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OPINION | REX NELSON: Thankful for Arkansas

by Rex Nelson | November 24, 2021 at 3:24 a.m.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. If you like to eat, watch football games and exchange stories with friends and family members, how can you not love Thanksgiving?

Those friends and extended family members were missing last Thanksgiving. Only our immediate family gathered during the pandemic. So most of all this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for vaccines that have allowed life to pretty much return to normal in our family since late April. The speed with which these highly effective vaccines were developed will go down as one of the great accomplishments in human history. Just imagine where the world would be without them.

I'm thankful for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has provided pragmatic leadership at a time when some members of his political party decided that pandering to the fringe with inflammatory rhetoric and nonsensical legislation was the way to go. I hate to think where we would be without his steady hand.

I'm thankful for legislators (though their numbers are far too small) who had the courage to stand up to the Know Nothings (members who prefer to stoke fear and division on social media rather than doing the hard work of ensuring that our tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently). May the number of elected officials with the courage to call out those vacuous bullies increase in 2022.

I'm thankful that vaccines allowed me to get back on the road, see interesting places, visit with colorful characters, attend local festivals, eat in good restaurants and then write about what I discovered. I have the best job in the state.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can attend a Battle of the Ravine football game each November in Arkadelphia, watch the sun rise on a winter morning from a duck blind on the Grand Prairie, and sample dozens of versions of duck gumbo at Stuttgart on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

I'm thankful I can drive along the Talimena Scenic Drive when the leaves are changing in the fall, spend the day walking around Historic Washington State Park when the jonquils are blooming in early spring and dig for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro. I'm thankful I can buy strawberry shortcake in the spring at the Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob, gather wild blackberries in the summer alongside a dusty country road and buy peaches that were picked earlier that day.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can call the Hogs in Fayetteville, watch the thoroughbreds run at Hot Springs, go to a winery near Altus, climb Pinnacle Mountain, visit the most beautiful state capitol in the country and fish for smallmouth bass on the Kings River in north Arkansas or the Caddo River in southwest Arkansas. I'm thankful I can combine fried chicken with spaghetti at the Venesian Inn at Tontitown, have Stanley Young fry me some catfish at Murry's near Hazen and drink the mineral water from the Mountain Valley headquarters in downtown Hot Springs.

I'm thankful I can take a slow walk through history at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, visit a sand blow in northeast Arkansas while contemplating the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12 and get a sunburn while sitting on a White River sandbar. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can spend summer Saturday mornings at farmers markets on the square in Fayetteville and Bentonville as locals walk their dogs.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can try (unsuccessfully) to finish a tamale spread at McClard's in Hot Springs, eat a turkey leg at the Arkansas State Fair in Little Rock, and sit on the east side of Mount Nebo while watching the sun rise over the Arkansas River Valley. I'm thankful I can sit outside at Basin Spring Park in Eureka Springs on a Saturday evening while enjoying live music or take a boat onto Grassy Lake in southwest Arkansas to look for alligators.

I'm thankful I can catch an outdoor concert in the Murphy Arts District in downtown El Dorado, have a catfish dinner at Dondie's on the banks of the White River at Des Arc, and buy a stack of books about Arkansas at Dickson Street Bookshop in Fayetteville. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can cross the U.S. 62 bridge over Norfork Lake on a clear morning and go kayaking on the Mulberry River or Cossatot River.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can spend the night at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs while thinking about ghosts, tour the Johnny Cash boyhood home at Dyess, see English Tudor architecture at Wilson, and read Civil War markers at DeValls Bluff before having pork barbecue at Craig's. I'm thankful I can see people wearing kilts at the Scottish Festival at Lyon College in Batesville and wearing hunter orange in the south Arkansas pine woods in late November.

I'm thankful I can attend a meeting in the infamous room behind the kitchen at Doe's Eat Place in Little Rock, watch the toad races during Toad Suck Daze in Conway, and have breakfast at The Pancake Shop in Hot Springs. I'm thankful to be able to watch the rice harvest near Weiner on a fall day, go to Garvan Woodland Gardens on Lake Hamilton when tulips are blooming in the spring, and attend the St. Patrick's Day parade in Hot Springs.

I'm thankful I can have my photo taken while straddling the state line at the federal courthouse in downtown Texarkana, and attend the Gillett Coon Supper each January, then show up a few weeks later for the annual Slovak Oyster Supper. I'm thankful to live in a place that has an all-tomato luncheon during the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival at Warren. I'm thankful for this state called Arkansas.

Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at

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