Monday, September 26, 2011


Recently, I was reminded how destructive carrying hate around all our lifetimes can be. It turns people into bitter, unhappy and even unhealthy human beings. My sympathy goes out to those who can't look at their past and find all the beauty there instead of dwelling on the bad things that happened.

Many people have such terrible lives and manage to turn them around into something productive, but sadly those who don't are doomed to continue to relive the bad times until all the good ones disappear.

I usually don't get philosophical on this blog, but something happened last week that brought out these thoughts.

I remember my past as one of mistakes and regrets, yes, but also of wonderful times raising two kids when we had very little money. Not enough to buy the classy clothing they might have wanted, or live in a fancy house and drive a fancy car. But we loved each other, even with the arguments that sometimes occurred. We lived on Long Island and salvaged a 26 foot cabin cruiser that had run aground. My husband spent a couple of years patching the damage and putting an engine in, then we found a dock for next to nothing and that's how we spent our weekends all summer long. Living in that cruiser from Friday evening to Sunday night.

My kids swam and played and had a ball and I remember so many good times there. Even when we scrounged to have enough money to buy something toward the end of payday, we had those times. We managed to go on a trip every summer. One year we went to Maine in July and of course, we camped in an umbrella tent. About two nights after we arrived at Lake Moose (the rest is unpronouncable and unspellable) the temperature dropped below freezing and we had to return home. But you know that first day when we went out in a canoe on that gorgeous lake so clear you could see 20 feet down was the most breathtaking time you could imagine. Something I'll never forget. But the bad stuff? I can't even remember most of it, and don't dwell on what I do recall.

There were exciting days in the City (New York) only a train ride away; we attended the World's Fair there one summer; and yes, there were dark days, days I wondered why I had had children when I was really too young to be a terrific mother. But we struggled through, and have only the most wonderful of memories because we tossed away the rest.

We could have carried those bad days with us all these years until every day was dark and ugly, our life unfulfilled, but we didn't. And when I see someone who has let their past turn them bitter and old before their time I want to cry, it's so sad. What a waste when life can be so beautiful.

Well, that's enough of that, and I won't carry on like this again, at least not in the near future.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Winslow Museum a trip to the past

The row of buildings in the background house City Hall and the Winslow Museum plus a couple of apartments. To the left is the pavilion about where the depot once stood.

Yesterday I spent some time at the small museum in Winslow, Arkansas. I'd dropped in there a few times and thought maybe the editor of the paper I write features for would be interested in a story. He was, so I set up an interview for after closing time.

Winslow has a city population of 399, but the rural population brings that up sharply. The Post Office serves between 800 and 1000 families, depending on who's moved in or out lately. The small school was closed down a few years ago, but people continue to gather downtown every Saturday for a farmer's market all summer and for First Saturday year round when recycling is done and Friends of the Library has a bake sale.

The train doesn't stop there anymore, except occasionally when the Arkansas Missouri line runs a special tourist trip that includes a brief stop where the old depot used to be. City fathers had a nice pavilion built there and a local master gardener keeps half-barrels of flowers blooming almost year round. City Hall is located in a long stone structure butted up against a rock bluff. It faces the railroad. Next to city hall is where the library once was, but it's been moved up on the mountain to the rock building that once housed the high school.

And in the space left empty by that move are gathered memorabilia out of the past of this town that once was a mountain summer resort for the people down south in the Arkansas River Valley. A place where the temperature was always 10-20 degrees hotter than this Boston Mountain town. It's population would swell to 10,00 for those few months of summer. There were hotels, a variety of businesses, three doctors, the town had a local telephone service, and something was always going on. There's quite a lot of history here. And much of it can be learned in this tiny museum located off the main track.

I spent almost two hours there talking to Barbara Ashbaugh, who works for the city and runs the museum. She's a fountain of stories out of the past and can tell one about almost every individual treasure housed there. It's a real find for history lovers, and since the road to Devil's Den State Park goes right past, there are plenty of visitors happy to run across something like this out here in the boonies.

As a writer I grab on to these stories, for from them can be written short stories, novels, articles and of course, the feature I'm writing for the Observer. I've worked for them off and on since 1990 when I actually worked in the office as city editor and feature writer. Now it's an occasional assignment for the weekly feature column and I do it just to keep my hand in.

Lord knows, I have enough to keep me busy without that assignment once a month, but I can't seem to let go of the place. It's where I really learned how to be a good writer, it's where I was the day the call came to publish my first novel. This story seems to have become about the paper rather than the museum. But I've written the museum story, and I guess I just wanted to share a little piece of my life from out of the past.

Monday, September 12, 2011


This journal promised to follow me as I travel throughout the Ozarks doing what writers do to gather story ideas. When I was asked to interview a popular western singer who was coming to town for an annual trail ride and show, I jumped at the chance. And my decision was a good one.

Royal Wade Kimes is an outlaw of sorts. He can't help it, it's in his blood, but he puts that outlaw leaning to good use in writing and singing his old time western cowboy country songs. His voice is as smooth as the late Marty Robbins', his songs reminiscent of Merle Haggart and the most famous outlaw of them all, Waylon Jennings.

For those of you who are not familiar with these country singers, I feel sorry for you. You're missing the best of country western, the best of music and lyrics and the best of stories right from the heart.

I sat down with Royal and was immediately taken by his country friendly ways. He's the real thing, a cowboy who sits a horse with the best of them, a song writer who's written for Garth Brooks as well as for himself, and a singer who can sing the oldies but goodies with feelings that come from the heart and spirit. It's not often so good a creator of words and music can also sing them well.

I won't write my article here, it's meant for a Western anthology and hopefully for a regional magazine, but the point I want to make is as a writer of fiction, I've now filed away another character for a book or short story.

The fun part of all this is that I knew his outlaw background because he was born in the same valley in the Ozarks that I was. His video of 500 Miles Away From Home on You Tube is filmed in part in our hometowns, Mountainburg and Chester, Arkansas. It was fun listening to his smooth and poignant rendition of this song while watching him walk the Arkansas Missouri railroad tracks south of Winslow and stand in the rain outside the tiny Dairy Dream which is closed more than it's open.

The lesson learned here, is never turn down a writing assignment if you can do it at all. Don't worry about what you'll ask, that will come if you relax and enjoy being with someone who is willing to talk about their exciting life.