Author Mark Meadows shares his memories of the Missouri Hills
Anyone can write a memoir, Mark Meadows believes. “But it might not be very interesting,” he says with a laugh. Mark worried about that very thing when he put together the 82 stories that make up his book “Echoes from the Ozarks: Memories of the Missouri Hills.”
Mark sent one story to a friend whose writing abilities he trusts. “I told him I didn’t want to include this one because nothing really happens in it,” Mark recalls. “He wrote back and said, ‘Don’t worry if nothing happens. It’s not what happens in the story. The pleasure is the way you take a mundane subject and turn it into something interesting.’ ”
“Echoes from the Ozarks” is one of those books best read in short bursts with a good cup of hot coffee and a piece of chess pie, which Mark explores at length in one of his stories. From the mundane to the memorable, there’s plenty here to interest anyone who longs for a time when things moved a little slower or just needs a good chuckle to get through the day.
Take the tale of the Meadows family’s humble upbringing titled “It isn’t the Cough.” In the once-thriving community of Leann in Barry County where Mark grew up, actual doctoring was scarce. Dr. Mom took care of most problems like the common cold using nostrums that were heavy on grease and coal oil.
Mark’s brother reminded him of an over-the-counter treatment called Dr. Drake’s Glessco Cough Relief “which is known by all who ever imbibed it as the nastiest, vilest and most vomitous taste ever invented by man. The first taste triggered a loss of innocence, and the fight was on ever to dose the child again,” Mark wrote.
Those who survived such treatment and lived to Mark’s nearly 80 years of age might remember the joys of using an outhouse. Mark shares the trials and tribulations of the days when “Outhouses were In” through another of his stories.
The Meadowses became a “two outhouse family” when Grandpa came to live in the farm’s original log cabin but needed a facility closer to the back door. Newcomers to outhouses will learn through the story about the function of corn cobs, a bucket of lime and the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.
Not all of the stories are from that bygone era. Some were spawned by more recent travels by Mark and his beloved wife, Judy. One of the best is called “Check in Cheap.” In this story the writer tells how they saved $20 by staying at “The Really Reasonable Inn” instead of their normal abode while visiting friends in Columbia.
The adventure includes a bathroom door that stuck shut, the tag end of a toilet paper roll and no spare, questionable plumbing, a fan that went “tick, tick, tick, tick” all night long and missing light bulbs. It ends with a man from a neighboring room spitting lustily off the balustrade as they beat a path home.
The couple, who are members of Barry Electric Cooperative, returned to the Ozarks in 1983. Mark left a job as the head catalog librarian at Arkansas State University. The plan was for Judy to teach school while Mark established a mail-order clock parts company.
Their adventures on the rocky 85-acre farm atop Bennett Ridge and encounters with interesting characters provided much fodder for the eventual book. “It had the worst house in the United States, a terrible old home,” Mark says. “It was built in the ’30s and it was very poorly built in the first place. It didn’t have running water, didn’t have a bathroom. It had an outhouse.
“Judy said we gave our kids something that none of our grandkids have, something valuable. And that’s poverty. We were poverty-stricken. They learned to handle their money and so forth. But it was really good for them.”
Eventually Mark “retired” by selling the clock company. But then he took up repairing and collecting clocks, which provided more humorous stories that ended up in the book. Visitors to Mark and Judy’s new home will find the subjects of many of these clock stories counting out the hours in their home.
One of their clocks has a case that was made in a Maine prison by a mass murderer. Another is a French clock that strikes out the hour, then does it again two minutes later in case the owner needs a reminder.
Judy says that early in the week when Mark winds the 30-plus clocks in the house they all chime at the same time. “But by the end of the week, they get off a little bit. It’s horrible if you want to make an important phone call and you forget and it’s 11 o’clock and you get on the phone, and all the clocks start striking,” she says.
After waiting for the final gong from the big grandfather clock, the subject of “Forget us our Debts,” Mark chimes in: “There’s an old saying that the man with one clock always knows the time, but the man with two clocks is never sure.”
Mark credits his mom with planting the writing bug in him. “I left home in ’61. Mama was a great letter writer. She would write like a six-page, single-spaced letter every week. And I would write back, of course on the old Underwood. I had this habit of writing up our stories in those letters. And I’ve got probably two bushels of letters out there in the barn.”
The letters — along with a remarkable memory and the occasional email from a friend — provided all the fodder he needed for his book, which has been well received by those who have read it.
“Several people have told me they hadn’t laughed so much in years as they have when they read my book,” Mark says. “One lady said she was sitting reading my book in a doctor’s waiting room. And finally she realized she was sitting there just laughing and laughing. She looked up and everyone was staring at her like she was crazy.”
Like a modern-day Mark Twain, Mark sees humor in everyday happenings. “I feel obliged to write them down,” he says. “Other people lose their keys and find them or get copies, but I write a story. Other people ruin the pizza and order out, but I write a story. Some people snorkel or skydive, but I write. It’s just the way I amuse myself.”
You can contact Mark at email@example.com. His book is available from Amazon.com, at the Barry County Museum in Cassville and at the Crane Chronicle.