Somewhere among my cluttered collection of personal videos is one of me standing at the foot of the Pyramid of Cheops in Giza, Egypt. I blabber into the camera, “Here she is a kid from Brooklyn standing at one of the Seven Wonders of the World.” Thirty years ago, I never imagined that eventually I’d visit all seven continents of the world.
I did, often accompanied by unexpected surprises.
Now after two years of being an armchair traveler I embarked on a live journey once again, this time with Road Scholar to Essential Arkansas. Three factors motivated me:
- A personal goal is to visit all fifty states, and Arkansas was on the list. Now I only have six more to go.
- The Clinton Library
- Crystal Bridges Museum
When our group gathered the first evening, Tari, our leader welcomed us, “This is my home state and I know you’re here to see the Clinton Library and Crystal Bridges Museum but be prepared for many pleasant surprises in the next week.”
On day five of our program, I rested my head on the back of my seat and enjoyed the tall cedars and holly trees out the window. Coming from drought-ridden California, I was transported through this lush tunnel of shade far away from the rest of the world so familiar to me. I had no idea what awaited me.
We arrived at the Ozark Folk and Cultural Center at Ozark State Park about three in the afternoon. “The shops are open until five, and there are a lot of them,” Tari announced on the bus.
The Welcome Center had displays of handwoven shawls, ceramic bowls, candies, jewelry, a rack of postcards, and a myriad of other things. An ample blond-haired woman whose name tag said Anne noticed me and said, “Everything you see is made here in our shops. We have twenty-seven shops and there are signs along the way to guide you.” She handed me a map.
I followed the map and the signs to the apothecary shop, then on to the paper shop where I was greeted by a large bouquet of flowers. They looked so real, I touched them to be sure they were paper. I turned to Nancy, who sat behind the counter, her white hair pulled back in a neat bun and asked, “Do you sell patterns?”
“I sure do. Which one do you like?”
I pointed to a magenta peony. “I think my friend will like that one.”
She removed an envelope from a stack and opened it, “Here are the instructions. They are just like I talk.” I smiled. “If your friend has any questions she can text me, I don’t answer calls from people I don’t know.
“I’m in agreement with that. There’s so much spam out there, but we can’t live without our phones.” She was a kindred spirit.
I visited more shops and was looked for a place to sit when I heard music. I followed the sounds to a shelter where four women played stringed instruments, and sat down to listen.
A straw hatted woman with long blond hair sneaking out beneath the brim, picked at a mountain dulcimer. Next to her a gray-haired woman whose curls framed her round face, wore a soft blue dress, and strummed on a violin. To her right a mandolin player, with a banjo resting at her “C:\Users\janic\OneDrive\Desktop\20220519_142402.jpg”feet, bent her white head over her instrument and focused on her fingering. A stout, salt and pepper-haired woman stood behind the other three and plunked the bass, which she called an upright.
As they packed their instruments I took a closer look at the mountain dulcimer. The player, whose name was Sarah said, “The mountain dulcimer is unique to this region.”
“It’s a soothing sound. You’re all wearing period dresses. Do you make your own clothes?”
Sarah, said, “I buy my clothes from places where they are selling costumes, but Alice and Linda make their dresses.”
Alice, the violinist, about my height, overheard us and said, “This way the sleeves are just right, and the waist is comfortable.”
I nodded in knowing agreement.
I settled into my ‘cabin’ and looked around. This sure beats the Holiday Inn in Bentonville, I said to myself. They had been constructed recently and this ‘cabin’ had all the accouterments of a four-star hotel with a walk-in stall shower, internet, a porch amid treed to look at the beautiful mountains, and have coffee in the morning from the Keurig, which I did the next day.
Dinner that evening at the Skillett Restaurant, offered many choices, with a salad bar, homemade bread, fried okra, a southern favorite, and chicken, meat, and fish. I restrained myself so I could partake of the homemade cherry cobbler for dessert.
After dinner, we walked across the way to the auditorium where Lisa, the local manager welcomed us and said, “Here is the Howl Wow Band.”
Five men, who seemed to be of the mature age of our group, were on stage. Danny, with a gray beard, wearing overalls and a derby hat turned to his fellow musicians and teased, “We better be good. These here people are scholars, you know.”
We all laughed.
“We’re gonna play good for you tonight, ain’t we guys?”
As the music began, we sat in our seats, clapped and tapped our feet. Once again, I marveled at the talent of the players, as I had in the afternoon. I had come with an impression of Ozark people as hillbilly, uneducated, and unworldly.
We asked them what kind of work they had done in their former lives before retirement. They had skilled jobs as plant supervisors, and machinists. When it was Danny’s turn he said, “Well, I taught geometry and physics here in Mountain View and California.”
He said it casually in his playful manner as if we should not take him seriously, but I did. During intermission I approached Danny and said, “You really did teach geometry and physics, didn’t you?”
“Well, ma’am, I did, and actually I was superintendent of the schools around here. You know a lot of our kids do go to college. You sure didn’t expect me to say that did you?”
I started to squirm and finally said, “This has been very enlightening and enjoyable.”
So much for pre-disposed ideas about people, I thought to myself.
As I sipped my second cup of fresh brewed coffee the next morning, a woman in a long green dress and matching bonnet placed two baskets on a corner table. “Well good morning y’all. Hope you’re having a fun time. Would you like to know what’s in my baskets?”
Our conversation stopped as she held up a large leaf, “This here is mullein, spelled m-u-l-l-e-i-n.” Tina Marie Wilcox, Head Gardener, and Herbalist at the Ozark Cultural Center since 1984 explained the healing power of this plant and in the process noted it is not native and may have come here with early immigrants from England and Ireland. I had no idea about immigration to this part of the United States and was pleasantly surprised by this information.
She spoke about the “Wise Women” who came from Europe, “Over here they were called ‘Granny Women,’ and were the midwives and healers for the region. Now let me tell you about the sweet olive oil, that the Italian immigrants brought over.”
Tina held up a bottle of light green oil and provided a recipe for a salad dressing made with it, where you saute dandelion buds, garlic and onion, then add apple cider vinegar. “Lasts for weeks,” she advised.
I had envisioned our visit to Mountain View and the Ozark Cultural Center would be a shopping spree to buy some mementos, enjoy the scenery, and the music. It was certainly much more. The musicians played their instruments skillfully and made me envious that I did not possess such talent which I appreciate it in others. Tina Marie Wilcox provided a clever, instructive way to tell us about the original migration of people to the Ozarks and what the region has to offer, not just locally, but to the world, especially since the International Herbal Festival will be held there in the summer of 2022.
It was humbling to learn that the ‘hill’ people, with multiple talents, take pride in their crafts, are well educated and skilled. They are care for each other and the environment.
As always, expecting the unexpected is personal enrichment and a desire to travel and learn more, especially interacting with people, as only a Road Scholar journey can do.