On January 1st of 1974, I was in the Ozark Mountains strolling along the banks of the Buffalo River when I came upon a large rock with a small door. I thought it was strange to find a four foot door on a five foot rock. Curious as I am, I tried the handle and pulled the door open. Inside was a staircase that led towards and under the river. I could see a hundred steps down to a landing that glittered with the diffused light of the waters above. Without a second thought I headed down.
When I neared the bottom, the landing swelled wider and I could see a beautiful village amidst a spectacular woods of exotic trees and colorful fauna. I was flummoxed on how such a place could exist beneath the waters. On arriving at the bottom I looked up to witness the underside of the river floating without any visible support. The law of gravity was being broken and I knew not how. The waters should be cascading down drowning all beneath, yet it flowed overhead appearing as if a mirror image of itself. The river flowed without a sound. I felt a bit of fear race over the back of my neck as I looked up at the tons of water mystically held in rippling torrents. After a few moments I found my nerve and proceeded towards the village.
There were people in the village and they scurried away and hid as I neared. I was unable to get a steady look at anyone, yet I knew that they were the same in appearance as the rest of mankind. If I were to guess, I would say they were originally from the British Isles, perhaps Wales. But this was only a guess. I had read that the Ozark Mountains population held a great number of people of Welsh ancestry. This may have been the reason behind my guess, but like I say, this was only a guess.
Standing in the middle of the road at the outset of town I realized that I was creating more fear than I was receiving. Not a soul in sight. I would estimate the population to be around five hundred and each and every one of them were hiding behind closed doors. I chose not to push myself upon these people. I smiled as innocently as possible, waved my hand in a friendly gesture, and announced that I was not a threat; that I would leave them be. I turned back towards the stairway, hoping that one of these people would take a chance, approach and talk to me. Slowly I walked down the road. I reached the stairs and turned back. Only one person was in view; a young lady. She stood were I had stood at the entrance of the village. When I looked at her, she bolted and ran into the closest dwelling. I shrugged my shoulders in disappointment and started the climb back to the surface.
I decided that I would give it a day and return to the underwater village. Perhaps if I returned alone a second time, the inhabitants would see that I mean them no harm and engage me with conversation. I walked along the river's edge, keeping a clear picture in my mind of the rock and its exact location, and headed back to my car.
I was staying with friends in Arkansas. They owned a piece of land in a remote area and used it for farming along with housing a commune. In the 1970's, there were communes everywhere. A couple friends from high school after graduation went down south and bought property in the Ozarks. They invited everyone they knew to come down and party with them. Many did, and many stayed on. There was around thirty people staying there when I went down for Christmas vacation in 1973. I enjoyed myself so much that I stayed for the New Years celebration. I was the first one to wake up on New Years day and had decided to take a ride and check out the Buffalo River. That is how I happened to be alone when I discovered the hidden village. On my return to the commune, I chose not to divulge my discovery. I was apprehensive that others may try to intrude on this unknown Eden before I could become friends with its villagers.
On January 2nd, I made a feeble excuse to my friends at the commune that I needed some alone time. I grabbed a few bagels from the kitchen before I drove off and returned to the river. The Buffalo River was a mere two miles from the commune. The public parking was about three miles from the rock. I trekked once again along the river's edge. About forty minutes later the rock was in sight. Unfortunately, the door was not. Some time in the past 24 hours, the door in the rock had vanished. I did not dwell on this because about twenty feet onto the river sat a young lady. She was sitting on the water without sinking and not so much as a single drop of water dampening her dress. She was using her reflection in the water to comb her long wavy hair. Such lovely, reddish blond hair that fell in gentle curls from her head to her waist, and she had a flower of unique color and design propped behind her ear. I do not know all the flowers on this planet, but I would bet that this one would only grow in the underground woods. The young lady was perfect in physical beauty and I stood spellbound taking in her splendor. She looked over at me and pointed to the bag I carried.
