|Vol. VII, No. 2, Fall 1993 / Winter 1994|
by R.B. Mullinix
Editor's Note: The following article was left on the doorsteps of OzarksWatch. We at OzarksWatch have expended great effort to identify the author--R.B. Mullinix--in order to express our appreciation for his offering this excellent piece of Arkansas ethnography to our little magazine. We' ve been unable to trace the article to its parent, so we offer it to our readers almost as an orphan.
In a note clipped to the article, R.B. Mullinix commented: Outsiders have long complained that Ozarks roads are too crooked, hilly, and rough for their comfort. Well, Ozarkers--real Ozarkers--never gave a hang about any outsider's comforts; in fact, they ve often gone great lengths to create any discomfort they can for any outsider fate sends their happy way. But Ozarks roads and Ozarks direction givers sometimes were--still are--almost too much for Ozarkers themselves.
About 1961, a young and pretty woman whom I had met in college invited me to visit her during a vacation. I accepted the invitation, and on the appointed Saturday started out. Now, everyone who grows up on Ozarks backroads knows you start with plenty of time to spare--gives you time to change a tire, tow a neighbor's ailing pickup back home, pull a calf for some distraught cow in a pasture along the road. And if you don't know where you're going, you allow generous time to find out. I started out at noon, hoping to find Doris's house before dark. It was only about thirty miles, but then it was also somewhere outside Lead Hill, Arkansas.
I knew my way to Lead Hill--U.S. 65 to Omaha, Arkansas, and east on Highway 14, down Scott Mountain and across Bear Creek and West Sugarloaf and Little Sugarloaf and Big Sugarloaf to Lead Hill. I didn't know my way past the town, but I knew several good country people who lived around there and knew I could find directions from someone.
The problem was, when I got to Lead Hill I discovered all the good country people had sold out and moved to Harrison to live in urban ease. During the great land boom following the construction of Bull Shoals Lake, people from Iowa or Illinois or Minnesota had come to get rich fixing flats and pumping gas and selling bread and bologna and coffee and lard in Lead Hill, Arkansas. They didn't know where Onus Raley lived. However, after canvassing the lengths and breadths of Lead Hill's street, I learned that the elderly lady who ran the telephone office had been there for years, knew everyone around, would likely know Onus Raley, maybe even how to get to his place. I went to see her. She knew all those things. She knew everything else too, and obligingly confided it all in me.
"Go on through Lead Hill on 14," she said, "till you pass the highway 7 junction to Harrison. Just past highway 7, there's a little draw, and just past the bottom of that draw, there's a road turns to the right. Take that road, and .... Well, it's been years since I was there, and I don't remember just exactly, but it's likely you'll meet someone on the road you can ask."
She was right. Highway 7 and the draw and the road that turns to the right were there. I turned right and drove up the draw, which was the basin for a little spring branch. And drove. And drove. After some miles, I began to cross cattle guards across the county road, cattle guards as wide as the road--ten feet. And I drove. I didn't know draws could be that long unless they were basins for maybe the Arkansas River. I drove. At last, just before the road crossed another ten-foot cattle guard, I saw an Arkansas lady raking leaves down her steep yard toward the road--actually, in slow, steady strokes, she nudged them with her rake and let gravity do as much of the work as it was willing to on a bright and warm October day. I stopped to ask her for further directions. She continued raking.
"Hello," I called up the hill.
"Hello," she called back without a break in her raking.
"Do you know where Onus Raley lives?" "Yuep," she answered, and raked.
I waited for her to formulate how best to explain
to me how to get to Onus Raley's. She raked. "Do you mind telling me?" I queried.
"Nope," she said, without interrupting her raking rhythm.
I awaited her directions. "Well, where?"
She took one hand from her still-moving rake and flung it toward the cleared ridge which rose behind her house before slapping it back on the rake handle "Right over that hill."
I didn't see a sign of a road over that ridge With some hope, but not much, I asked, "Is there a road that goes to the Raley place?"
|"Yuep." Her slow, steady strokes were
"Would you mind telling me where the road is?"
The sun, glaring unmercifully there in that bare dirt road, outlined the black walnut branches above like whips. A drop of perspiration fell from my left ear.
"Nope." Ra-a-i-i-ke. Ra-a-i-i-ke. "Well .... Where !"
Maybe I sounded like a lost child. Maybe it was time to rest. Her rake stopped She turned to lean on her rake, facing toward me. Maybe she didn't do both leaves and words at the same time. Her leaves stopped rolling Her words began to roll. They rolled until they crested and broke and continued to roll down that steep yard until they flooded the road around me.
"You've got to go back the way you come. About a quarter and a half down there, you'll come to a kind of a triangular circle on the left side of the road. There's mailboxes in the middle of it--mine, and Raleys' and Threets'--They're related to the Raleys. Mrs. Raley I think was a Threet--and Parsleys'. It's a fork in the road that you can drive around.
You turn down that fork and go down the bank there--There's a branch at the bottom of it that may be up or it may not, but I think you can cross it. It's what we call Little South Sugarloaf Branch--and ford the branch and the road winds up a steep hill there--It's this ridge here behind my house that runs on down there--and you go over the hill and down it--It's right rocky on this side, but the other side slopes off gradual and real pretty down into the big branch bottom--Some people call it the Big South Sugarloaf Branch. When you get to the bottom of the hill, on the left is Slick Parsley's place and...l just knew nobody named Slick Parsley existed, but I was afraid she might've rested enought to start raking again, and it was too close to dark to chance that.., you turn left there and go through Slick Parsley's barn lot--There's two or three gates that may or may not be open that you'll have to stop and open, and be sure to shut the ones that weren't open--and go on up the road along the branch there. It's pretty rocky up through there, but I guess you can get over it. It goes right beside Onus's barn--They may be down there now since it's about milking time--and crosses a big spring branch before it gets to the house and sometimes it's high enough you have to park at the barn and walk up and use the foot bridge to get to the house. But if the branch down at the fork in the road where the mailboxes are is up too high for you to cross, you've got to come back up here and take the path over this hill that starts just the other side of the cattle guard there, and you go .... "
It had been a dry fall. I was sure I could drive across the branch, but I didn't want to try to cross any Ozarks branch I was unfamiliar with, not after dark, and it was almost there. "I'm much obliged, ma'am," I said. "No telling where I'd be without your directions, but I'd really better be going." My last words trailed out my car window as I drove back the way I'd come. In my rearview mirror, I saw her ra-a-i-i-king.
The road to Raleys' was neither as rough nor steep nor crooked nor rocky as the directions there. I arrived just as Doris was going to the barn to help milk. In Levis and long flannel shirt, beside the spring branch called Big South Sugarloaf, deep in the Arkansas Ozarks, with a smile as broad as the sky and eyes reflecting a mind as deep, Doris would have arrested any romantic poet. The bright image planted and left in my mind there has remained undiminished during thirty and more years' of travel around the world. The Arkansas lady who gave directions made a lasting impression too. I wonder if she took me for an outsider. Surely not. Although my car had Missouri license plates on it, its deep layers of Missouri soil was the same color as the Arkansas road at the foot of that lady's yard. Surely not.
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