Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for December 25, 2013

Former Eureka Springs resident Vance Randolph mentions in his book, Ozark Magic and Folklore, that in pioneer days most residents of the Ozarks observed Christmas Day on the sixth of January. After the Ozarks fell in line with the rest of America and began celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December, it was called “New Christmas.”

Others persisted in the belief that “Old Christmas” (or the sixth of January) was the true Christmas, but I  think that argument has died out.

Reading the December 29, 1966 edition of the Eureka Springs Times-Echo newspaper, I learned that Eureka Springs had a white Christmas that year. After an eight-inch snow on Dec. 23, the town nearly ground to a halt.

Despite difficult weather conditions, the Eureka Springs Municipal Hospital stayed fully staffed, although one nurse had to walk five miles in the snow to make it to work.

June Moncravie’s column Busch News records that the Busch Store had been without bread for several days because the ABC bread truck had overturned on slick roads. And the Beaver News column by Mrs. Frank Weddington notes that Cobb Gaskins was injured after a fall on the ice.

Of course, there is the usual letter to the editor complaining about city government. Wayne Brashear provided beautiful photographic evidence of the snow.

To my eyes, the land bargain of the week in this issue of the newspaper is 851-acres of land for sale on Highway 62 just ten miles out of town for $25 per acre, or $21,275. Adjusted for inflation, $25 in 1966 is now worth about $180, which would still be a bargain price for that land. Why has the price of real estate gone up at such a rate greater than inflation? Supply and demand, I suppose. Correct me if I’m wrong.

I would tell you what was playing at the movie theater on Spring Street but there is no listing for it in this edition of the Times-Echo. You could have driven to the Main Theatre in Berryville and seen Chuck Connors in Ride Beyond Vengeance or James Garner in A Man Could Get Killed.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for December 18, 2013

With Christmas upon us, there is little doubt that the cash registers will be busy at the 11,000 stores owned by Wal-Mart. But what allowed Wal-Mart to rapidly expand into such a global juggernaut? An important facet of that answer is Eureka Springs and our roads.

Sam Walton always said he managed by walking around, keeping an eye on things at as many stores as he could while continually teaching his philosophy and managing the rollout of his plans. In the early days, he was frustrated by the roads in the Ozarks, but as Vance H. Trimble wrote in his biography Sam Walton: The Inside Story of America’s Richest Man, “But one evening as he tooled along the corkscrew curves on U.S. Highway 62 through Eureka Springs he heard the drone of a small airplane.” That gave him an idea that eventually led to a pilot’s license and an airplane. As Vance H. Trimble says in the book, “Without this magic carpet, his Wal-Mart phenomenon never would have seen the light of day.”

When I was a kid, Grandpa Jack McCall and I encountered Sam Walton at the old Berryville Wal-Mart. The mantle had burned out on Grandpa’s Coleman lantern and he needed another one. We were wandering around the store when we bumped into this older guy who obviously worked for Wal-Mart. Grandpa asked where the mantles were. The older man didn’t know but said they’d sure find them. Three Wal-Mart associates who’d been lurking around the corner appeared and took Grandpa by the arm to the mantles. After we left, I asked Grandpa if he knew who the old man was. Grandpa shook his head. I said that it was Sam Walton, owner of Wal-Mart, the richest man in America. Grandpa said that if he owned the store, he should’ve known where the mantles were. He was not impressed.

Sam is gone now, but after skimming the Forbes list of the wealthiest people, it appears the Walton family is still doing okay. Lumping together the reported net worth of the six heirs of brothers Sam and Bud Walton gives a respectable total of $145 billion or so, enough to rank as the richest family in the world.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for December 11, 2013

The snow falling now is mixed heavily with sleet and when the wind blows it sounds like someone is throwing handfuls of sand at the window. We don’t usually get a lot of winter weather in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, but what we do get can be interesting. Travelling on ice-covered horizontal roads is risky, but to do so on roads striving to be vertical can be treacherous.

When I attended college in the Arkansas River Valley, I finally caught on to how relative one’s view of weather can be. I had just returned from Germany and had become accustomed to the occasional sizeable snow, and Russellville, Arkansas, has a noticeably milder winter than we do here in Carroll County. But one day while crossing the Arkansas Tech University campus in the spitting snow, I heard a Texan say, “When I moved to ATU, I didn’t know I was moving to the Arctic.”

I had an uncle from Mississippi who told me that north Arkansas was the coldest place on earth. And so it goes. Retirees from Omaha, Neb., laugh at our snowfalls, while denizens of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., winter in Nebraska for the pleasant weather. (I read Sault Ste. Marie can receive 17 ft. of lake-effect snow in a single winter.)

So experience obviously colors our expectations. We’ve all heard people complain how a little bit of winter weather shuts down Eureka Springs, but that attitude can backfire, too. I remember a lady being advised on the telephone to postpone an appointment, but she wouldn’t. “I’m from the north,” she declared. The appointment was postponed when she wrecked her car after sliding off the highway. Ice is ice.

When we first lived in the hollow, Sylvia Teague was our neighbor. She was from Malone, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains near the Canadian border, but she didn’t look down her nose at our winters. She said she liked our weather here because it was a challenge without being deadly.

