South County

1972. A Yankee learns the Ozarks way and lives to tell his tales. Now almost a native, Denny fondly reminisces about the people and places of his adopted home.

Denny Luke is an adventurer. During his years as a Navy man, he built hot rods with money he made with shipboard loansharking. He returned to his native Ohio where he soon tired of the mechanic’s life. Computers had just started to break the surface in 1966, the perfect attraction to a young man with a sharp mind and plenty of ambition.

Hot cars and Enduro racing occupied Denny’s next few years as he helped usher in the computer age in Minneapolis. But another adventure awaited when in 1970 he fell in with a bunch of hippies. By 1972, he had found his way to the Ozarks.

An avid photographer and storyteller, Denny shares the adventures of his life as he recalls the outrageous backwoods tales and colorful characters who populate the southern fringe of Washington County in Northwest Arkansas.

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Is Rock and Roll Dying?

As soon as the caller identified himself, my heart sank. Not another one. I let him explain—barely making it, bandmate working three jobs, time to cut back.

This truth hit them suddenly. No time for thirty days’ notice. He’d moved all their stuff out early that day—amps, speakers, drums, guitars, miscellany only musicians know. All of it now crammed into corners of already cramped living space, it won’t see use. It will sit there until their finances improve or until, on some forlorn day, they decide to sell it.

My vacancy rate now hovers at twenty-five percent – four studios out of sixteen. It’s actually worse than that. I’m down to three actual bands plus one unit occupied by a drummer who needs a place to practice when his band isn’t on the road and one unit occupied by a retiree who used to be a big time guitarist. He and his wife live in an RV, no place for him to play.

Then there are the hip-hop and rap guys, three studios without a drum or instrument, nothing but a computer set up, comfortable furniture, and microphones.

The other rented studios are occupied by an accountant, a masseuse, a writer, and an artist. I’m actively advertising the units as office space, work space, a place to store things if someone needs a temperature- and humidity-controlled room. There are two bathrooms including one with a shower for rinsing off that after-gig smoke-and-booze film that mixes with sweat and sticks to hair, skin, and clothing. There’s a break area with microwave, bar sink, and coffee maker.

There’s a loading dock leading to an entry with a keypad lock, steel doors set in steel frames set in concrete block walls. Another key code is required for each tenant to enter his individual studio. Surveillance cameras further enhance security for tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear acquired over time—keyboards, sophisticated mixing boards, smoke machines plus t-shirts, CDs, and other promotional items. Most of all, the studios provide sound control. Heavy metal played at two a.m. does not leak outside because the walls and ceilings are double-layered, offset with sound clips.

It’s a niche business, something I got into by accident. Back in 1989, I gained ownership of an old railroad property where my dad and I had operated our piano repair business since 1981. The ramshackle buildings stretched along a block of spur track once served as warehouses, a 1940s Quonset hut among them. We used only half of one building, leaving room for multiple renters. As it turned out, the greatest demand for space was rock and roll bands who needed rehearsal space.

Many repairs and changes in those old buildings over the coming years created eleven rehearsal units. Even at that, I usually had a waiting list. Nothing about those old buildings worked well for bands—except the price, ranging from $200 to $300 per month. Sound leaked out so badly that police forced rehearsal shut-downs on a regular basis. Keyed doors meant a continuous drama over lost keys or the need for new locks because the drummer lost his mind and they wanted him locked out. No humidity control, no central heat or AC.

Around 2003 when retirement rolled around and we shut down the piano business, real estate development was exploding all around me. I caught the fever. Perfectly positioned between the university, downtown, and the entertainment district, the property could be the home of a profitable development of apartments or condos alongside commercial space. One of the questions that came up during that two-year frenzy of architects, engineers, city planners, and financial shenanigans was: What about the bands?

The bands. By now hundreds of bands had sojourned there, some famous, most of them not. Some lasting a few months, some for years. I continued to have a waiting list.

So I spent considerable time looking at affordable properties where I could create the best possible rehearsal studio space. I borrowed money for a down payment and contracted with various trades for a remodel of an existing building. I went into debt for a quarter million dollars.

