When I was 13-years-old my parents took me, my sister, Grampa J.D. and Mickey out west.
I will never forget my Grampa J.D. saying several times during our time out west that he wouldn’t trade all this country with one acre of Ripley County land.
He would say how he couldn’t wait to get back to Ripley County.
One day my grampa said that he and many of his friends went to war in the South Pacific, and he beamed with pride as he spoke of the fine land and water that we had here in Ripley County.
The pride that my grampa had for our Ripley County and Current country was something I did not understand when I was 13-years-old.
Stacking square bails in the hot days of the summer, we would cool off in the old well house and my grampa would say we were standing over millions of dollars of water.
Again, I did not understand as I was just a kid.
The pride that he exhibited was something that always caused me to be curious, and I searched for answers as I grew older.
Growing up along the shoals and hills of the Ozarks, I rambled like your average dumb kid.
The day of understanding would come, but time and experiences had to first happen.
Years later I was one day standing in my barber shop and two men by the names of Charles Bowman and Eugene Braschler walked in and strong-armed me out the door and down the street to a meeting.
Both men were my customers. I pleaded with them that I was not the man, nor was I qualified, to be apart of some board that had to do with history and heritage of this county.
These two men that are no longer with us insisted that, in fact, I was the very person they wanted on the board.
Feeling too young and out of place, I would attend the meetings but would sit silently while others would speak.
After a few years both men pulled up at the same time. They walked in with a firm look on both of their faces.
I knew there was a problem instantly.
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These men were way, way up in years. I did not know it then but in just a few years they would forever be gone from the home they loved so much.
The pride they exhibited for their county and its history was identical to my Grampa J.D.’s.
They came in and sat down, and asked me to sit across from them. Needless to say, I was concerned. Gene was the first to speak.
He asked me if I remembered the day when they came in to basically strong-arm me down the road to the board and I said, yes.
Charles spoke and told me that ever since that day I have sat on that board in silence. Gene told me that wasn’t why they insisted I be on the board.
They both preceded to explain to me that they knew my thoughts and my bloodline, and sitting silent was no longer acceptable.
They insisted that from that moment forward I was to speak my mind, otherwise they said that their decision for me to be on the board was of no account.
That was years ago. I often think about the men that have passed on in our country. Times have changed so much.
No longer do I see the rich pride of Ripley County. The old times and old ways have been replaced with new ways.
The board is now mostly filled with folks that have moved in from somewhere else. Their understanding is not like the understanding of my grampa, or Charles and Eugene.
What was important enough for these men to die for is no longer enough to even discuss. The old blood, the old days and the old ways have been replaced with new blood and new ways.
The old handmade wooden john boats and tie rafts have been replaced with rainbow flags. They have been replaced with walls for grieving and crying.
The rich history of the county is rapidly leaving. The roots of our Ozark heritage are all but gone and being replaced with something new.
I now know what my grampa meant when he said he wouldn’t trade all of the west for one acre of Current Country.
My heart aches for the old days.
Oh, how I wish for just a little of the old ways of the Ozarkers that have passed on.
(Richard Whiteside lives in Doniphan, Mo., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog can be followed at https://www.ozarkriverman.wordpress.com.)