For many years I have written about the Ozarks. Most of the time I write about the natural landscape and the plants and creatures that inhabit it. But that’s not where my love for this place ends. For what is a place without its people, its culture and how it sees itself compared to the rest of the world and how the rest of the world sees them? Ask anyone who doesn’t live here about the Ozarks and most will eventually use the word hillbilly in some shape or form.
For generations, Ozarkers have been degraded by historic myths, television sit-coms and modern movies that perpetually portray them as outlaws, meth-heads, backwards clans and simple-minded idjits. Of course all of this simply adds up to being a hillbilly. You would think this would upset Ozarkers, but it doesn’t. That’s because they have a way of turning something bad into something good. Call them what you like, but Ozarkers are among the most misrepresented cultures I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Of all the characteristics I love most about Ozarkers is their laid back, self-deprecating humor. They know how to laugh and make light of troublesome things. In that way, Ozarkers have embraced the hillbilly moniker and turned it on its head. To them, a hillbilly doesn’t represent a toothless overall-wearing barefooted whisky runner with a banjo on his knee, nor does it hint of an uneducated backwoods people with no class or character. Rather, a hillbilly is someone with rugged tenacity and common sense; someone who can live on the land and provide for themselves. A hillbilly is someone who can make something out of nothing and laugh when all else fails.
When the term hillbilly was coined, Ozarkers were probably just as educated as any other primarily rural population in America at that time. However, Ozarkers seem to have been unjustly singled-out because of the peculiarities unique to their immigrant-oriented social structure. Ozarkers were so isolated for so long – alone in their rugged hills – that when the “modern” world finally began to seep in, their vocabulary actually consisted of words and phrases that harkened back to the Old World origins from which they came. To outsiders, this language was barely intelligible and a sure sign of ignorance.
Even today, a litany of old-fashioned sayings littering the vernacular Ozark landscape. It’s not uncommon to hear people say, “of an evening”, “over yonder” and “you’uns”. Some folks still say “crick” for creek and “holler” for hollow. Some of the older natives still respectfully refer to unrelated elders as “Auntie” or “Uncle” – a clear sign of their cultural roots.
While many residents of the Ozarks are not exceptionally wealthy in a monetary sense and have at times been socially misunderstood, they are often rich in faith, family and a deep sense of cultural heritage. They love to spin a good yarn, or pull a leg when they get the chance, and they do it as often as possible.
When you take away the stereotypes of rural Ozarkers you will find a courteous and thoughtful people who have a profound connection to the land. Ozarkers are by nature an incredibly resilient and industrious lot with a long history of not trusting outsiders, know-it-alls and big-city slickers. Prizing their individualist bents, it is still common to know a person for years without them ever having asked what it is that you do for a living. Of course, you may offer that kind of information, but asking for it is considered to be just a little on the rude side. What is important is who you are as a human being.
At times, it does feel like the Ozarks are a place lost in time. Here, folks still sit out on their porches in the evening, wave at passersby along the highway and politely honk their horns when arriving at a rural homestead so as not to catch anyone by surprise. It is a place where country cafés hum with people gathering around a table to share a home-cooked meal and good ol’ boys drink coffee and talk about the weather and farm prices.
Of course, modern times have not left the Ozarks untouched. Like many once-rural areas of the country, the Ozarks is growing in population bringing with it all manner of new ideas and ways of doing things. Today’s Ozarkers come in all shapes and forms, from the ultra modern to the backwoods recluse. And while the amalgamation of old and new makes the Ozarks so surprising and wonderful to newcomers, it is definitely the old that makes them feel like they are home.
A Journey of Seasons is a beautifully recounted story of life on a rural Missouri homestead. Based on the changing landscape of the seasons and filled with nature notes, botanical musings, back-woods wisdom and just a pinch of hillbilly humor, noted author, naturalist and organic gardener, Jill Henderson, spins a story of delight and enchantment. This is one journey you don’t want to miss!