On opening day, April 2006, the studios filled up. Except for a few dark months at the bottom of the recession in 2008-9, they stayed filled. At some points, bands shared space in the larger units and still there was a waiting list.

Then, inexplicably in spring 2016, all that changed. Rent was paid late or in partial amounts along with fervent promises—soon as we get this recording deal done, soon as we get back from tour. Vacancies didn’t get filled. By the end of the year, four vacancies existed from month to month. By mid-2017, there were five.

I’ve talked about this with some of the musicians who have rented from me for years. The sad truth is that the local scene has changed dramatically over the past twenty years, especially in the last ten. Back in the day, a person out for a night of revelry could stand on the sidewalk on Dickson Street and hear rock and roll leaking out into the night from clubs up and down the street. Live music brought in the customers, eager to support their favorite bands with a small cover charge. The money added up for the bands, and the club owners made money off the drinks.

People thronged the dance floor, shouting and laughing as the heavy beat and guitar riffs joined them together in a primal celebration of life. These were songs of the soul in the glorious tradition of rock and roll, an expression too heavy for mere words. This was the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, and all the greats and not so greats who tapped into the zeitgeist of the times in protest of war, of social injustice, of human angst in the unspeakable onslaught of life itself. We needed the music to get us through.

Do we not need it anymore?

One club owner explained to me that the whole scene changed as more people got iPhones. Patrons wanted to be free to circulate up and down the street, meet friends at one place, go to another. It was about seeing and being seen. Texting ruled. No one wanted to pay a cover or cared whether there was live music. Now on any given night, a person standing on the sidewalk finds the street mostly silent. Two or three clubs still invite live performance and there are occasional music fests. But the bread and butter money has dried up.

More than the loss of local venues is the lingering impact of economic downturn. Prices for food, rent, and everything else has gone up but wages haven’t. For young men and women hoping to move forward in the music industry, there simply isn’t enough to go around and still cover a modest $250 to $300 per month studio rent even when shared among three or four bandmates.

And why should they? Since music went digital, the scaffolding holding up the music industry has mostly collapsed. People routinely steal downloads. Whatever tiny increments of profit someone’s CD might generate are siphoned off by the recording studio and the promoters leaving the band with barely enough to cover the costs of touring.

People take music for granted. It’s ubiquitous. In every office and marketplace, every movie and television show, every waking moment, music undergirds our voice-overs. If someone suddenly pulled the plug and music disappeared, we would stand aghast at the disconcerting silence. The musical background spans awkward moments in conversation, social unease as we crowd together as strangers in increasingly jammed spaces, and in long private moments when we don’t want to face whatever is going on in our own minds.

We rely on music in ways we hardly realize. But we’re mostly not willing to pay for it. It’s not only that musicians are often forced to play for free, it’s that the economy places little value on it.

Four vacancies is my break even point. Fewer means I gain a slim profit to bring home to supplement my meager Social Security. More means the operation isn’t meeting its expenses. A continuation of the status quo means I have to think seriously about selling the property, and I’m not sure that the property will bring what I still owe.

At the time I jumped into the new building, spent weeks learning about acoustics and building materials and security systems, I diligently wrote out my business plan. In the part where I needed to describe my exit plan, I described how the spaces could be used for offices or work spaces or even living quarters. But, I added, rock and roll will never die.

Maybe it won’t. Maybe this is just a weird bubble on the local scene that has little relevance to the future of this art form. Maybe in the near future, local talent will again seek out space to create musical statements about the emotions and challenges we face. The big concerts still draw tens of thousands of fans, and a handful of stars still earn their fortunes in the trade, so there’s still the hope of fame and fortune for those intrepid few who gut out the hardship and keep playing.

I hope I can hold out and do my part to keep the dream alive.

The Good Old Days

Back when … well, whenever, things were better. Right? People loved each other more, spent more time with family. Life was simpler.

Exactly when was that?

