America the Beautiful!

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July 2010

In May my wife and I took a tour of Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee which gave us a look at the diversity in America.

Culture

††††††††††† Our first destination was the small town of Mountain View Arkansas. We arrived on a Friday evening and drove around town to see what it was like. We heard music in the town square and stopped. We listened and enjoyed old time fiddle music being played in three gazebos. A native told us that this happens every evening in good weather. They were retaining and sharing their heritage.

††††††††††† On Saturday we went to the Ozark Fold Center to watch various crafts people at work. One man was using a lathe powered by a foot pedal. He had made numerous gyroscopes of various woods. Others were making soap, pottery, and brooms.

††††††††††† The highlight of that day was a half hour fiddle concert repeated every hour. The musicians were so good that we went back two more times to listen. They didnít repeat any song. The music brought back happy memories of my dad who played the fiddle at dances and just for enjoyment. I remember well Turkey in the Straw, Red Wing, Wabash Cannonball, and more. The performers were the Cobb Brothers on the fiddle, mandolin, and bass fiddle, ages 12-15. An older gentleman accompanied them on the guitar. It was exciting to see and hear these young people enthusiastically preserving their heritage.

††††††††††† In Memphis we visited Soulsville USA museum on the site of the Stax Record Company where such singers as Otis Redding and Sam Cooke got their start and rose to fame in the 1950ís and 1960ís. It was a whole different kind of music than what we heard in the Ozarks but also enjoyable and fully American.

History

††††††††††† In Nashville, on a very hot day, we visited the Hermitage, the home of Andrew and Rachel Jackson, who owned many slaves to operate their cotton plantation of 1000 acres. We also took an emotional driving tour of the Civil War battle site at Shiloh.

Civil Rights

††††††††††† After the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, schools across the country began to peacefully integrate but not in Little Rock where the struggle to integrate was contentious. Central High School at that time was ranked the best high school in the nation, but blacks were not allowed to attend. The National Park Service portrays the struggle in a very moving display in a site within full view of the High School.

††††††††††† In Memphis we visited the private non-profit National Civil Rights Museum in the former Lorraine Hotel. We stood near the balcony outside the room within a couple feet of the place where Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was shot from a bathroom window in a boarding house across the street which is also part of the Museum. I remember the scene well back in 1968 and was moved by being in that sacred space. King is one of my heroes.

Food

††††††††††† When I eat breakfast out I like to have a cup of decaf coffee but much to my surprise only one restaurant in Arkansas and Tennessee offered decaf coffee and I am sure that one made the coffee after I ordered it. Others offered instant. I finally asked why and was told no one orders it!

††††††††††† The Neelyís have a TV show on the Food Channel and operate two restaurants in Memphis. I had the best ribs I ever ate at one of these restaurants. We had great soul food at the longest owned minority restaurant in Nashville. At another restaurant I had turnip greens and purple hulled peas. At the end of the meal I had not eaten all the greens. The server asked if I wished to take them with me. No thanks, I said.

††††††††††† Another food experience involved breakfast. Bologna was offered as a meat side along with the usual bacon, ham, and sausage that we customarily find around here. We also saw a sign for the seventeenth annual testicle festival in Olean Missouri. While this celebration was totally new to us these festivals occur in many places around the country.

††††††††††† Our people and our history are a diverse mixture of sounds, food, slavery, segregation, assassination, and even war. It is good to appreciate the diversity and learn from our heritage.