Written by Jose Kevo on 08 Sep, 2004
If you think about it...those early stages of awareness towards the world beyond us, is that not birth of the travel bug? Growing up in middle America's 4-State region, I recall frequently crossing borders to Kansas and Oklahoma. Trips to Arkansas were fewer…Read More
If you think about it...those early stages of awareness towards the world beyond us, is that not birth of the travel bug? Growing up in middle America's 4-State region, I recall frequently crossing borders to Kansas and Oklahoma. Trips to Arkansas were fewer and more special; usually a family drive including grandparents through foothills of the Ozark and Boston Mountains-(molehills!) chains. However, it took several years to figure out the grown-ups' disguised comments always before crossing into Arkansas.
They Came By It NaturallyPinned in the southwestern corner of Missouri two counties from where I lived, McDonald County was always epitome of a Hoot and a Holler, backwoods hill people living by a code of their own. Don't I know it from stories my father eventually discussed forthright from early days on the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and ongoing feuds and fiascos dealt with after becoming zone commander for the entire region.
Often lawless and more derelict than a barrel of drunken monkeys on moonshine, there were plenty of Mc-County jokes to go around based on factual trivia. More than once they filed to secede from the State; out to reform their own Republic of Redneck, and well-defended from stockpiles of arsenals continually seized. And town water systems in the centralized metropolis of Anderson (population 1,845), used to be cursed with sulphur water...that rotten egg taste/smell that permeated every public place entered.
There's one High School for the County which became my teenage Close Enounters with the Inbred Kind through athletics. As a conference member, we dreaded games in McDonald County no matter how easily beaten regardless of sport. Frequent 0-? football seasons during those earliest stages of civilization might've been enough to get a local fan riled up, but they still had other priorities; like varsity basketball players showing up half-way into games cause the rodeo, hoe-down whatever in the barn out back ran late.
Walking back to the bus later was often a more heated rivalry than actual competition. The old sign along the main highway inferring "don't let the sun go down on you in our County if you're black" had long been gone, but mentalities hadn't changed. No matter how many parents, fans stuck around to escort us out, we could still count on trouble because of teammates, uppity cheerleaders, and any unjustified conflict scenario you care to imagine.
That's not saying we didn't have our "own kind"; perhaps twice-removed cousin types that migrated north to Carthage, population 12,886...with a big ol' Hee-Haw saaalute! But perceived wealth and culture still hadn't tamed little hairs on back of necks, and more than once buses pulled out with us mashed against windows like Garfield-cat dolls trying to see who's daddy kicked who's daddy's ass?
Between school and north to County line were two speed-trap towns surviving on revenues generated from tenacious police forces; Real McCoy's portrayed by bumbling Barneys and Cletus Einsteins stereotyped in every classic script. They were ruthless in performing duties lining up cars, trucks, even our buses along the road's shoulder until personally greeting and ticketing all that passed through their fair municipality.
There was always that hesitation of playing stupid; keep right on heading towards the County line. But even if they didn't unleash hot pursuit, one harbored deep-seeded fear they'd burned license plate number into deviant minds for next time passing through. About the only thing more frightening than truth-based County jokes were sordid rumors about getting locked up in the local hoosegow.
You'd think by the time I left home for University of Arkansas, there'd have been a lesson learned; especially since Dad's position with the State had no influence with County boys. Shall we say I bought more than one pair of shoes for barefoot kids through local "taxation"; the County's version of subsidized public assistance.
Coming of Age in the CountyMoving back from Kansas City in '86 to finally finish my first degree, luck would have it I'd fall right into a group of friends that were camping/canoeing enthusiasts. They'd outgrown childhood stigmas about McDonald County being a potential trouble spot to avoid, and personal introductions to Shady Beach Campground and Elk River ushered in a whole new local recreation.
There's nothing like apprenticing under hard-core veterans for acquiring ultimate levels of skills and thrills while throwing caution to the wind. After those initial two rowdy nights of camping sandwiched around my first all-day float trip, I purchased tent and full accessories of camping gear.
Popularity of camping and canoeing were increasing in the County, but we faithfully stuck with what we knew - Shady Beach, and the standard trip putting in at Highway 71 bridge in Pineville and eventually floating home...an average 4-6-hour float easily stretched into 10 or more stopping to regroup and "refuel" at every gravel bar waiting just beyond next bend in the river.
Turns out, I was a natural with oar in hand...sitting at helm in back of canoe for stearing through whatever watercourse challenges were before us. Every now and then, County Conservation officers drifted by looking for glass containers or other contraband; thankfully not as merciless as roadside coworkers.
There were no speeding tickets or PWI's (paddling while intoxicated), but we always questioned suspicious look in their eyes; no trip ever complete without a recap of the movie Deliverance in comparison with backwoods environs.
We likely scared off any squint-eyed, bucked-tooth, banjo-pickin' kids with our renditions standing in back of canoes...crooning while paddling like Venetian gondaliers. But in film, there were no mentions of sisters, and when you always least expected it, some Daisy Mae-type appeared from the woods; vamping flirtations with undeniable looks and skin-tight skivvies.
Talk about redefining live bait! Perhaps she was another "Jane" or "Stella"...names of local hickville-towns not mentioning across the border in another county was "Purdy"...as if inferring the local "look but don't touch" code. Bubba and whatever menfolk might be waiting just beyond the trees based on real-life skirmishes repeatedly unfolding at Shadow Lake; the County's cross-cultural brawl magnet in form of open-air bar attracting assorted fools from the 4-State region.
Self-independence and knowledge supposedly gained during mid-20's life can be deceiving; unaware of how much there's still yet to learn. New owners took over Shady Beach around 1990 and all but panicked when sun was going down and we'd yet to return. A few weeks later, they remembered us but still sent out search party come dusk. By our third trip back, they knew our names, and marathons on the river were just how things went. They never searched for us again.
Somehow we always managed to survive the combined elements...faithfully making that one-hour drive even if only camping for the night. Before moving to NYC in July '92, it was only fitting my most memorable good-bye party was about 20 regulars for one last County adventure.
The More Things Change......the more they stay the same. Returning nine years later, there were major hints of progress. A new 4-lane highway system allows travelers to whiz right by former speedtraps denting local revenues in Goodman and Anderson. With Tyson and Wal-Mart World headquarters just across the border in booming northwest Arkansas, laborers have found less expensive, country living in McDonald County evident by housing developments erasing endless pastures.
Infusing new life into the County while reviving the gene pool must be working. The Mustangs are now winning conference championships...including hot-shot athletes from the exploding Hispanic population drawn by poultry plants; I even saw a black guy walking along side the road likely unaware of potential lynching in decades gone by.
Over three years had slipped away trying to coordinate others' schedules with weather for re-experiencing this ritual. Determined not to let another summer pass me by, an early August day with heat index over 100-degrees proved perfect setting for rediscovering my local favorite past-time only now on a first-time solo adventure.
When later speaking with family, Dad may have long-retired from the State Patrol but turns out still has stories I guess the entire 4-State area is aware of. Huh? He asked if I'd seen new signs posted along the river prohibiting nudity?
Turns out just a few weeks before, ladies had taken children to swim in the river when a pair of canoes approached with passengers butt-naked! One grabbed camera for collecting hard evidence. The floaters pulled over; confrontation ensued including camera getting tossed into the water. As only local fate would have it, the lady attacked happened to be wife of the County sheriff!
One has to laugh at probability and bare facts! No matter how progressive in population and appearance things continue moving forward, one's got to believe McDonald County will always be a local showcase for outdoor adventures...of course, anchored with a Hoot and a Holler!