Was it the 1950s,

  • Back when the U. S. and Russia detonated nuclear weapons above ground, when milk tested positive for radiation? When school kids routinely practiced scuttling under their desks in case of a nuclear attack?
  • When everyone smoked cigarettes?
  • When women had to find a back alley abortionist to end an unwanted pregnancy and the only means of birth control were condoms and diaphragms? (Okay, plenty of people think this was a good thing because, you know, women who abort should die and sex is only for making babies.)
  • When schools and most businesses remained segregated? When homosexuals could be beaten to death? (Another good thing, right, for all the racists and bigots out there?)
  • Back when there weren’t any cell phones or cordless phones and television only came on three channels in black and white?

Oh, you meant earlier than that. Back in those halcyon days when folks sat on the front porch and ate homegrown food?

Like 1900,

  • Back when nobody had automobiles and you had to saddle up to go anywhere? When families traveled by wagon on the rare occasions they went to town? When horse dung littered city streets and nobody had indoor plumbing? We loved hanging ourselves over a stinking hole in the ground and freezing our privates while relieving our bowels in January. Right?
  • When three generations all lived in the same house?
  • Ah, the good old days before modern medicine invented antibiotics and people died of tuberculosis because nobody had figured out it was a curable, contagious disease.
  • Those days, so wonderful without any of these modern distractions like radio or television or rural electricity so everyone could enjoy dinner by the light of kerosene lamps or candles.
  • Yes, gee whiz, back before welfare and foodstamps and all those other pesky handouts to the slackers, how we miss working in the fields all day, milking cows, butchering hogs, because if we didn’t we wouldn’t have anything to eat.
  • And how we miss sewing all our own clothes and all the women wearing corsets and long skirts
  • When women couldn’t vote.
  • Those fabulous days when no one could talk about birth control or buy condoms because it was against the law.

Further back? Like 1850, when much of the labor to produce goods or foodstuffs was performed by African slaves? When it was legal for husbands to beat their wives as long as the stick they used was no wider than their thumb? When children worked in coal mines? When no one had heard of weekends or sick leave or vacation time or minimum wage?

How far back, exactly, did you think we’d have to go to get back to “the Good Old Days?”

The colonial era when poor people and random miscreants were rounded up to work on ships or turned into indentured servants and no one had the right to vote?

Or the 1600s when people who couldn’t pay their debts were imprisoned? When those who didn’t agree with the dominant religion could be burned as a witch?

Or the 1500s when Protestants and Catholics fought endless wars?

Or the 1300s and 1400s when bubonic plague killed one-third of the entire European population?

I mean, how far back do we go? The Crusades? The Roman Empire? Ancient Egypt?

In all those times, war ran rampant as nations ruled by kings fought over resources and territory. People starved and died of diseases that are now preventable or easily curable. Women died in childbirth and half the children born died before adulthood. All the inventions we now consider normal didn’t exist—heated homes, air conditioning, toilets, sinks, glass windows that open and close, motorized vehicles, air travel, ambulances, hospitals and medical doctors, understanding of planets, stars, and our sun, microscopes and the world of bacteria, viruses, cells, and atoms, organized educational systems and widespread literacy…

Could it be that the fondly remembered good old days were simply the days of our youth when we didn’t have to earn a living and didn’t know enough yet to worry? Could it be that those early years of playing in piles of leaves or swimming in a creek or coming home from school to savor a freshly made cookie were simply the experience of a decent childhood without any real application to the adult world? Or that our memories of childhood gloriously forget the bad stuff we don’t want to remember?

When exactly were the Good Old Days?

Lost Song

Lurking in the back of my mind, an emotional revelation waits. What it is, I couldn’t tell you. A memory from my past? An understanding about myself? About life in general, the world? I don’t know.

I think that if I waited long enough, carved away the distractions like a pending visit from one of my kids, or the telephone that might ring, or the dog barking outside at falling leaves, whatever It is might reveal itself. It might stand fully formed in front of me, shimmering in magnificence. Terrifying. Fulfilling.

It won’t come, though. I know this because I’ve felt this way before. It never comes, at least, not lately. Now when I need it the most.

In the past, it came with LSD and mescaline. It came with sex. It came when I pounded out the last bars of “The Long and Winding Road” on the piano and tears ran down my face. It came when I reeled off the walls, tequila rushing through my veins, and the truth was made known.

