grandmother used to make it. Our mother adores it. Guess the Sweet Soul ladies figured this was the last time they could get away with it for a good five months. We'll take it!

So we did, down to the river. We sat on the highest grassy point, letting the breeze whip our scarf, watching the water ripple in the wake of a speed boat, parting the reflection of the purple-slate clouds. The clouds were parting too, revealing a clean pastel sky. To our left, a little boy was trying to roll a barrel up a grassy hill. He pushed with both hands, made a bit of progress, and then dropped his arms, turned and ran, squealing gleefully as the barrel chased him down the hill. To our right, we saw a parking attendant in his purple polyester uniform, wandering Riverfront Park. He must also be on a late lunch. Below us, the rocks had sprouted fiery orange vines. Above us, a curious blue-jeaned couple was climbing the stairs to Junction Bridge. We watched them for a long while, as they rounded corners and shadowed beams, dipping in and out of our view.

They were the only people on the bridge, and they were having an excellent time. We couldn't figure out if they were lovebirds or father and daughter. She was tiny, much shorter than he, and she kept flinging long dark hair. They chased each other. He snatched her up and swung her in a wide circle. She did a cartwheel, her body a quick, unexpected, upside-down X.

The pie was rich and creamy. We did our best, but we couldn't put it all away. So The Observer got up and floated back to the Fortress of Employment. Those clouds that lifted, they weren't all literal. We remembered our grandmother again, her flippantly delivered counsel when we were frustrated by some childish task. "This too shall pass," she'd said.

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