Hoy, hoy! How are you feeling now? Has the bloating subsided a bit? Same here. This is your short, end-of-year letter from a bluff-dwelling troglodyte, your old friend from the Ozarks.
I’m working on the fourth book now, something informally called my River Book. So-called because it remains without an official title (***Lord, please let me live long enough to finish my River Book***). As a result, it is time to make a road trip through the Ozarks, the mysterious and beautiful place where I grew up. My only true home. ‘Tis a very strange thing, to research your home. As it turns out I didn’t know that much about the place. The library had volumes of books on the Illinois River and the Ozarks. One in particular described the Springfield Plateau as a prosperous place and home to several Fortune 500 companies. Then the discussion turned to the Ozark region where I grew up, the foothills of the Boston Mountains, on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. The book pointed out that the people in this area are widely viewed as “bluff-dwelling troglodytes”. I had a good laugh at that. I texted my Dad about the phrase and he said, “Yes. That’s the Phillips clan. Bluff-dwelling troglodytes who will shank ya if you disturb our fishing hole. Then perhaps write a poem about it.”
The research week begins at Hogeye, AR, a place where the Phillips part of my family settled in the 1800’s and incidentally (perhaps) the same place where the Illinois River is borned out from hundreds of little rivulets run down from the hills. They join together to become a force that flows north, crossing the Oklahoma border and turning back south again to bring verdant life to NE Oklahoma. I like to think my Cherokee descendants saw the river after their bitter journey on the Trail of Tears and felt they’d found the closest thing to home for their family.
After Hogeye it’s off to Noel, Eminence and Blue Springs, Missouri. There’s also some place called the Land Between Two Lakes in Kentucky I’m headed for, not because it is considered the Ozarks but because it was on the map and demanded to be seen. Then on to Adams, TN where a strange and disturbing occurrence happened to one poor family in the 1800s. It’s all over now but I’m curious to take a peek. I can’t help myself. All of this brings me around to The Big Date on New Year’s Eve. I’m supposed to rendezvous with a guy named John at the Opry that night. From the Illinois River to the Cumberland, it seems. My family is due to meet me there. Dear ole Dad said several months ago, “We all need to go see Prine before one of us drops dead.” We could not argue with his logic.
This is my question for you: is it ok to wear a shirt that reads “Goose Springsteen” on the front to a John Prine concert? What if my sister made it special for Christmas? I feel like Prine would get it. He has a fine sense of humor if his music is any indication.
Wish me well on the road. If we see each other out there let us share a honk and a snog. Look here, we’re going to make it after all. I leave you with some Prine lyrics for to bake your brain casserole. I guess I’ll see you guys on the latter side of 18.
Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go