This is different.

I get nowhere with booze. Won’t even consider psychedelics or sex. I can’t look at a piano, much less sit down to play one.

This is like singing, something I once did well. Singing came out of me like some truth too profound to express any other way. I can’t sing now. My voice is old and broken. In my dreams, I can sing. In my dreams, I’m also younger, lovely, strong.

When I try to sing, my voice breaks around middle C, something I noticed after one of several surgeries and which I assign to a tube being forced down my throat. Vocal cords pushed aside, deformed or broken. I want to open my mouth and let a pure note emerge, then another and another until the last note shines off into the distance. I feel it inside me, waiting to come out.

One of my expectations, now that I think on it, was to surround my older years with the things I had no time for when I was young, things like painting where my brush would drift over the paper spreading colors into magical swirls and hues. Things like strumming a guitar again, forming chords that drifted off into the evening air. I would sing along, remember “Scotch and Soda,” “Girl from Ipanema,” “Turn Around”…

I can still paint. I have the supplies. The method has become rusty, but if I applied myself, I could remember how to make shadows while the paper is still damp. I could let orange fade into indigo along a sunset horizon.

Somewhere in all that is the thing I can’t quite reach.

Rex Perkins, Excerpt as Gift of the Season Day 9

postcard

As Robert Winn wrote in his book Winslow: Top of the Ozarks, “[Budd] had a large office with a staff of a dozen young ladies mailing out advertising for fence posts. He shipped out uncounted numbers of fence posts to western states. He also carried a complete line of clothing, shoes, feed, hardware, furniture, and groceries. Mr. Budd had branch stores at Brentwood, Woolsey, West Fork, Porter (Schaberg) Chester, Walker’s Switch, Mountainburg, and Rudy.”

High-profile courtroom cases like the 1937 “Cabin Orgy” suit gained public attention for Rex Perkins. His fame as an outstanding trial lawyer spread. His name increasingly appeared in conjunction with front page headlines announcing the most recent sensational case. For example, in June 1943, he successfully defended Tuck Bishop, an admitted murderer of four people. In Bishop’s defense, Rex harped on Bishop’s status as a wounded veteran and filed a nolle prosequi declaration resulting in a precedent-setting life sentence for Mr. Bishop rather than the expected death penalty.

Rex’s success in gaining cases rose not only from his frequent mentions in local media, but also from his enthusiastic and tenacious pursuit of legal options for his clients. In addition to his sharp mind and voracious study of the law, Rex didn’t hesitate to skirt the edges of accepted practice. One anecdote recalls a time when Rex and his client faced a formidable team of well-heeled Little Rock attorneys who traveled to the Madison county courthouse to press their case. In those days, visual aids required to instruct jurors on logistics or scene layout usually depended on the use of a chalkboard. As the Little Rock legal team left the courtroom for a brief recess, Rex strolled past the chalkboard and palmed the chalk. Alas, no further use of the chalkboard could be made.[1]

budd rose

Rose and E. A. Budd, probably at San Francisco. The careful staging of a prop in front of Rose was meant to disguise her delicate condition. Image courtesy Velda Brotherton. Originally published in the Washington County Observer and in the book Washington County by Velda Brotherton, published by Arcadia Publishers.

In 1944, Perkins and his partner Tom Sullins took up the case of Elwin A. Budd, founder of Budd Post and Hardwood Company and a longtime prominent businessman in the region. An Illinois native of impoverished background, Budd had built a fortune buying and selling hardwood fence posts during the peak years of Washington County’s timber boom, becoming known as “the man who fenced the West.”[2] He married Nettie Huey in 1903, settled on a place near Brentwood (south Washington County), and in 1908, the couple gained a son. A young woman named Rose Shackelford came to help with the baby and E. A. fell in love with her.

By this time, Budd had built his fence post fortunes into thriving mercantile operations along the railroad at Winslow and Chester, Arkansas, as the route cut south into virgin forest between Fayetteville to Fort Smith. He divorced Nettie and married Rose in 1909 when he was thirty-two and she was fifteen. His relationship with Rose ended tragically just six years later after the couple took an automobile trip to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Pregnant during the arduous journey, Rose gave birth to a stillborn child in October and died four days later.