I had only eaten one of the bagels I had taken earlier. I still had three more in the bag I held. I opened the bag, removed a bagel, and offered it to her. She did not approach. Instead, she motioned for me to throw it to her. I did so and she caught it. Inspecting the bagel, she spoke for the first time. "This bread is too hard," she said, and threw it back to me. She then rose to her feet and lowered quickly into the water. She was gone before the bagel landed at my feet.
I sat on the riverbank praying for her return. As I sat, I contemplated on the mystique of the young girl and experienced a strong desire to be with her. I was in the first stage of falling in love. When it started to get dark, I reluctantly returned to my car and drove back to the commune.
On January 3rd, 1974, alone I made my way back to the rock. This time I brought fresh donuts. Once again, the door was not in the rock, and the young girl was sitting on the waters. I was delighted to see her again. She returned my smile as I pulled a donut from the box of a dozen. I tossed it over to her and when she caught it, her tight grasp collapsed it flat. She said, "This bread is too soft." And once again, like the previous day, she disappeared into the waters.
I sat on the banks knowing that she would not return until the next day. I held the image of her smile as the focal point in my thoughts. Without ever holding a conversation, I had found the love of my life. I planned the next days offering. It would be a fresh loaf of pumpernickel. I knew she desired bread, and I was determined to give her the best I could find.
The fourth of January, I finally pleased the young lady I loved. I tossed the dark loaf to her. She was happy with the texture and broke off a chunk. Upon tasting, she giggled in delight. I had made her happy. She motioned for me to wait and she descended into the waters with the bread.
Several minutes later the river opened up and three people emerged. Two of them looked like the young lady I had fallen for. My love was an identical twin. The third person was an older man with a stern look on his face. He stood closer to me than the girls, as if their protector. It turned out to be their father.
"My daughter has a desire to be with you. Do you feel the same?"
I answered that I did.
"This would mean marriage. Are you willing to marry my daughter?"
I replied affirmatively.
"Then point out which daughter it is you want to spend your life with."
This took me by surprise. The girls were identical. How could I tell one from the other. I knew if I picked the wrong one, there would be hell to pay. I looked back and forth, studying each girl. They both wore the same style dress, and both had a flower behind their ear. Yet when I looked at the flowers, I could see that one was slightly different than the other. I recalled that the flower on my love had three petals at the core. There was four petals at the center of one flower and three on the other. The young woman on the right had the same flower as the girl of my dreams. I pointed to her and announced to her father that it is she who I wish to be my bride. I had selected correctly. She ran over the water towards me and into my arms. I was overcome by bliss.
My bride's name was Lilith, and she was a descendant of the Gwragedd Annwn. The Gwragedd Annwn (pronounced "goo-RAHG-eth AHN-oon") were giants back when years were not recorded. With the spread of Christianity the giants shrank until they finally were our size and fearing to prevent further shrinkage, they took refuge beneath mountain rivers and lakes. Most of these clans were in Wales, but there was one branch of the Gwragedd Annwn who had moved to the Americas and started up a colony in the Ozark mountains. These were the people I had stumbled across.
Lilith's father told me how that outsiders could gain entrance to their land only one day of the year, January 1st, when a doorway would appear on a rock. That explained why the door wasn't there when I went back the second day. Her father also told me that it was Lilith who had stood in the road when I was leaving their land. She had become as enamored with me, as I with her, on first sight. She went to the surface on January second in hopes of finding me. Luckily she did, and very luckily I had had the required gift, the bagel she thought was bread, that allowed her to keep coming back. Once I provided bread that would please her father, she would be allowed to marry me. If I hadn't brought anything the second day, the courtship would have ended then. The Gwragedd Annwn would allow three gifts, and only three gifts, for a surface dweller to be accepted by a family. It must have been by subconscious intuition that I gave a gift that pleased the father. The father then tested me again by presenting both Lilith and her twin for my selection. There was one last custom for me to complete before Lilith and I could wed.
