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OPINION: Small towns

by By Stan Fine, Columnist | March 23, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

No, there aren't four or five restaurants on every block. Entertainment is, at least for the most part, limited to gatherings with family or friends or maybe a movie. That is unless it's during holidays when there are parades, fireworks displays and fall fairs. However, to my way of thinking the benefits of living in a small town far outweigh those found with life in a big city.

When thinking about this story I couldn't ignore my passion for the old days. Those times of 60, 70 or more years ago when I believe life was more simple and easier to live. Therefore, I would like to talk about five small towns located in McDonald County, Missouri. The county rests in the southwest portion of the state and is fully situated deep within the beautiful Ozark Mountains.

The small town of Noel is located on the banks of the slow-moving waters of the Elk River. Summer months in the '50s and '60s found the town and nearby campgrounds flooded with tourists. The warm weather visitors came from all over the midwest to swim in and float on the warm waters of the river.

Once the Main Street bridge was crossed folks could eat at Carl's Café, shop at one of the tourist's inspired shops or take in a movie at the Ozark Theatre. Butch Wyatt welcomed everyone into his grocery store and the only disruption of a perfect afternoon was the occasional passing of a train that stopped traffic on Main Street.

On a warm July afternoon locals might walk to the low water bridge just south of town to fish, while in the evening some Noel residents might walk down the stairs leading to the basement pool hall. There was always a game or two of dominoes being played and for 10 cents folks could rack up the balls and shoot a game of pool. The sound of conversations taking place on the sidewalks was only slightly dampened by the music coming from the Shadow Lake nightspot. The warm night air carried the music up Main Street, past Harmon's hardware store and to the Noel to Pineville Road.

Old timers will, if asked and with a degree of pride, tell you how great the town of Southwest City was, and still is. There were fourth of July celebrations in the park and let nary a soul forget that just outside the town stands the cornerstone which marks the spot where the borders of three states meet.

There was a time when, and just prior to Thanksgiving Day itself, live and perfectly healthy turkeys were flung by well-meaning volunteers from the roof of the Sanders Chevrolet dealership. Hopeful onlookers packed the landing areas after calculations were made regarding the spots where the unfortunate birds might come to rest thusly enhancing the odds of catching a scrumptious holiday meal.

Saturdays once found the streets packed with folks waiting for the drawing of the lucky raffle tickets. Those fortunate enough to hear the numbers from their red tickets recited were the winners of all manner of prizes. Some lucky winners even received cash money.

The grassy park was the venue for the tug of war between the Ford tractor and the elephant and the world's tallest man, Robert Wadlow, once stood against a pole in the Nichols Brothers Store so a mark could be etched in the support commemorating his appearance and unusually tall stature. It seemed as though there was no end to the wondrous events which took place in the small Southwest Missouri town.

Pineville, McDonald County's county seat, was always a sleepy little town nestled in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. Business was carried out at the courthouse and in the kitchen of the sheriff's house. As was the practice some years back, the sheriff's wife prepared meals for those unfortunate souls who found themselves confined in the county jail.

Kids once sat inside Bonnie Bell's place located on the square and sipped on cherry cokes as they talked about their plans. The second floor of the building was, and on special occasions, a place where the young folks could listen to music and dance.

Folks could sit in comfort and watch a good movie at the Ace Theatre as they dipped their hands into a bag of hot popcorn. On those hot and steamy August afternoons, the lure of the cool waters of Little Sugar Creek offered a chance to cool off. Locals would gather near the Havenhurst Grist Mill and swim until the afternoon's heat passed. A cool ice cream filled cone from the ice cream shop near the mill often topped off a great day.

There are those, mostly people who live in and around Goodman, who say that if you haven't visited the town, you really haven't fully lived. There was nothing quite like watching a movie while seated inside the Rio Theatre. Folks will tell you just how much they now miss the old cinema.

Faye Parker was kept busy as she served cold chocolate malts to the kids as they sat inside the old drugstore. Faye's husband, "Doc," could also be found in the store and if someone needed a bandage or something to ease the pain of a cut then "Doc" was your man.

When the older folks weren't satisfying their needs for bandages and Mercurochrome at the drug store they could sometimes be found at the "Goodman Recreation Hall." George Shelton owned the place and most of the locals just referred to it as the pool hall. The pool hall was a place where those looking for conversation and a game of eight ball might spend their evenings.

Anderson was home to many thriving businesses including the old Gulf Service Station owned by Frank Beshears and Clifford Bell's owned Bell Drugstore. It was there at the drug store that one could sit at the soda fountain and ask Gloria Shaver or Hazel Calloway to make a chocolate soda. If some sort of medicine was needed druggist Charlie McKinzie was the man to see.

If someone needed a good night's sleep the Barnes Hotel was just the place to stay. A.K. Buck managed the old hotel. The hotel not only offered comfortable accommodations but at one time folks could relax in the basement located pool hall or get a good meal in the restaurant.

The thought of a cold beer and a hot bowl of chili enticed some of the locals and there was one place that satisfied both of those cravings, Otis's Café. If you had the time one could pull up a chair and Otis Ragland would serve up the coldest beer and best tasting chili around.

Small towns? Yes, they were and are small towns. There may be those who find the attractions less than appealing but as for me, well, those small towns are great places to call home.

Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents, who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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