It was said that the loss of Rose changed E. A. forever. He threw himself into his business. In the 1920s as the timber trade died down, he along with his brother Arthur invested in expansive commercial enterprises in Fayetteville. Their Royal Movie Theater, Royal Barber Shop, Royal Café, and Budd’s Department Store occupied virtually all of the south side of the Fayetteville Square. Budd’s fence post business continued in Fayetteville with warehouses stretching from South Hill Avenue east to South Government Avenue and filling a half block north of the railroad tracks toward Sixth Street (now Martin Luther King Boulevard). Another warehouse, ‘Budd’s Woodcraft and Spokes,’ fronted 808 South Government, a structure recently housing the ‘The Village Sculptor’ ironworks of the modern-day Fayetteville artist Hank Kaminsky and demolished in 2013.

Budd remarried several times, becoming increasingly more depressed and drinking heavily. Beloved by employees as a “likeable, hard-working, and shrewd man with a knack for making money” and credited with creating jobs during the Depression, his work habit was remembered that he “left home in a three-piece suit to sell posts up and down the river, then later in the day changed to a pair of overalls to do the manual labor.”[3]

budds fire

Fire damage January 15, 1940. Headline, Northwest Arkansas Times: “Budd’s Mercantile, Royal Theater, Barber Shop, and Cafe Contents Total Loss” Caption underneath photo: “The front walls of the Royal theatre and Budd building were about all that remained today after fire destroyed the buildings and contents. Firemen remained at the smouldering ruins throughout the day.” Springdale firemen joined the Fayetteville forces in an effort to save other south side buildings.

Misfortune continued to find him, however. Fire swept through his Fayetteville mercantile, theater, barber shop and café on January 15, 1940, resulting in total loss to the contents, as well as destruction of several rented upstairs offices and apartments.

Four years later, on March 27, 1944, Budd allegedly inflicted fatal wounds to Miss Norma Smith, a Zion schoolteacher of long acquaintance with Budd. The trial opened July 11, 1944. The defense team included Perkins, Tom Sullins, and John Mayes. Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Duty was joined by Assistant Prosecutor Glen Wing and Van Buren attorney Dave Partain in Judge J. W. Trimble’s court. Opening testimony for the prosecution came from Pvt. Dale Fields, 26, who recounted his previous Saturday evening at Mitche’s Place with a crowd from Springdale. Upon exiting the building, he said Miss Smith “hollered” at him to come over to the car where she was sitting.

He went over and talked to her for a while, then got in the car and went to Springdale. She drove him home. He made a date with her to see her the next morning. They drove to Noel, Mo., in her car and visited his uncle, Fields said, returning to Fayetteville about 4:30, and that evening she again took him home to Springdale. ‘She asked me to come back and see her any time I wanted to,’ he said.

He didn’t see her any more until March 27, about 8 or 9 o’clock, Fields testified. ‘We were laying on the bed when Mr. Budd came in there…He walked up on the porch, came in the house, turned on the lights, came in the bedroom and told me “‘Time to leave.’”

When questioned by the defense, Fields said Budd did not say that in an angry tone. Fields got up and began to dress, but Miss Smith said that he wasn’t leaving. She went into the living room and argued with Budd. As Fields got the living room, he saw Budd slap her. She fell into a chair and Budd left.

Fields asked her who Budd was but she wouldn’t tell him…she just said he was a business man up town. Budd returned, threw eggs at the house and Norma ran out and stared hollering at him. One egg came through the door was she went out, and splattered on the wall…Fields said he next heard fighting in the yard. He said he had been sitting near the door and could hear the blows, and ‘it sounded like he was hitting her hard.’ Then she yelled for help. Fields went out and when he first saw them they were fighting in the corner of the yard near a tree. He saw Budd hit her in the face one lick with his fist, and…she hit the ground. “Then the law came down there…Budd started to his car.”