The Gwragedd Annwn firmly believed in dowries. Who was I to object? Lilith's father would give us cattle to start our married life. I was to take a deep breath and count, starting at number one, and see how many numbers I could count off before running out of breath. The last number I can say would be the number of cows to be presented as Lilith's dowry. I had no idea what to do with one cow, let alone a small herd, but I did my best and counted off sixty-seven before having to inhale. That's a pretty good number for one breath. Try it yourself and see how high you can count.
Lilith's sister had returned to her village to retrieve a minister while her father told about their clan. He told me that I must be careful never to strike Lilith because three causeless strikes will nullify our marriage and not only would I lose my wife, but also the dowry. I assured him that I would never hit Lilith. Little did I know that a nudge is considered a strike by the Gwragedd Annwn.
Lilith's twin arrived with the minister and the cattle. How she knew only to bring sixty-seven cows is still a mystery. I had done the counting while she was away. The minister read from a bible, but his words were so heavily accented I did not understand one. The wedding went fast and the next thing I knew I was walking my bride and herd of cattle back to the commune. I would have to pick up my vehicle on another day.
I stayed with Lilith at the commune. It had been a vegetable farm that I turned into a cattle ranch. Slowly the people who were staying started to move on. After the birth of our son, Michael, my friends who owned the land sold it to us and returned to the north. The few stragglers that were left also moved out by the time Lilith gave birth to our second son, James. Lilith and I were not into slaughter and instead of making our living by selling beef, we earned our money by selling dairy products; milk and cheese. We did quite well as dairy farmers. By the time our third son, Daniel, was born, we were well established and earning more money than we could ever hope to spend.
The neighbors, who initially mistrusted the "hippy" people, came to consider us part of the community. We were invited to all the social events in the county. We attended a wedding and right in the middle of the church service, Lilith began to wail as if in pain. I nudged her to let her know that she was interrupting the proceedings. She quit her sobs and gave me a glare.
Another time a neighbor had stopped by our house and was telling us of the passing of his mother. Lilith broke out laughing. I gave her a nudge and apologized to the neighbor. Lilith quickly added her apology to him and gave me another glare.
On Michel's last day of 1st grade, the school called us to come in and discuss our son's future. We were sitting in an office with the elementary school principal and our son's teacher being told that Michael was an exceptional student and they wanted to advance him two grades when Lilith began sobbing in grief. I nudged her and she immediately quit her cries, stood up and walked out of the room. I apologized for my wife's behavior, little realizing that I would never see her again. I approved of the school advancing our son and returned home. Lilith was gone and so was all our cows.
I was suddenly single raising three boys all by my lonesome. We did not stay on at the farm very long. I found work in Little Rock and moved my sons into an apartment near my employment. We got by on my wages. It was a paltry amount compared to what the dairy had brought in. Luckily Lilith and I had put money away for our son's education. All three would become doctors and those college expenses could break a wealthy man. All three won scholarships, so all I had to pay for was their housing and food. I was always amazed at how well they did and are still doing.
Recently, I asked Daniel if his older brothers had helped him with his schoolwork. He assured me they hadn't. He then told me about his mother, my Lilith. It seems that although she had left me thirty years ago, she did not abandon her sons. The Gwragedd Annwn are skilled physicians and pass their knowledge on to their kin. She had tutored all three of the boys without my knowledge. Her side of the family had taken hold our sons thirst for the medical profession, and each had fared well. My boys take care of me nowadays, both physically and financially. They are good sons.
I still miss Lilith. I wish her father had been more specific about "causeless strikes." And I really wish he would have told me about the Gwragedd Annwn having opposite emotions. They laugh when they are very sad, and they cry when they are very happy. Perhaps if I had known, we may have stayed together.
I still go every January 1st to the rock by Buffalo River. I've been doing this for thirty years now. I have never seen the door again. I may be tainted and not allowed to see it. I don't know, but I try just the same. I am the one these days that has mixed emotions. I am so proud of my three doctor sons that I cry. And every January 1st, when I don't find the door, I am so disappointed that all I can do is laugh at myself.
Maybe next New Year's day...