When my brother and his friend Arnie Fields were looking for a place in the center of the United States to build “a home 20,” a secluded place, sparsely populated, also a centralized location to rest up in, when we took a break from selling tools. The beautiful Ozark Mountains offered just that.
I don’t remember if it was Arnie or Gary that first discovered this area, we lived in, around Hardy. It was about an hour north of Jonesboro and 2 hours northeast of Little Rock.
Gary I think, because he was always reading ads in the paper where ever we went. It’s easy to get bored when you spend most of your free time in motel rooms. We were working Memphis at the time. I think the ad read “40 acres, the top of three mountains and the two valleys in between, with a two bedroom house and a chicken coop. $8,000. Cash.”
Gary told Arnie about it and when they went to check it out, Arnie bought it. Gary didn’t have the necessary cash on him at the time. After Arnie bought it, the neighbors all come up and said “Man I wished I’da knowed, I coulda gotchu a better deal than that.”
Couple of weeks later, when we were working in Kansas City, my brother met Ramona, she was a bar maid and when she saw us flashing rolls of hundred dollar bills, she loaded up, when Gary told her to. Gary fell in love. He told me that he wanted to go to Hardy and see if he could find him a spot alongside of Arnie’s place.
Gary had about $3,000. Not quite enough for what he had planned. I gave him $2,500 more, plus he had a load of tools on his truck.
He and Rae set off to seek what they could find on their honeymoon. That was the weekend I got sucker punched with a two by four, by some bikers, when I went back to the same bar where Rae had worked, the night after they left.
When they got back, I was in bad shape. I had lain in bed for three days, bleeding and I thought at the time, dying. Rae had worked as an assistant in a Veterinarian clinic before and seemed to know what to do. After she put my jaw back in socket, reduced the swelling in my eyes so that I could see and sewed me back up in the numerous places where I had been cut, including half of my tongue, she had a friend for life.
They had taken their money and paid down on two places. A mobile home in Cherokee Village, a world renown retirement Village in the Ozarks (Erik Estrada does their commercials) and a 40 acre parcel next to Arnie’s. I think the payment for both places was under a hundred dollars a month, each.
Over the years we settled into the community, bit by bit. We met the locals and got to know our way around. Thing is, when you “ain’t from around here”, people always know it and no matter what, you are treated a little different. Even so, we got to come and go, pretty much unnoticed, which is just what we wanted.
There weren’t any bars allowed in northern Arkansas ‘cept for the American Legion and you had to join the club, which we did and met some more of the local people. Darrel owned the Texaco, we always needed repairs on our jack trucks, he was a handy guy to know. His son n law, Carl Wayne Henry later joined our crew and so did his other son n law, Allen White. These guys married sisters but they didn’t seem to like each other much. Allen was like “Chicken Little” and Wayne was more like “Yosemite Sam.” When Wayne wanted to marry Debbie he told Darrel he was 25, when actually it was more like 40. Debbie was 15.
These two fellas traveled and sold tools with us for years. Wayne was a pretty good jack man. Allen, well Allen just proved the fact that anyone could do it, if they tried hard enough. Allen would get in his truck and drive 300 miles in a day and just sell a hoist, if he sold a complete truck load, he would only get $2,500 when the average load brought 3 thousand to 35 hundred.
Then there was Dean Gann. An Army Vet that served during the Viet Nam War. Dean wore “camo’s” every day. He was a woodsman. He grew pot and searched for ginseng, a local commodity. I stayed with him and his girl friend a few times in their A frame house tucked back in the woods. I believe Dean had a “persecution” complex. He was always looking over his shoulder and searching the skies for DEA planes. He may have had a still. If he did, he didn’t let on. I did ride with him to Ash Flats to get a hundred pounds of sugar once, then over to Pocahontas to get a couple bags of corn. Funny thing, he didn’t raise any livestock and when we drank coffee at his house, we used honey for sweetener.