After about an hour at the police station, Fields returned to Miss Smith’s house where he found her lying on the bed. “There was a place on her chin and blood was running down the back of her neck coming from under her hair,” he said. He washed her and convinced her to go to a doctor, but when they got to the car, it wouldn’t start. The wires had been cut. Fields tried to find a doctor who would go to the house, but no one came. He stayed with her all night during which time Budd drove up and down the street blowing his horn…

~~

From Chapter 4 of Rex Perkins: A Biography. Available in Fayetteville and West Fork local bookstores. Or at Amazon.

 

[1]  Bassett, Marynm. Interview with author May 23, 2014. Author’s notes.

[2] Brotherton, Velda. “Rose Budd the one true love of legendary businessman,” “Wandering the Ozarks with Velda Brotherton.” White River Valley News, June 23, 2005. Page 9

[3] Ibid

 

Jars

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If I had considered the question in advance, I would have known that cleaning out the barn would precipitate a crisis. Memories long stored away for some magical future moment when that child’s toy, that handsaw, would again be needed—did I keep them simply for the memory? Furniture—small tables, wooden chairs, an ottoman frame, an old piano bench well made of oak and in need of a few repairs—would I someday find time and reason to fix them and return them to my house?

Too good to throw away. Largely irrelevant to my current life.

Becoming relevant at some future point? Probably not.

Determination to survive in a world lost to chaos drove the accumulation of this minor hoard. It was 1975. We had small children who would need to eat and thrive even if the bomb fell. We labored to renew skills our grandparents knew by heart, certain that within our lifetimes we would have to hide in our house until the fallout settled then emerge to plow, plant, and harvest our food, breed our pigs, chickens, and goats for future generations of meat and milk. We gathered meat saws and grinders, steel axes and shovels, nails and wire.

Time marched on. The Cold War ended and fingers moved away from the annihilation button.  The children are no longer dependent babies who might benefit from a collection of books on history, science, math. The goats departed in the late 80s, the garden in the early 90s, and the last of the chickens about ten years ago. The children have gone off like grown children do to find their own visions of the future.

Why do I need eight hand saws, ten hammers (of various sizes), buckets of random nails, screws, washers, bolts, and nuts? Feed scoops and cheesecloth, empty egg cartons, milk pails. What possible purpose could be met by random pieces of plywood or sheetrock, insulation, screen, tile? Why do I think that at some point I’ll make use of a decrepit power saw, drill, or grinder when, for the last twenty-five years, I have not?

I have created two piles. One is for the junkman to haul away. The other is for craigslist ads and friends who operate flea market booths. I am mildly optimistic that someone might buy the old wooden toolbox, child’s desk, or the sturdy small tables, the ten gallon pickling crock or the T-post driver. Never mind that for what I’d receive in dollars, I could restore only a fraction of this hoard.

In truth, what our energy and money bought in those early days was peace of mind. With our collection of tools, books, supplies, and know-how, we’d have a chance. Our kids would have a chance.

It served its purpose. The purpose no longer exists.

Sounds good. But what I haven’t put in either pile is the pressure canner. And the jars. Dozens and dozens of canning jars—quarts, pints, jelly jars. It’s the jars that have brought me to crisis.

When my firstborn child was two, my grandmother died. My dad’s mom, Nora. Always a country girl, Nora knew how to make soap, kill a chicken with a swing and stiff pop of its neck, and would can just about anything edible. She had jars. When they started clearing her property for the auction, I went down to Cane Hill and helped clean out her cellar. I hauled back cases of canned goods.

She had declined for a decade until her death at age 86. I wouldn’t dare eat any of the food in those jars. We had hogs and chickens at the time which allowed me to make use of Grandma’s labors. Each day I’d go out to the barn and pens and open more jars. Applesauce, whole plums, peaches, pears. Grapes and elderberries. Green beans, tomatoes, cabbage, mixed vegetables. Tallow. Jelly, jam, preserves. Juice. The critters were well fed that year.

We grew a huge garden. Neighbors had pear trees. We visited orchards and vineyards. Even with all of Grandma Nora’s jars, I sometimes ran short. My mother gave me jars. I bought jars.

