“….There's a local paper rolled up in a rubber band
One more sad story's one more than I can stand
Just once how I'd like to see the headline say
"Not much to print today, can't find nothin' bad to say", because
Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD'ed, nobody burned a single buildin' down
Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain
We sure could use a little good news today
You get the picture. You really don’t need me or Anne Murray singing these lyrics at the top of our lungs to know that we seem to be getting more than our fair share of bad news lately.
The age-old dilemma is this: is there really more bad news today than in the past or are we, as a society, more entrenched in it? After 30+ years as a working journalist/editor/publisher/reporter/stringer/educator, I can tell you this: controversy sells and that’s a shame.
We’ve had floods in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Homes and vehicles were destroyed and some folks trying to enjoy some family time on a good, old-fashioned camping trip in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains lost their lives as the waters of The Little Caddo and the Little Missouri formed a literal wall of water in a torrential downpour last week.
Headlines also brought more news of the environmental issues with British Petroleum in the gulf and the government’s insistence that it all get fixed.
People are losing their livelihoods in an economy that was finally almost on the upswing in our nation. Animals and marine life are dying in droves and beautiful beaches are being ruined with tar-balls and oil.I heard it on the radio first. Officials had discovered an explosive device in a church near Osage, Arkansas. The church had been a polling place the day before and could have killed or injured several people had it detonated. My heart ached. Who could hate strangers so much as to want to do something so cold and insensitive?
Do these types of people have no conscience? Ah, Osage, Arkansas. A quiet little community nestled on Highway 412 between Alpena and Fayetteville. About 70 miles from my front door; it has been a haven for my spirit since I was a little girl—going there with my grandfather to visit Frank Stamps at the Stamps General Store.
I remember taking my shoes off to feel the cold, stone steps beneath my feet. Now known as the Osage Clayworks, the stone store still holds glimpses of goodies from the past and pictures from the celebrations known as the Osage Pumpkin Fest, which used to be held the first part of October.
Fiddle music would fill the air and pumpkins would line the fields as folks came in droves to visit, shop, eat, tap their toes and maybe sing a little tune or two.As a youngster, I remember the oldtimers gathering there to talk about the weather, pioneers and tales of the Osage, Indians, for which the area is named, and tales of families divided in the wake of the Civil War. Inevitably, talk would scoot to the Depression Era, the Dust Bowl or even the Tornado of 1927.
Sometimes they’d talk about war heroes or a few backwoods heathen. I just usually sat there watching the checkers dance across the board while the older men talked. And I’d listen.One day, almost 17 years ago, I was walking around the square in downtown Aurora at a Fall Festival. A photographer had set up a booth near Lawrence Trophy Shop and I was intrigued with the scenes of the Ozarks and its seasons that I saw there.
There was a nice wooden-framed photo in a dark green matted background that caught my eye. I looked at the fall scene on a leaf-covered dirt road, going up a slight incline with old trees displaying autumn hues---reaching across the road to one another.
The woman’s voice brought me back to reality as a glanced on the back at the price tag. It would seem the $25 was a bargain, but I was a single mom still going to school on a smalltown newspaper-editor’s budget.
I started to put it back on the shelf. “If you can guess where that photo was taken, it’s yours,” said the voice behind the table. (I would later find out she was making her home here—near Verona. She was also the daughter of the late/great Grandpa Jones of Hee-Haw fame.)
Ever one for a challenge, a gamble and a longshot, I stared long and hard at the picture. All of a sudden, I got goosebumps on my arms and the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up.
I took a big breath, then slowly said…”Osage, Arkansas.”The woman’s mouth dropped open and she began to wrap the picture frame and place it in a bag. “How did you know?” she asked.
And, honestly, I had no specific explanation for her. I have traveled a lot on the backroads and byways of the Ozarks; but this little dirt road shrouded in shade and autumn splendor looked like about a thousand other dirt roads in the four-states.I just had this uncanny feeling of comfort, home and security as I gazed at the photo. Somehow, I knew I had been there before.
I gave the picture to my grandmother, who kept it in a prominent place until she died. At that point, I received the picture back and it now hangs on my living room wall as a reminder of a place that will forever be a place of stories, traditions and a simpler way of life in my memories.
A few years ago, I wrote the following poem as a tribute to the Stamps General Store at Osage.
The stones are stacked…
withstanding time and weather.
The hot sun beats a path to the steps leading up to the door.
The old shelves are dusty….the ledger is worn.A century of memories linger here,
Swarming the heart with emotions mixed.
In this sacred placeJoy was shared.
Few tempers flared.
Handshakes were made.
Folks sought shade.
Mercy was taught.
Flour was bought.
Kinships were blended.
Heartaches were mended.
Sorrows were spoken.
Few promises were broken.
Crops were born.
The weather was scorned.
Babies were weighed.
Debts got paid.
Photographs were taken.
Some sought bacon.
Jokes were told.
Time did unfold.
The vines wind their way now up to the sky,
As the hinges creak out a message to the clouds lingering overhead.
The spirit of this place blankets fears with hope from the past.
The smells of coffee, flour, and sweat are faded sure.
The voices rise and fall from the floors and walls.
A century of memories linger here.
Because in this sacred place
Joy was shared.
If you get tired of the hustle and bustle that comes with summer, get in the car and take a drive to Osage. Its quaint, quiet serenity and the beautiful drive through the Ozarks will cure whatever ails you. And, if you’re lucky, maybe you can catch Anne Murray singing on the radio.
“….I'll come home this evenin'
I'll bet that the news will be the same
Somebody takes a hostage, somebody steals a plane
How I wanna hear the anchor man talk about a county fair
And how we cleaned up the air, how everybody learned to care
Whoa, tell me
Nobody was assassinated in the whole Third World today
And in the streets of Ireland, all the children had to do was play
And everybody loves everybody in the good old USA
We sure could use a little good news today….”
(I am seeking grants, opportunities and sponsors for an outdoor classroom, a hands-on traveling museum, living history projects and summer internships. The internships are in the works and I’m exploring opportunities with private sponsors to do some enhanced living history work this year. Stay tuned as I unveil a revamped website under The Ozarkian Spirit Umbrella. Here’s a link to my new blog: http://open.salon.com/blog/kim_mccully-mobley. Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 417-229-2094. I’d like to extend a special thank you to those who emailed or mailed me a handful of column/story ideas. A few of you have even offered to show me some places of historic interest of your own as summer arrives in the Ozarks. I’m going to take you up on it! And,…in my spare time on Saturday mornings, you might find me hanging out with my brother--the old Outlaw at 95.9 on your FM dial. As the temperatures soar and the school year winds to a close, you’ll find me pursuing some writing projects in various communities in the Ozarks region. I’ll be sharing a few more of them in this column. You’ll also get the opportunity for a more detailed look at them in a published project later this year. In fact, flyers and letters will be distributed in June to gain support on the book/advertising/sponsor list as part of the steps to receive a matching grant for my publication project. There’ll be something for everyone who’s interested in the project.)