Last month I wrote about the culture shock of moving from rural Minnesota to northern Arkansas. A Minnesota friend read that entry and asked, “What is it really like down there?” The word that popped to mind was slow. Life is slow in the Ozarks.
I didn’t post an entry two weeks ago because our server was down. It took a week to get it fixed. A week is an eternity to a writer. Never matter, things get done in their own time.
Stores and similar conveniences close from Saturday noon to Monday morning in the Bible Belt, Wal-Mart and grocery stores excepted. Desperately need a cartridge for the printer? Drive 35 miles to Wal-Mart to get it.
People move slowly here, too. Swift, staccato speech patterns are anathema in the Ozarks. Everybody moseys, nobody rushes. It’s not the Ozarks way.
But we’ve learned a thing or two from our Arkansan neighbors. The “Arkansas fix” heads the list. The first winter after we settled in our home, the furnace quit. January in Arkansas isn’t terribly cold for a couple with Minnesotan blood in their veins, but we were happy when, after a four-day wait, the furnace repairman finally showed.
He hmmmm’ed and huh’ed at our furnace, then started toward the thermostat on the wall. Suddenly, he stopped, squinted, and peered out the window at the dog run.
“What’s that out there with yer dogs?” he asked, his brows pulled down in a knot.
I looked. He was staring at Fayre, our wavy-coated, brown Portuguese Water Dog, resplendent in her new lion clip.
“It’s . . . a dog,” I told him. “She’s a Portuguese Water Dog; they’re supposed to look like that.”
“Huh! Looks like some kinda ape,” he declared as he probed the thermostat with a screwdriver. Then he stopped, studied the thermostat, and gave it a mighty whack with the palm of his hand. On came the furnace, purring like a kitten.
I was impressed — especially when he handed me the bill. Hey, I can hit things for that kind of money! Just this morning I repaired my CD burner with a healthy Arkansas fix. Its stuck drawer rolled out like a champ. Who says an old Yankee can’t learn new tricks?
Dining out in the Ozarks is an eye-opener, especially for vegetarians like John and me. Primary ingredients in every recipe are sugar and grease. Lots of sugar and grease. Northern diners be forewarned: The Ozark regional beverage, sweet tea, means sweet tea — iced, tea-flavored syrup thick enough to support a spoon. Fried foods drip with grease (and it’s usually lard). But the biscuits! Light and flaky, they’re so tasty they make a diner want to weep. And the ubiquitous brown beans served with restaurant meals are seasoned pinto beans cooked long and easy without meat. Delicious!
Ozarkian neighbors fall into one of two camps: young and modern and those who stick to the old, proven ways.
One of those ways is a musical tradition as rich as it was in 1919 when George D. Hay, then a reporter for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, came to our new hometown of Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, to interview the family of a World War I hero shot down over Europe. While here, Hay met a boxcar-dwelling, fiddle-playing mountaineer who invited him to a hoedown in a neighbor’s cabin. Joined by a guitar player and a banjo picker, the fiddle player kept Hay and 19 others dancing through to dawn. The experience so impressed Hay that eight years later, as program director of WSM radio in Memphis, he dreamed up the concept of the Grand Ole Opry based on his night in the Mammoth Spring cabin. Mammoth Spring still honors him with a music fest in September every year.
Ozark country music theaters abound, from the George D. Hay museum and theater in Mammoth Spring to the Oregon County Country Music Theater across the state line in Thayer, Missouri, and the Ozark Mountain Music Makers Music Barn in nearby Salem, Arkansas. And neighbors still meet twice a month at Cabin Creek, a former township hall a few miles from our home, to play music as old as when white men first lived in these hills. Anyone can come to play, dance, or tap their toes to old-time mountain music of the sort these musicians’ mamas and daddies played and their mamas and daddies before them, back to the time their Scots-Irish ancestors arrived in the hills. As ever, the show is free.
It’s a different life in the Ozarks, but it has its perks.
Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and Get Your Goat! to be published in 2010. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.