Sunday, January 31, 2010

Folk Liar of the Ozarks: "Rolland Burdick" and other Tales of Places Real and Imaginary

Downtown Hardy, circa 1950

From looking further into Mr. LeRoy Tucker's writings posted on his blog Folk Liar of the Ozarks, I discovered that you can read a masterpiece of backwoods writing in his short story "Rolland Burdick," which was posted almost exactly one year ago and relates the tale of an unfortunate, misguided man, a resident of the Ozark hills not far from the obscure Fulton County community of Climax, Arkansas. The story is an appropriate one for this church-going Sunday morning, and it begins as follows:
Indifference was the sum of Rolland's posture in the matter of religion. An open and unabashed sinner, he obsessed on accumulating money. By chance, he was influenced by a man, a preacher by avocation, whose specialty it was to inspire irrational fear of God's final judgment. The preachers name was Az Bronson. He was a Campbellite of some note in Climax. In other localities, widely separated, encompassing the Ozark regions of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, he was variously known as a Methodist, a Baptist or a Campbellite. His scare'em to death discourses were not restricted to any particular sect or restrained by concern of unintended consequences. His competence was proven, unquestioned.

Today Rolland had driven to Hardy, sold a wagon load of cross ties and was returning to his home. Now, at twilight, he was again passing through Climax. His body was sore and his team needed a rest. "Ho boys -- whoa now," said Rolland, halting the team. Then, without the steel on gravel noise from the wagon's wheels he heard singing, blended voices singing LEANING ON JESUS, LEANING ON THE EVERLASTING ARMS. He passed his hand and forearm across the horse's rumps. He spoke to the team affectionately, "you boys needs to blow awhile." And he strolled away, down to the church yard, too tired and too dirty to actually enter the church. He seated himself near the entrance. There, braced by a century old white oak, he dozed. Before leaving Hardy, he rewarded himself with a half pint of good, government whiskey and consumed it along the way. He was by no means intoxicated, only tired, "plumb wore out" thought Rolland, as he commenced to doze . . .
If you want to read more (and you ought to so want), then follow the link and read to discover that surnames just might be destiny -- though I don't believe that this was precisely Mr. Tucker's point.

What was his point? Maybe this little bit directs us to his point, though it prefaces a different story, "Cadillac Pie," set in the small community of Saddle, Arkansas:
All fiction, except the place and some of the characters are based on real people. Even my wife Patsy is in this story, as a child. Saddle still exists, much changed but it's still there in Fulton County Arkansas. To me, Saddle is a lot of memories. I hope someone out there sees this and enjoys it.
From perusing Mr. Tucker's writings, I see that an explicit concern with memory plays a large role in his motivation for writing. I remember Saddle, too, but not as well as Mr. Tucker does. Further on memory, he tells us in "Note to My Readers," posted January 18, 2009:
Each of my stories will stand alone but they all relate to one community, one culture. Most of them are set in Fulton County Arkansas, circa The Great Depression or earlier; much earlier sometimes. That is when it becomes fiction and that makes me a liar. But the Possum Trot community was and is real. The Kittle store is a long time gone. Even the people are gone. There are new people but it is not the same. When I walk there I walk with ghosts. I want to tell about them. I posted a picture of myself when I was eighteen. Later if I gain some followers I will be honest and post a picture of the old grizzled man that I am now. I am somewhat disabled. I cannot walk far or stand for long. I read, exercise a little and write. I used to be a big "whuppin' boss" for General Motors. I have been retired for a very long time. Always wanted to be a writer. Tough deal. I was kicked out of the third grade for not shaving. I try to write. It is a compulsion to me. Tuck the Liar
His writing is about memories reconstructed in imagination out of a compulsion to write and reconstruct, for in "A Blending Imaginings," an entry of some reminiscences about his forefathers, posted on May 27th of last year, he mentions a bit about the real and imaginary community of Climax, Arkansas:
Jess Martin, my maternal great grandfather, lived at Climax, the real Climax that died in 1918 and stayed dead: the Climax that I attempt to imagine back to life.
Except for Climax, I know these places that Mr. Tucker is reconstructing, this world that he wishes still existed . . . or that its values yet did (though he says that he's grateful for what he doesn't know). His own values become clear in his story of how General Motors failed, "Walter and Me," posted January 28 of last year and told from the perspective of a man who'd worked for the company both on the assembly line and in management:
For years supervisors were painted as the bad boys of the industry. Local TV stations and newspapers represented those blue collars, union members, as industrious, hardworking, nose to the grindstone victims of overbearing, bull of the woods supervisors, who were merely puppets of the heartless policy makers in Detroit. Union propaganda spewed from such people as Michael Moore and the lesser Ben Hamper, who wrote Rivethead, parts of which were published in Mother Jones, The Michigan Voice and The Detroit Free Press. Read objectively, Rivethead tells the story. Today Rivethead is topical and revealing. When new, it was just a pack of lies. I bat from the right side of the plate. Hamper hits from the left. Moore is so far left he is somewhere up in the cheap seat in the left field grand stands. People are getting wise to him now but he has done a lot of damage while making himself a multimillionaire. But Hamper is a fairly entertaining writer and lots of folks love an underdog, even a whining little socialist failure like Hamper. Inadvertently he told the truth about GM but he lied about the UAW.
This is brilliant stuff, whether one agrees entirely, in part, or not at all, for it demonstrates the complexity of Mr. Tucker's understanding and the breadth of his reading as well as his willingness to take a position even while granting some points to those whom he opposes.