When Dean asked me if I wanted to go with him to check his “crop.” I eagerly went with him. We loaded up his canoe and his dogs, two well trained Doberman pincers with a radio transmitter collar. When we got to the Spring River, we loaded up in the pre-dawn hours, paddled about three or four miles, when we came up on little pieces of green cloth, tied to the tree branches.
At these locations Dean would let his dogs out to go ahead and search the area. He had a hand held radio that he would whisper commands to, soon the dogs would return, the coast was clear. Dean would get a few empty milk jugs, fill them with water and add some “Miracle Grow.” Then he would get his bow ready and we would traipse through the woods until we came up on his pot plants. He would spend a few minutes breaking off the sucker leaves, energizing his plants with the miracle grow. Then before we left, he would hang fish hooks from the tree branches on monofilament fishing like, almost invisible to the naked eye, then brush out our tracks with a tree branch always departing a different way than we came so as not to make a trail. With Dean, everything was clandestine, always.
I saw him with a band aid over his eyebrow once and asked him if he walked into one of his traps. He said “That’s not from one of mine.” And let it drop. I once asked him what would he do if he ran into a DEA agent out in the woods?” He said, “That’s why I always carry a shovel in the back of my truck,” he was serious too.
Once when two strangers came into the American Legion while we were shooting pool, Dean slipped out and put a radio transmitter under their truck, so he could keep track of them. We followed those suckers for two days, they said they were ginseng buyers from back east. If so, they went home empty handed. They stayed at the Dew Drop Inn, where Dean’s sister worked, the day they checked out he had her recover his transmitter.
Drinking beer at the American Legion was about the only form of adult entertainment. The main problem with that is the beer sold in Arkansas was only 3.5 percent alcohol. You had to drink a gallon to get a buzz. Then you spent the rest of the night taking one pee after another.
Mammoth Springs, Missouri was only 17 miles north. You could get 6 % beer there. It was the real thing. The problem with that is, if you had Arkansas plates, coming south from Missouri, you were probably gonna get stopped by the Arkansas State Police within a few miles after crossing the line. I come up with an idea to build a plywood tool box for the back of my truck with a false bottom. I could carry 3 cases of beer, sight unseen.
I got a warm reception at every bonfire party I went to. That’s how I met Lisa.
There were 11 Sullivan sisters. I think her parents must have been Catholics. All of these gals were pretty blondes, very pretty blondes, well endowed, with just a touch of an overbite. Standing around a bonfire one night with a bunch of folks we got to talking about the Arkansas Razorbacks. The year before they had won the National Championship under Lou Holtz. They got to talking about Saturdays game against Navy and I overheard Lisa say, “I’d give my left nut to go see that game.”
She got my attention then. Most of the gals I had met in Sharpe County Arkansas either chewed tobacco or dipped snuff. Not Lisa, she was beautiful, especially in the moonlight standing front of the fire.
I told her that I had two tickets to the game, I asked her if she wanted to go. Boy them was the magic words. She wanted to leave right then. First she had to go put on her high school cheerleader outfit, red and white, same colors as the Razorbacks. The home games were either in Fayetteville or Little Rock, this week end it was Little Rock about two hours away.
All the way to Little Rock all she could talk about was how much she’s been wanting to go see this game. She sat next time me the entire trip, squeezing my leg, kissing me on the cheek. She had told her mom and her sisters, “don’t wait up for me, I may not be back for a few days.”
Well, anybody that knows me, knows I didn’t have no tickets for no durn college football game. I just figured that when we got there I’d buy a couple of tickets, we’d win and I would score. Touchdown, that easy. Well it weren’t.
