Volume I, No. 4, Summer 1974




A Closer Look

Story and Photographs by Robert McKenzie

At a distance the many quiet towns that are in the Ozarks seem to be dying, barren places. In the winter and early spring, they are towns without color. The buildings constructed of crumpled brick or weathered oak sit in cold desolation on the dusty streets against a stark gray sky. Summer provides some color with the green trees and grass framed by dark blue sky. But the barrenness of the town is still there if only a little camouflaged.

The desolate appearance of the row of old deserted buildings down the one main street obscures the activity inside the one well-kept store where customers make their purchases and visit quietly. All at once the stillness is shattered when the dust-raising locomotive thunders through with dozens of cars loaded with the latest model automobiles and farm machinery. The nuisance causes people in the store to talk louder to be heard. The noise lasts only a short while before everyone settles back to a normal tone of voice and quietness.

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The people and the town maintain this air of stillness until school lets out. With the arrival of the school buses, the place comes alive. The school children run in and out of the one brightly painted store in a sort of mini-rush hour. After getting refreshments, the kids play jump rope in the safest place available--the dusty streets. If it weren't for the modern buses and smartly dressed children, it would be easy to believe that the town was right out of the 1800's.

This impression soon disappears, however, when the visitor takes a closer look. He sees new gasoline prices on the old gas pumps and an antique oil pump standing out against a modern soft drink sign. One of the few young boys in town rides up on his bright red bicycle. "Hey, are you guys waiting for a train? There won't be one along for another hour."

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Charlie White's favorite topic of conversation in Long's General Store in Phillipsburg is the energy crisis and, of course, Watergate. The owner of the store, between waiting on customers, volunteers information about the town and the people.

Everyone greets our photographers with friendliness and a desire to help. While walking down the street, they meet a complete stranger in new blue overalls out for a walk on a crisp spring day. Quick to smile, he chats with them about everything from the state of the economy to the condition of the local buildings. When buying some stamps, they stay awhile to visit with the postmaster.

These country towns only look dead from a distance. With a closer look they are very much alive with people full of spirit and friendship living in the surroundings of the past.

All photographs taken in Phillipsburg, Missouri, except:
page 33, bottom left - Preston page 35, top left - Hodgson Mill page 35, bottom - Topaz Mill Store

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Copyright 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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