Most of all, it shows that he is a writer in a way that Michael Moore is not a filmmaker.

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At 5:40 PM, Blogger Deplorably Bonnie Blue said...

Well, heck, my comment just disappeared!

I read the Rolland Burdick story and finally figured out what you were inferring in regards to the surname. I had to look up "bur."

I sure would love to know if Rolland actually did "burdick" or maybe someone else in the community. This is my struggle with historical fiction, haha. I am always trying to figure out which parts, if any, actually happened.

From what I can tell, Rolland and his wife moved to Oklahoma, so I am guessing she never actually left him.

Anyway, if Mr. Tucker ever reads this comment, maybe he would like to end my struggle?


At 7:12 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Mr. Tucker seems to write his posts offline and post them to his blog. I say this based on the the smart quotes -- ever evidence of pasting.

He states that writing is an obsession for him, so I'm hoping that he has a lot more stories about Climax, Arkansas.

By the way, do you mean the fictional Rolland, or some actual individual? I haven't read enough of the blog to judge, but in the story, she left him.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:49 AM, Blogger Deplorably Bonnie Blue said...

Hi Jeffery,

Well, I think the character in his story is fictional, but maybe based on a real person that lived there. While I was reading the story, I looked at census records to see if there really was such a person, and there was, and there is also a family tree for him on

See, what I mean about reading historical fiction? haha. I just had to check to see if he was real. As far as I can tell, the real Rolland only had a daughter, no sons. His daughter ended up living in Oklahoma.

Of course, I guess his wife could have left, then they eventually got back together. Rolland was still in Ark. as late as 1942, because there is a draft reg for him. His wife is listed on it as well. At that time, they were living in Afton Twp., same as the census records. Maybe Climax was in that Twp.?

I tried looking for Climax, and I did find a Climax Rd., but that is over near Foreman, closer to the Oklahoma border. There was a one-room school from Climax that was moved to Foreman to the Episcopal church there, but that isn't anywhere near Afton or Hardy. I am not sure if that is the same place or not. What do you think?

I think I am hooked on Tucker's stories. I read another one this morning while trying to write this comment.


At 6:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Oddly, I'd never heard of Climax, Arkansas even though it was apparently supposed to be in my own county, but in one of Tucker's posts, he mentions that the 'hamlet' died in 1915 (or thereabouts). I did find some references online:

Griffith, Daniel

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church

Denton-L Archives

The first reference seems to place Climax in my own county of Fulton. I'll have to ask some oldtimers when I get home this summer.

Jeffery Hodges

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