All home games in Arkansas, no matter if it’s in Fayetteville or Little Rock are sold out in advance, years in advance. When Lisa saw me scrambling to get tickets for the game she went off, boy what a temper. “You mean to tell me after I told my family and friends that you was taking me to the game, that you don’t even have tickets? Don’t you know how much this means to me?” I’m thinking no big deal, lets get a room and we can watch it on TV. “No way Jose.” She wanted the real thing. I left her at a sports bar and went in search of tickets from a scalper. Finally I hooked up, I bought four tickets for 200 hundred apiece. I know what you’re thinking, $800 is a lot of money for a piece of ass, I agree. Even to me, I was making pretty good money back then, it was way too much.
I found Lisa at the table where I left her, crying in her beer. She had a crowd of guys swarming around her. Bar flies. She was mad, she was still mad even after I told her that I had gotten tickets to the game. “How could you do this to me? My make up is ruined.” Poor baby, here I’ve spent and arm and a leg getting us here and buying us tickets to the game and she’s still singing the blues.
We got in line at the admission gate, standing there with hundreds maybe thousands of red and white clad adoring Razorback fans, shaking pom poms and waving pennants, every fanatic in the state seemed to be there. I held up the two extra tickets in the air and started hollering “Tickets, who need tickets?” I doubled my money on the tickets, so we got in for free.
Arkansas beat Navy, the score was like, 42 to nothing. Lisa was hollering and cheering right beside me the whole game. I acted like I could care less. There were a couple of co-eds next to me and they seemed to like me in my Tony Llamas and my new Stetson. I bought them a few beers from the concessionaire and practically ignored Lisa the whole game.
The ride home was cold, cold, cold. Lisa said “You could at least bought me a beer.” I said “For what? So you could throw it in my face?” Her lip stuck out so far, it looked like she had a pinch of snuff in it. Needless to say, nothing to brag about happened after that. I did take her to a rodeo over in Raven’s Den, about a month later. She told me that she had a thing for bull riders, if I wanted to enter I might get lucky. Well, the $25 dollar entry fee was a whole lot cheaper than going to any damn football game just so I could score. I jumped on it. Hell, didn’t I ride the mechanical bull at Gilley’s and rode two half ass tamed ones at Billy Bob’s in Ft. Worth? It can’t be that hard, can it?
It was a pretty chilly late November night. The arena was packed and well lit. I had my favorite number (5) pinned to my back and after the draw, was to be the second rider to try his luck. Luck hell, I had to be crazy. The Brahma cross bull I climbed up on was a seasoned pro. I can still see his steam like breath, blowing through his nostrils, in the frosty Autumn air. I was still wrapping the rope around my gloved hand and wrist when they tighten the “cod strap” around his nuts, to make him buck more. When they did this he went hay wire. We were still in the chute when he rose up and crushed me, back up against the boards of the pen. Ouch that hurt, he bit my knee too. My eyes searched the crowd. Every one was hollering and screaming, I didn’t see a friendly face. I decided there weren’t no gal on earth worth this shit, I tapped out. I couldn’t go on, my back was hurt, it still is today.
Needless to say I didn’t impress Lisa on that night.
I saw her again during Indian Summer, two years later when I was diving off the Spring River Bridge near Hardy. She saw me and asked if I was ready for the “perfect date.” I was thinking it was about damn time. I picked her up at her Mom’s, we took two lawn chairs, two bottles of chilled wine and a transistor radio. We drove to a secluded spot along side the warm waters of the Spring River, where it weaves its way through the Ozark Mountains, then we walked down a path along side the river. We walked out in knee deep water, set up the lawn chairs just above a little waterfall. We drank our wine in the moonlight and listen to the game on the radio.
She was right, it was the perfect date, almost. The Gators skunked Arkansas. I am a Gator fan, always will be. She looked upset that the Razorbacks got beat by the Gators. She sure looked cute in the moonlight though, the way she had her bottom lip sticking out, pouting, I grabbed her with both arms pulling her close, bending over in the moonlight to kiss her, that’s when I discovered that her mouth was full of snuff.
I think about Lisa every now and then and I wonder to myself, “That was a long walk, I hope she made it home alright.”