Sunday, August 13, 2006

Yea, Razorbacks! Go Hogs!

Aug. 11 – 13, 2006

“There’s a difference between living and living well!”
– lyrics in an unnamed country/western song, heard on the radio.

College football is alive and well here and there’s Razorback fever in Arkansas! You can even buy a replacement toilet seat that has the Razorback logo on the lid!

On the advice of Brenda, I headed south on Arkansas highway 1, through charming small towns; the only city of size was Jonesboro. I stopped at Walmart for a few groceries and gas. Along the way I drove by “Latham’s Grocery” (Hey, Jesse, I didn’t know you had a store in Arkansas!).

The Highway to Heaven?
What an interesting drive along these two-lane country roads. When I had gone as far on Highway 1 as I could and turned onto Highway 165, it looked like the road was rising in the air – not the countryside around it, just the road. What? I had forgotten that my route would cross the Arkansas River, and it was the bridge ahead. It is a very tall two-lane, no-shoulder bridge across this wide river that serves as a cargo waterway. I so much wanted to spend time looking at the river, but my better judgment said to keep my eyes on the road.

Almost immediately I saw Highway 212, turned and found myself on a tall, very, very narrow winding two-lane road with tiny shoulders. Good grief! There was water on the right and fields on the left. A glance in my side-view mirrors told me that Jeremiah fit the lane with hardly an inch to spare. It finally occurred to me that I was on a levee road. Thankfully this part of 212 was only a few miles long and soon I had shoulders that appeared wider because the road was level with the surrounding fields.

Observations about Arkansas along the way
· This is definitely catfish country. Practically all restaurants advertise this speciality.
· There are churches all along the way; it seems like most of them are Baptist.
· I’ve been traveling with ‘talk radio’ on – hoping to get acclimated to the Arkansas ‘twang.’ For instance, “fish” is pronounced “feesh” (short ‘i’ becomes long ‘e’). Good thing I figured this out – we had catfeesh for dinner.
· Arkansas food specialties include fried catfish, fried okra, cornbread dressing, purple-pod peas, and others I’ve forgotten. When you ask for ‘tea’ you get sweetened iced tea.
· The corn meal of choice is the white, self-rising version.
· There don’t appear to be any Dairy Queens in this state. I did see a Daisy Queen and a Dairy Treat.
· Zillions of chickens are raised in Arkansas for Tyson.
· Farmers grow rice.

Brenda Branch and her husband Ralph got home from work not too long after I arrived at Newton’s Store in Cornerville, Arkansas. The Newton’s have deep roots in Cornerville – both Brenda’s mom and dad and their parents were raised in this small town.

Brenda’s mom, Joy Newton, has run Newton Store for more than 40 years. Brenda’s dad had a logging company. When Brenda’s dad died, Brenda and her brother Doug took over the logging business. The company cuts down trees, removed the tops and strips the branches until just the trunk is left. The trunk is loaded and taken away either on trucks or barges. Huge machines that are operated by the workers do all this.

Now before you think that Brenda just sits behind a desk, think again. She operates the huge machine that loads the tree trunks onto trucks. Brenda is an anomaly in the all-man logging business. I asked her what was the most challenging part of logging as a female and a boss, and she said, “Going to the bathroom in the woods without some man popping up unexpectedly.”

Doug, Brenda and their crew of workers, which includes Brenda’s husband, are well respected in this industry. They operate as an independent business that contracts with huge lumber and pulp mills. Their current contract is to cut timber on a large island in the Mississippi River – about a 90-minute commute each way, making for very long days.

PHOTO of Brenda and her mom inside Newton’s Store.

The Newton Store is a gathering place for locals. One local, a young man named Marty, raises chickens for Tyson. He said he has 88,000 chickens at a time. Tyson delivers them when they are one day old and weigh less than one ounce each. In seven-and-and-half weeks they weigh close to 3 pounds. The chickens are picked up by Tyson and taken to the processing plant. And another batch of newborns are delivered. Tyson also provides all the food – obviously well fortified with hormones to speed up growth.

On Sunday morning I went to church with Brenda and her mom, and afterwards Joy prepared a typical southern Sunday noon meal. We had chicken and cornbread dressing, fried okra, butter beans, candied yams, cornbread, and tea. What a treat for me.

My time was up way too fast and I was backing out of Brenda and Ralph’s driveway to head west. I had a grand time. And I can see why folks from Arkansas like to stay there.

I left about 1 p.m. and headed west. My destination was Queen Wilhelmina State Park near the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. I’ll write about this park tomorrow.

My chigger bites still itch!