When I three years old, my mom passed away. When I was six, my dad packed up his four kids (ages 9, 8, 6 and 4) and moved us from uber-urban Jersey City, New Jersey to really rural Hagarville, Arkansas. (Population: 300 if you count the cows.)
I like to call it a “reverse Beverly Hillbillies.” (Culturally, anyway… we never were rich.) I guess my dad wanted to get a fresh start of sorts.
I vividly remember the first day we went to our new home in Arkansas. The property was bordered on one side by a dirt road, and on another side by a cow pasture. There was a propane tank near the driveway… I thought it was a submarine. I got burrs in my socks from walking in the ankle-high weeds, and had no idea what they were. In some ways, I felt like I’d landed on another planet.
We gradually adjusted… I adopted the University of Arkansas Razorbacks as my college sports team, and I even had a slight Arkansas drawl when I moved away to go to college in Cincinnati.
But the “Land of Opportunity” never quite felt like home, mainly because we were “Yankees” and had no relatives within 600 miles in a place where so many of the ties that bind have to do with close kinfolk.
However, it was a good place for four motherless kids to grow up. We could be what I like to call “free range children.” Hiking, biking, fishing… exploring the world without adult supervision and learning more about self-reliance.
I’ve only been back once since 1985. Dad’s long gone, my siblings live elsewhere, and the house is slowly being reclaimed by nature (watch out for the burrs!). “There is no there there” as Gertrude Stein famously said.
But I still have a soft spot in my heart for The Natural State. It’s where I went from a boy to a… er, boyish man (and not a “Mannish Boy”).
So when I heard a new tune called “Arkansas” by Chris Stapleton, I got excited. Especially because it rocks.
When I worked as a lifeguard for a couple summers at the city pool in Morrilton, Arkansas, the city employee who managed the pool would switch the radio station playing on the P.A. system from rock to country… and I’d raise holy hell. I remember him telling me “when you get older, you’re gonna like country music.” I still don’t care for mainstream country music (a.k.a. “bro country”) at all, but Stapleton’s not mainstream.
“Arkansas” is on Chris’ new release, which is really good from start to finish. The album is called Starting Over. That reminds me of Arkansas too.