Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Festivals, Fayetteville, and Roots

The Fayetteville Roots Festival is August 23-26.

It brings in live music, food, vendors, and is a celebration of Ozark Mountain culture.  And no, Ozark Mountain culture isn’t an oxymoron.  One of the great things about Fayetteville is that it embraces the future without abandoning its past.

For the majority of people now living in Northwest Arkansas, the roots don’t run deep yet.  For the most part, that’s a good thing.  It means this area has a healthy economy and people want to retire here or move here because it’s a great place to live.  All you have to do is travel east of Little Rock to see what the other side of that coin looks like.

For some of us, “Fayettevile roots” has a literal meaning.  I was born in the Missouri Ozarks and my parents came back here when I was a few months old.  Some of my early childhood was spent in the River Valley before my family returned here.  I grew up, for the most part, less than a mile from the U of A campus.  It was the 70s and early 80s, when Fayetteville was a notorious party town.  It did not escape my attention, but that's for another post.

My mother was born here.  My parents were married in a church just down the street from where she attended grade school.  They met in the 50s when they both worked on the square.  She worked at a dime store—one of the first handful owned by Sam Walton.  Right after they got married, they lived in some apartments on Meadow Street that, just like their marriage, have withstood the test of time.

My grandfather was a football star at Fayetteville High School in the 1930s.  The school won the state championship all three years he played for FHS.  His name is engraved on the sidewalk at Harmon Field with other winning team members throughout the years.  The “football jock” gene somehow didn’t get passed down to me.

But, my grandmother’s knack for telling a story did.

When I was a kid, she told me countless stories of what the area was like in the early 20th century.  My favorite is about the Saturday her family rode in from Farmington after a rain.  Most people came to town to do their trading on Saturday.  It was the 1920s, before the square was paved.  Their wagon got stuck in the mud.  It’s pretty hard to imagine now.  It was hard to imagine back in the 70s when she told me that story.

These stories about my family and this area made one thing cliear: the two are intertwined, as impossible to separate from each other as vines of stubborn kudzu.

For me, going to the farmer’s market on the square to buy fresh, locally-grown produce feels like it’s in my DNA.  I’m a consumer.  Two generatons of my family were the producers and sold it to general stores downtown.  I can find a high point in town, look across the hills, and know they haven’t changed at all since since members of my family first saw them in the mid-1800s—no matter how much the buildings on them have.

The university has definitely helped make this town what it is today.  Enrollment jumped in the 60s and 70s when the Baby Boomers reached college age.  They helped make Dickson Street “funky” and cool.  After that, the city’s reputation was sealed.  Artsy, eclectic, creative, progressive, laid-back, fun, quirky Fayetteville was the perfect place for an artistically-inclined kid like me to grow up.  It had plenty of opportunities and was an accepting place for me to return to after losing part of my vision.  It’s always been fertile ground for the mind of the writer I was destined to become.

I love hearing newcomers say things like, “I didn’t know this was such a great place!” 

I just smile and say, “Yes, it is.”

But, it has been a great place for a long time.  Even my great-grandparents knew that.
The Newcomers Field Guide to Hill Folk, a humorous look at Northwest Arkansas, is now available in print AND ebook.  You don't have to be a newcomer to like it.  You might even recognize people you know.
Subscribe to get e-mail updates for this blog.  It won't clutter your inbox.  Really.


  1. My grandson is the eighth generation to grow up in Humboldt County, California. I live in your beautiful Fayetteville now, but I understand the feeling that every single thing, every creek or trail or farmer's market is layered with the past. I miss that connection to my past even as I love living here. I breathe deeper, easier when I'm in Humboldt County. The air, the very molecules are in my blood. You're lucky to have that link with your personal history. Thanks for sharing this, Jim.

    1. Thanks Pam. I've never been to Humboldt County, but your writing and hearing you talk about it makes me want to visit. I even recognize and appreciate the way the AIR smells here, so I can relate to what you're saying.

    2. Thanks for sharing your history. I failed to post successfully earlier but found you on You Tube and watched your presentation on back pain and cancer. Something of current concern to me.

    3. Finally figured out the boxed item must also be typed in to confirm non-robot status.

    4. Thanks Aubrey. My public speaking skills have improved since last year when that video was made. I'm sorry you're dealing with cancer. Send me a message on Facebook and tell me about it. I'm happy to help any way I can.