"On this trip, I want to eat at Della’s" Karen said, "or even a Fine Food Diner."
It took me a minute to figure out what she meant. We had never been to Fairfield Bay, Arkansas, before, so how could she know about Della’s place? Ohhh ... she meant, no fast food places, no familiar chain restaurants, just the local diners by whatever name they go! It had been a year since we had been out of St Louis, and we were off on our first ever venture to a time share. Della’s was a fiction, though the desire was real.
This trip was our first trade ... we own a timeshare in a distant country, and had finally decided to do the week exchange. We spent some days looking for exactly the right package. We planned to drive, so that gave us a maximum distance from home (400 miles was our target - six to eight hours on the road). We had some fixed dates (the trip had to be between June 15 and July 31). And a goal - rest. We were traveling not for adventure (that came a few years ago when we were missionaries in Africa), or sightseeing (that was last year, when we went to Vancouver), and not for thrills (that comes with life) - we just wanted to rest. To be bored. To have nothing to do but read, watch videos, listen to CDs. And I wanted to lay awake and listen to her sleeping and breathing in bed beside me, to rejoice in how much we love each other after 27 years.
We left St Louis on a Sunday after church. Our route was from a net map ... Yahoo! maps told us to take I44 to Rolla, head south on 63, go through West Plains and Mountain View on various state roads, and 7.5 hours and 275 miles later, we would be at Fairfield Bay, some 85 miles North of Little Rock. I figured, 275 miles at 60 miles an hour - I can be there in 5 hours tops ... but I did not figure on the Ozark mountains! When I asked Yahoo for the reverse driving directions to get home, I got a whole different route ... this one, back towards Memphis and onto I-55.
We did find time to eat lunch enroute. About an hour out of St Louis, we started seeing signs for The Hitching Post steak house. It didn’t sound enough like a Della’s for me, so we planned to drive on by. Then we saw signs for Missouri Hicks ... hickory smoked barbeque. That was what we wanted. When we got to the exit, we saw a crowded parking lot with two 18 wheelers parked out front (actually, they were on the on-ramp to the interstate as the parking lot was too small for a trailer turn-around ...) "YES! That’s the spot," we decided ... and then saw the sign that said "Missouri Hicks ... 2 miles South". The crowded lot was the Hitchin’ Post steak house ... which we decided would do for today. Turned out they had great barbeque as the special for the day. And it was a Della place ... a good choice.
Soon, I understood why the trip would be 7.5 hours long. When we got on the two-lane blacktop, the fellow ahead of us was singing that old jongle, "drive 35 and arrive alive". We could not get around him, and he would not speed up. We decided to settle in and enjoy the journey. Some of the turns were so tight that even our shortbed Blazer seemed to have its tail and its nose both pointing East at the same time ... and we missed a turn. We were supposed to go left to stay on 9, but somehow missed the sign to Fairfield Bay and turned onto some backroad that lead to Newnata and Timbo instead. And Leslie. Leslie? We wanted Shirley! Something was wrong. We stopped the car at the intersection of 263, figured we had come the wrong, figured we had not come too far out of our way, and turned South on 263.
Standing in the middle of the road ahead were three boys. Two of them were wearing shoes, pants and shirts. Looked to be about 10 and relatively well cared for. The other young fellow was about 14. He had no shoes, no shirt, and a pair of pants that once were tan. His pants were suspended midway between his belly button and falling off - about as low as Britney’s. He was so dirty he must not have seen a bathtub in a week ... or else he had been mud-rasslin with his pet pig. Karen started whistling "de de de Dun duh", the theme to "Deliverance" ... (Later on, went telling a Fairfield friend about this, he said, "That’s the way we wear them down here..." and Karen said, "Same in St Louis. He was joking, and she was right.)
That was the worst part of the trip ... it all got better from there. At Fairfield Bay, we found just what we needed ... polite people, and nothing to do. Well, almost nothing ... the Lake has guided fishing and pontoon dinner cruises, the area has horseback riding and golf, the community has a library and an ice cream parlor (our one breach of the ‘no franchise’ rule was to walk into a franchise store to get a scoop).
We stopped at the art gallery on the back side of the post office. In the back of the shop was a woodcarver’s studio. He came out and showed us around a bit. I asked about his name, "Doc" - was he a retired M.D.? No, he said, a disk jockey. Where from? "I did the midnight to 6 spot on WLS in Chicago." This man had helped shape my musical interests in the 1960s - and now he was carving wooden characters in the Ozark mountains! "I like to add lots of details," he said, "Little buttons and shirt collars, lots of details." Just like his old radio show!
Karen went by herself to the stables while I stayed home to write this journal. She got there just at 9 a.m., and the young fellow in charge said she was too late. "But yesterday you told me 9 a.m.," she said. "Well, it is after 9" the boy said. Then he went to check with his mom, and she sent him back with a ticket to ride. The trail ride was just Karen and the boy, about 12. His family had moved to the area about 7 years ago, and bought the stables. He had been doing trail rides ever since. When asked about his favorite restaurant, he said, "Pizza Hut ... or that little grocery store about halfway between here and the pizza." The trail was pleasant, and not crowded. Boy said it was pretty light on Fridays and Saturdays." It seems most weekenders come to ride skis not horses.
We visited the Ozark Folk Center State Park ... live musicians, demonstration crafts, artists at work, and a heritage herb garden. You can buy a dulcimer crafted on the premise, or a vase fired in the Center’s wood burning kin, or let a wood carver carve a likeness of your face on a toothpick (no kidding!) (While out that way, take the extra few minutes to go to Blanchard Springs. Beautiful- and just a few miles past the Center.)
And of course, back home at Fairfield Bay, you can indulge in all kinds of fun on the lake - 40,000 acre Greer’s Ferry Lake. The lake formed after the Greer’s Ferry Dam was built in the early 1960s. The Fairfield Bay started in that same time - in a converted gas station. The idea of timeshares started here, according to a sign in the welcome center. This is the first Fairfield timeshare and it is sold out.
Headed home, though, was the highlight meal of the trip. Sunday, after-church going out to eat time. We drove across the rice flats of Northeast Arkansas and hit the outskirts of Oil Trough. A dozen hoses, a 90 degree corner in the highway, and Mimi’s. Mimi’s ... buffet, gift shop, and tanning. We had to stop.
Turns out she had the best fried chicken you can get outside of Karen’s Kitchen. And double-decker chocolate cake. And pintos cooked just right. With corn bread. $6.99.
Move over, Della. I can hear it now ... "On this trip, I want to eat at a Mimi’s."