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Spirit of season, Americana found on road less traveled

By Tammy Keith

This article was published December 8, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

I went to an interview last week in a rural part of Arkansas, and I’d forgotten how much I love taking a drive.

Actually, I prefer “car ridin’,” as we called it when I was growing up. I’d rather be the passenger than the driver.

When I was a little girl, my parents or grandparents would take me for a ride in the car, sometimes just for the air conditioning in the summer, and sometimes, I suspect, to get me to shut up and go to sleep.

As I write this, I just got back, and it was a beautiful, sunny 70-degree day as I drove. I had the air conditioner on.

Looking at the weather forecast before deadline, I’m pretty sure that on Sunday morning, we’ll have our heat cranked up or our fireplaces lit.

It was a gorgeous drive with views of hills and mountains.

That’s the thing about going car ridin’; you never know what you’ll see — especially in Arkansas.

One of the more unusual things I saw was a truck pulling a trailer with the three bears — huge, carnival-ride-type bears. I did a double take. I wanted to turn around and follow the driver and get the story, but I didn’t have time.

I saw pretty creeks, red barns, cows and horses — some real, some made to decorate a yard. I saw brightly colored outdoor metal chickens and snowmen.

Homes and businesses were decorated for Christmas, featuring everything from inflatable figures to manger scenes. I saw one manger scene on a porch, and Mary was perched on a bale of hay, looking down at her baby.

A little wooden home was plastered with decorations, which were either tacky or beautiful, depending on your perspective. They made me smile, and I’ll bet they’re pretty at night.

Lots of antique and thrift stores tempted me, but I needed to get back to the office. I made mental notes to revisit those places on my day off.

Every few miles, I saw signs in front of homes or on the side of the road announcing fresh brown eggs, raw honey, pecans, sweet potatoes or quilts for sale.

Rural Arkansas has character; that’s for sure.

A sign on a taxidermy business caught my attention: “See the state’s largest unofficial bass!” I’m curious — I’ll have to check that out later, too. ( I’ll bet I get a call about this first.)

I saw old rock churches with signs proclaiming “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and advertising live Nativities.

People were out and about on this balmy day.

Men were putting up Christmas lights in a small city park.

Two little girls in a yard were holding hands, swinging each other around. A woman — their mother? — stood outside the small frame house with the peeling paint and called to them. She caught my eye, smiled and waved.

Four or five young people sat lined up on a hill in front of a home, watching leaves burn. (Burning leaves is one of my favorite smells on this Earth.)

My husband and I used to make our boys go with us to drive around town looking at Christmas lights each year, and they tell me now they dreaded it.

They can stay home; they’re grown. Me, I’m going car ridin’.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or

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