In those heady days, each fall I stood in the storage closet and stared at my larder. The sight of all those jars filled me with the greatest pleasure that once again, by the labor of my hands, I had set aside enough green beans, tomatoes and sauce, peas, corn, and kraut to last a year. The jars lined up in colorful rows, golden tomato seeds swimming in crimson broth, finely shredded green cabbage fermented into tangy white kraut, wild plum jelly glowing fuscia in the dark.

Producing and preserving food challenged me like nothing I’d ever done. Even with a tractor and rototiller, even with liberal applications of goat manure and mulch, plants struggled to survive against drought, bugs, and predation. How many hours did I spend hoeing weeds or picking off potato bugs? How many hours peeling and chopping, sterilizing and packing, standing over the pressure gauge to ensure the right amount of intense heat and adequate time to prevent spoilage.

There’s a sound as jars cool, the snap of the canning lid sucking down, sealing the contents safely into the future—I loved that sound. Then it was time to use the grease pencil to write on the lid—July 1981.

Now I have all these jars. The cardboard boxes have suffered over the years. Faded brown paper hangs in shreds, the sides bow and buckle. Even if I keep the jars, I have to plow through generations of dead spiders and a healthy population of live ones to retrieve the jars from box wreckage. Why would I go to the trouble to re-package all these jars knowing that twenty years from now, it would all be to do over again? Would I be any more willing to let go of them then?

My children have no interest and no place to store jars. I wouldn’t mind storing them if my kids wanted them. But there’s no longer a tractor or rototiller. The half-acre garden has grown up in saplings and pasture grass. There are no goats to produce manure. Everything is different.

But here’s the argument. Certain things haven’t changed. We have to eat. We have the ability to grow food. With jars and a pressure canner, we could store food. Isn’t that incentive enough to save the jars?

What is my responsibility? For countless generations, as far back at least as civilization, my ancestors have planted, cultivated, harvested, and stored food. These are skills we’ve learned—how to measure the right time to plant onions or corn, what seeds to soak before pressing them into the dark earth, how to dig potatoes without piercing them. We raised our kids to know these things.

Do I simply walk away?

Why not? There are books. There are others still farming, still canning—the knowledge won’t fade simply because I relinquish my jars.

Even with the best of hoards, with all the tools and seeds saved and an endless supply of jars, at the end of the day, survival in a world gone mad would be a tenuous venture. What about grain? No bread, no pasta, no crackers. What about oil, salt, soda, sugar? We’d be dependent on venison and that requires guns and ammunition. My .22 rifle won’t bring down a deer.

At some point, even the most vehement survivalist will face what I face. How many times in your life do you restock your rations and water? How much is enough ammunition? Who are you prepared to kill to protect your hard won ark?

I’m working on a compromise with myself. Today I think I will keep a few jars as mementos of my grandmother, the tall green half gallon jars and a few of the older square-shoulder quarts. I will wash them periodically and keep them up on a shelf, decoration that tugs my heartstrings when I look up from my daily tasks. I will acknowledge the hard work and dedication that touched these jars, my hands, my mother’s hands, my grandmother’s hands.

All the grandmothers. All the jars. All the tomatoes and fine plum jam will not save the world.

Best Burger Ever

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Brenda’s Bigger Burger circa 2012. The metal railing was added when a street widening took half the parking lot. Photo from an article by Dustin Bartholomew, November 8, 2012, in the Fayetteville Flyer, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Today was one of those days when I came face to face with the passage of time. In traffic at a stoplight, I studied my surroundings and realized that Brenda’s Bigger Burger property sat vacant with a big ‘SOLD’ sign on the parking lot. A pang of nostalgia twisted in my chest. I knew it had closed. I just hadn’t thought about what it meant.

Through no fault of its own, the place always marked a pivotal moment in my life.

I never knew Brenda’s Bigger Burger existed until December 1970. Never mind that it stood on the corner of 6th and South Hill, an intersection I had passed countless times growing up. Several blocks further down South Hill nestled the modest little white building where my parents dragged us kids to church every time the doors opened.

