Last night we watched Winter's Bone, a wonderful indie movie that has done quite well in the public eye. It was filmed in Taney and Christian Counties in Missouri, and depicts the courageous and desperate struggle of a 17-year-old girl to maintain her family home and continue caring for her two young siblings.
We lived in the Ozarks twice. I wouldn't care to live there now, because I have terrible allergies there, but I remember at least some of those years with real fondness. There is nothing quite as lovely as a Missouri
"holler" on a misty morning in fall, or an early spring morning when the dogwood is beginning to bloom. I'll pass on summer's humidity!
I remember the stalwart people. In particular, I remember a little family in Shannon County, one of America's poorest counties, and the kind of place Winter's Bone was depicting now, where some, at least, have succumbed to cooking meth and creating even more desperate lives.
My errand in Shannon County came about because I was a public relations writer at Cox Medical Centers, in Springfield, Missouri, and I was chasing down a story for our quarterly newsletter. A little girl from Shannon County had been life-flighted to Cox after a freak accident. She had accidentally aspirated into her lungs that tiny nib on the end of a Bic pen which had made her breathing really labored. The local folks couldn't see the problem (it was so small), and she was flown out of her rural surroundings to Cox in Springfield. X-rays revealed the difficulty, and the nib was promptly removed. She survived.
I was to go to Shannon County - about 100 miles away, as I recall - and interview the family. It was grey day in winter, much like the scenery in Winter's Bone. The county is so beautiful, scenery-wise, but desperately poor. This incident happened in 1989, but I doubt Shannon County has changed much. There aren't many jobs, and farming has never really prospered there.
I came to the home, one of a small enclave of what were probably relatives' houses. It was small and tidy, but poor. The house was heated with wood. There was running water, but apparently no sewer system. When I washed my hands in the bathroom, the water flowed into a bucket under the sink.
The mom and siblings - Dad was at work somewhere - treated me so kindly. I heard their story, took some photos, and came away with a good story of how effecient medical practice can reach out into surrounding counties. Mostly I remember the dignity and kindess of the people I interviewed. I suppose most people would consider their life to be quite marginal; they were obviously living on the ragged edge of survival. They were wealthy in family, though, and it showed. I hope I conveyed some of that in my little story.
The mom in the family had a nice little collection of salt and pepper holders. Since then, I wish I had scoured one of Springfield's antique stores and found another set to add to her collection. I should have.
Since then, too, I've wondered about that little girl - central to the story - and her family. I hope they have done well. I hope life isn't so hard. I hope I always remember how generously they gave of their time and their story. I doubt they remember my visit; I know I won't ever forget it.