I never sledded in town on Benton Street or Crescent Grade like the stories I’ve heard from others. I’ve even heard about sledding down Howell Avenue in a canoe. Can’t imagine how you could ever stop.

Send your comments and stories to steve@steveweems.com or P.O. Box 43 in Eureka Springs.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for December 4, 2013

It was in March of 1961 that the newlywed Duane and Doris O’Connor were watching television one evening, relaxing in their newly-bought home on Ridgeway Avenue in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, when Doris said, “I think I hear someone on the roof.” Next there was the definite sound of someone in the basement, then an incessant pounding on the windows and doors began. When Duane declined the crowd’s demand to come out, he was grabbed and bodily carried and placed in a waiting automobile. Doris followed.

This may sound like kidnapping, and perhaps it meets the legal definition, but it was also a shivaree, an age-old tradition brought to the Ozarks, in which the newlywed couple are serenaded with noise and pranks are performed.

Duane and Doris O’Connor were driven to the Eureka Springs Post Office, where a wheelbarrow was produced for Doris to ride in. Duane had to push her down Spring Street to the old Eureka Drug Company, where they switched places and Doris pushed Duane in the wheelbarrow down the hill to the Basin Park Hotel.

Shivarees had been banned in Eureka Springs some years earlier because they could get out of hand. For example, couples would be dragged from their beds in various states of dress and carried to the horse trough and dunked.

Despite the ban, members of the crowd that descended on 44 Ridgeway Avenue that winter’s night had permission from the Chief of Police Norman Faulkner. He is reported to have said, “If Duane O’Connor got married, then shivaree him.”

Returning to their home, the couple found that their bed had been stacked on cans, short sheeted, and was full of cracker crumbs. When it was found out that Doris had to be at the hospital at seven the next morning for work, some of the people cleaned the house and yard and others fixed a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Most of the crowd of thirty or more dispersed, but some spent the rest of the night at the O’Connor’s house. It was all in good fun.

Write to me at P.O. Box 43, Eureka Springs, 72632 or steve@steveweems.com.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for November 27, 2013

In 1929, when the Eureka Springs City Auditorium had its grand opening, my grandfather McKinley Weems was there, but not to see John Philip Sousa or hear the famous Sousa Band. No, young Mac was down in the basement at the pie supper.

Jack McCall, my other grandfather, had his farm on Kings River and always ate the same thing for breakfast: two fried eggs, bacon and toast. Unless, of course, there was pie available, then he had some of that, too. If he only wanted a small piece he’d say, “Cut me a sliver.” If he was especially hungry, he’d say, “Cut me a slab.”

Lola Weems is a master pie maker, with both taste and crust perfect. Betty McCall also made good pies, but she went more for quantity. When the masses descended on holidays, she’d have an epic pie buffet set up on the giant chest freezer. Some of my uncles would race through meals to be the first to the coconut cream pie. So, if accused of liking pie, I can claim the defense that I come by it honestly.

As an aside, one of the most ingenious feats of culinary engineering I am aware of is the Bedfordshire clanger. It is an English pie with the main course of meat and vegetables in one end, and a dessert of fruit or jam in the other. You start at the beginning and work your way through the meal.

With Thanksgiving set to spring upon us, I am thankful for many things, one of which is pie, but also for the emails, letters and phone calls I’ve received with stories, comments and bear sightings. They are much appreciated.

And if you know who has the best pie in town, let me know. I’m serious, I really want to know. Send it to steve@steveweems.com or P.O. Box 43, Eureka Springs, 72632.

I hated to hear of the passing of Richard Kelley, a larger than life character of my childhood. Just recently someone told me that if I wanted to hear stories about Eureka Springs to talk to Richard as he had the best ones. I don’t doubt it.

Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for November 20, 2013

The first thing I ever wrote that was printed in the newspaper was an obituary for my Great Aunt Vee. I was 15 and Granny said, “You like to write, don’t you?” And so it went. I sat at her kitchen table and formatted the information I collected by looking at obituaries in the Eureka Springs Times-Echo and Berryville Star Progress newspapers. I was rather nervous about writing what seemed to me to be such an important article of information, a summing up of 85 years of life on this earth. But not another word was said about it, no complaints were lodged. I was not accosted before or after the funeral by a distraught mourner accusing me of getting something wrong.

I have been reading obituaries ever since, searching for clues in these concise biographies. Clues for what, I am not always sure. Sometimes I’ll see a family name and I’ll save the obituary for family tree research. It is amazing how interconnected the families in and around Eureka Springs are. If your family has been here awhile, we’re probably related. I saw June Westphal one day and told her I thought we were related. She looked interested. I then said the magic words “Pinkley, Harp and Vaughn” and we had a lot to talk about.

Something Mary Pat Boian and I have in common is that we both admire a well crafted obituary, one that attempts to do justice to the departed. The first time I ever talked to Mary Pat was in the summer of 2000 when my friend W.O. Martin died. I had submitted his obituary to the newspaper and Mary Pat called me and asked several questions about W.O. and his adventures. She then took the information and worked it into a very nice article. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Last week, my nephew Brandon Snodgrass died here in Eureka Springs. He was only 18 years old. I can’t help but think about how small he was in my sister’s arms not long after he was born. Or how the last time I saw him it was just a glimpse of him driving a pickup, turning onto the highway. There wasn’t even time to wave.