On this particular weekend, my church-going days had long since passed. Finally. Now at the end of my first semester back at university after nearly three years living in California, I sat in the front passenger seat of Sam Holloway’s white Ford Galaxie waiting impatiently for our food. I was starving.

In retrospect, I realize that my ravenous appetite had not just a little to do with my first marijuana ‘high’ the previous night.

Momentous enough in its own right, my initiation into the drug culture hardly topped the chart of radical changes that occurred that night. Even more staggering was the fact that I had unexpectedly become unfaithful to my husband.

I could lay all this at the feet of Sam Holloway, a friend of an old friend whom I’d encountered on campus just a few days earlier. Old Friend and I were both married, him in grad school and me finishing my bachelors. We agreed to get together sometime.

‘Sometime’ turned out to be one evening a few days later when he called and wanted to stop by with a friend. They brought a six-pack. I was on my second glass of Chablis.

When Old Friend and Holloway arrived stamping snow off their shoes at my carport door, I was baking banana nut bread to send to my husband. He was stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines earning a captain’s hazardous duty pay as a courier flying in and out of Southeast Asia with top secret missives. Our separation had begun in late September, an eighteen-months’ tour for him before he could get out of the military and enough time for me to finish my degree.

I’d been lonely. I’d fretted over whether to dally, an inclination I’d fought even while still in California. We’d been together five years, married for nearly three. We’d discussed new ideas like open marriage but hadn’t made any moves.

That doesn’t excuse what I did. In an open marriage, there would have been an agreement. This was more delicious and awful than that, unplanned, unexpected, and entirely outrageous.

Old Friend passed out on his fourth beer and snored at the end of the couch. Having no other furniture, I sat in the middle of the couch and Holloway leaned back on the other end, his hand-tooled alligator cowboy boots crossed at the ankle. Twirling one end of his elaborate mustache, he pulled a skinny yellow cigarette out of his jacket pocket and flicked his Zippo. Sweet smelling smoke spiraled from the tip.

Several minutes later, the ‘high’ hit me with a warm caress on the back of my neck. My forehead floated upward. Lights dazzled. Colors like the black and white plaid sofa and the big red and yellow candlesticks I’d made out of flower pots began to pulse. Even more intriguing were Holloway’s green eyes.

Incredible as we found it, we’d been born on the same day in the same town. His mother and my father both taught school at Rogers before we moved away. My father was remembered there, Holloway said.

It was the Chablis. It was the weed. It was the strange coincidence of our connections and the scintillating repartee that flew back and forth between us. It was a slice of time cut from both our regular lives and set aside for this experience.

The next morning every icy surface including the streets glistened in bright sunshine. The ground had been white with snow for two days. Just driving across town to Brenda’s had been an slippery adventure. He insisted on Brenda’s, so that’s where he took me.

The food came out steaming hot, a sizzling beef patty on a big round bun. My teeth sank into the burger and saliva instantly flooded my mouth. Yellow mustard! Fresh sliced onion! Dills lovingly arranged so that each bite included just enough pickle. Tomato when real tomatoes were all you could get.

The burger and fries came wrapped in thin tissue paper, enough layers that when Holloway spread out the fries on the seat between us, the fat didn’t seep through to the upholstery. Heaped in long limp strands, the fries were salty golden treasure.

My hands trembled as I ate. I savored my Dr. Pepper down to the last crunchy nugget of ice. For the third time in less than 24 hours, I died and went to heaven.

I broke two more promises before it all ended. One I broke immediately, my promise never to smoke cigarettes again. After we’d crumpled the mustard-stained tissue papers, Holloway pulled out his pack of Winstons. My brand.

The other, the promise to myself that I’d never do that again? I lasted ten days. The affair lasted a scant two months before we both moved on. The marriage lasted another three years.

When the day arrives that Brenda’s building falls before the bulldozer blade, I can tell you right now—I will shed tears. Not only for Holloway or what we had. Not only for the marriage or the man I never quite stopped loving.

My tears will also fall for the fact that there’ll never be a better burger than the one I ate that day.

[From an untitled work in progress which may or may not see print in my lifetime…]