‘Aux Arc’ Road Trip, or How to Write a Sale Barn

No Telling

I’m the luckiest woman alive, freshly returned from a fabulous jaunt to western Arkansas, and I won’t even talk about the price of gas. I promise. I want to talk instead about what was possibly one of the best Writing Project workshops I’ve ever attended.

Steph and I left for Ozark last Sunday and spent the whole week with a group of teachers from the Western Arkansas Education Cooperative at the County Line school. We slung out writing and teaching workshops every day for a week and couldn’t be more pleased with the people, the place, and the unequaled hospitality. You know, for a long time now I’ve threatened to live out my retirement in Eureka Springs as a sidewalk typewriter poet, but I believe I’ve changed my mind. I’m moving to Ozark, Arkansas where I can join the Red Hat Society and meet with TOPS in the basement of the Methodist Church on Thursday nights. If I play my cards right, they might even let me have a column in The Ozark Spectator (be patient with the link, like all other things ‘Internet‘ there right now, the site is temporarily unhappy).

We had bad weather the first night there, knocking out the wireless at our Day’s Inn for the entirely of the week. Since I didn’t know what to do with myself, I picked a fight with the manager – the only charmless person we met the entire trip. It’s difficult to un-tech yourself like that, even for a gal who’s partial to manual typewriters. We finally had access the night before we left due to the diligence and technological wizardry of the night janitor lady, who curiously had a much better laptop than I will ever own. I’m going to send her a thank you note today.

After a full day of scribbling with our delightful hosts, Steph and I made little road trips here and there because the antiques/flea market businesses around those parts are plentiful. A few miles away in Paris we found more shops than we could visit, as well as evidence of the Sunday night storm.

Each day we drove from Ozark proper to the County Line School about twenty minutes away in Branch. Stunning drive over the swollen river and through the hills. On Wednesday we hit the jackpot – the County Line Sale Barn parking lot filled up with all manner of sellers-with-tables and livestock in the barn. It was so enticing that we convened the entire workshop there for a Write-a-thon. It was hot as hell and threatening rain, but we threw ourselves and our notebooks into the fray and wandered around talking, interviewing (I use that term loosely), taking pictures, and buying tidbits.

Those tables covered in goods told some stories. Large collections of tattered western novels, a wedding dress in a plastic bag displayed from the sideview mirror of a truck, saddles and tack, old chiffarobes and dressers, hand-labeled honey, fresh vegetables, cigar boxes full of old costume jewelry – I honestly could have made an entire day of it.

While we all shopped and talked and wrote, the animals in the sale barn mooed and snorted and whinnied behind us. A gaggle of little girls gathered at a side pen petting baby goats while old men in starched jeans and straw hats sat behind a table of shotguns and guitars.

Clearly, this wasn’t just a place to exchange money and goods – it was the weekly social event. And they liked to talk. Once they asked us who we were and decided we meant no journalistic harm, the stories flowed. One of our teachers spent the morning on the tailgate of a pick-up talking to a WWII vet. Another met a man who knew her grandfather as a moonshiner years ago, which was news to her and facilitated a phone call to her mother to verify such a thing. Apparently it was true.

Despite my vow to live in the moment instead of constantly recording it, I did take pictures. I wish I’d taken more, actually, but that just gives me another reason to go back. The Write-a-thon turned out some some incredible scribbling from our teachers, and we gathered it all together in a hasty anthology to give them on the final day. I can’t thank our flittering education angel Claire enough. She is a marvel of efficiency and caring and can never, ever retire. No one else could be as ‘Claire’ as Claire.

So I’d like to thank Claire, the Western Arkansas Educational Cooperative, the County Line school, the cities of Ozark, Branch, Paris, Branch, and Altus, the incredibly fearless teacher/writers who attended the workshop, the night janitor at the Day’s Inn, the columnists of the Ozark Spectator, and every single person at the County Line Sale Barn for giving me the best week I’ve had in a very long time.

I will be back.