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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

#Ozarkian by John von Daler


                "Ain't oo had oo bretchit yet?"
                We were eating breakfast at about eight-thirty in the morning on the front porch of my grandparents' white stucco house on a quiet, dead-end street in #Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

                I sat with my sister on the two-man swing, eating my cereal while we fought about how hard and fast to swing. My parents sat on the other side of the huge glass bottle on a stand that could be tilted down to get fresh, clean mountain water. They were having coffee and eggs at a little white table.
                The porch was just as long as the house. As my playmate walked past every morning on her way to do some errand, she always shook her head in disbelief: These city people sure do get up late. Eating breakfast at eight-thirty! Why, hard-working people start to get hungry for a between-meal snack at eight-thirty!
                So Phyllis always asked testily, "Ain't oo had oo bretchit yet?" to which my parents, wanting to hear her incomparable Ozark accent again, always replied, "What did you say, Phyllis?"
                But she was on to their ploys: "Oo hurd meee!!" she would shout and then she would run off on her bare legs in big, leather boots. Then my parents would laugh and laugh.
                In all of this I played the acrobat walking the tight line between familial loyalty and solitarity with my vacation friend. She was no slouch. Phyllis, an unabashed tomboy, a year or two older than I, could fill my afternoons (when she got time off from her chores) with simple pleasures. Like gathering blackberries.
                She knew a spot right at the dead-end of the street where a path disappeared into the undergrowth and down the hill. If you forced your way a couple of yards through the thorns and bushes, beautiful, ripe, blackberries appeared for the picking. Armed with a bowl or a bag you could gather quite enough so grandmother could bake a cobbler or two, criss-crossed on the top with sugared dough and full of the sweet berries and a thick almost black syrup. With a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on top of our hot pieces of pie, Phyliss and I would sit on a bench and stuff ourselves.
                Phyllis also knew everything about the sawmill at the other end of the street. Here were big piles of soft sawdust for bouncing and rolling. She could get farther up those huge hills than I with her heavy boots and strong legs; then she would come charging and hopping down until she fell on the soft wooden particles. We always went home looking like spooks.
                Or we could sneak down into the storm cellar in the backyard. As far as I know, the cave dug into the rock-filled earth at the end of a steep, concrete stairway never had been used for any emergency, but the walls behind the slanted and heavy door were lined with enough homemade marmelade to keep you alive and happy until some tornado had broken itself up in the hills. We played hide and seek there and ran up and down the steps until we had scrapes and torn trousers and tired, tired legs.
                Phyllis and I did not become lasting friends and I have to admit that we probably would not hit it off today. I don't remember exchanging many sentences with her back then. It was all running and jumping without too much discussion. Since then I've gotten all wordy, as she probably has not. If I ever met her, though, I might just shut my mouth, order two pieces of blackberry pie and smile at her across a scoop of old-fashioned vanilla ice-cream. She might even say something and I might have to ask her to repeat it; hopefully she might just get a little angry and say, "Oo hurd me!" in that wonderful Ozarkian lingo.


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