Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Two of Fred Starr's Best Newspaper Columns

I have read many of Fred Starr's "Hillside Adventures" columns, published in the Northwest Arkansas Times from about 1936 to the early 1970s, plus four of his books. As I have written elsewhere, I believe his 1958 book, Of These Hills and Us, is a gem, his best writing. Also, I think these two columns, both published in 1940, are among his best. They are certainly the most touching and memorable columns of his that I have read.
Fred Starr, 1942

The first essay is about a teenager named Marjorie, a student at Greenland, where Starr was principal. She was killed in an automobile accident just a couple of days before Christmas in 1940. The second is about selling his farm in Greenland, a place where Margaret, his daughter, was born and died a few months later. 

In the two essays, Starr's Ozark voice is plain but eloquent and moving, and his writing seems as honest as it get. 


Hillside Adventures
By Fred Starr
Northwest Arkansas Times
December 26, 1940

Tonight I keep thinking of Marjorie. Today we left her yonder on a peaceful hillside overlooking a clear rippling stream and a long, sloping, quiet valley. There in a country burying ground, underneath a great mound of flowers, she is taking her long sleep.

Marjorie was young, beautiful, vivacious and loved life as only a teenage kid could. She had never harmed a body in all her short stay here. Day before yesterday life stretched away ahead of her, a life of happiness and usefulness lay out there just ahead. Last week I watched her going about her tasks in a crowded schoolroom, saw her pass out presents to her schoolmates and wave them a farewell for a short Christmas vacation.

Then, out of a hushed, starlit twilight death struck. One moment her eyes were alive with joy and light and laughter. The next there was a sickening ...ripping ... crashing thud and Marjorie lay beside a country road her beautiful body maimed and crushed, her lovely features streaked and smeared with blood...another life snuffed out by a misguided automobile.

A turn of the steering wheel one little round and life is never the same again for those of us who loved Marjorie. Tonight stunned and bewildered, her loved ones sit with numbed hearts, gripped with an iron hand of grief that, turn which way they may, crushes and smothers and maims. Tomorrow there will be an empty chair at the Christmas table and food that was to be eaten will go untouched.

But somehow knowing Marjorie as we did; having known her gay laughter, the bright twinkle in her eyes and her way of taking life in her stride, I feel she must be continuing to be the same wonderful girl in transition. Out beyond the stars that shine so cold and bright tonight her spirit must be winging its way, going on and on in another life in the same carefree, happy, courageous way. What a lovely angel she must be!

While here Marjorie lighted a torch. Its flames are glowing still and will continue to glow long after the grass is green on the fresh mound and the snow of many winters have come and gone.

Socrates after drinking the hemlock said to his listeners, "I go. You stay. I wonder who is the better off?" And as I sit with the beautiful and lovable memory before me, I too, am wondering.

Hillside Adventures
By Fred Starr
Northwest Arkansas Times
July 30, 1940

Tomorrow is moving day at our house. In a weak moment we let a real estate agent sell our farm right out from under us and tomorrow's sun will be the last one we shall see from the east window of the place now called home.

When I was but a child my father contracted itching feet and there has always been much moving in the family. Why, I can remember we used to move so often when the chickens saw us coming to catch them they just walked up and crossed their legs.

The process of uprooting oneself from one location and moving on somehow brings an empty pang that much changing of abode never quite dispels unless you are a gypsy at heart and love to be forever on the road seeking new adventures.

We have done a heap of living in this house in these two years. Many joys and one great sorrow have been ours. Through the front door we followed our last born and we could not bring her back. With the snow white casket went a lot of life's sunshine. We felt we never wanted to see the place again. But life must be lived out. One does not run away, not if he is to keep on living.

The moon is right for moving and we should have great luck if it wasn't for the fact we are moving the cat and the broom.

Some hill folks are wont to say three moves is bad as havin' a burn out, an' no doubt they are right. But moving has its compensations as well as drawbacks. There is something about going into a new house that gives you a sort of a lift. It's like turning over a new leaf. You hope there will be less mistakes made under the new roof and that there in the different environment you might run across the happiness you have strived for and fell short of in the old surroundings.

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