A concise memoir recalls small-town life in Arkansas in the 1950s and ’60s.
The corner ESSO station in Jones’ hometown of Carthage, Ark., connected Main Street, the sawmill and surrounding farms. More importantly for Jones, the station also connected the community. It brought folks together to retell and embellish the week’s events, discuss politics and the changing times, and have a laugh. As a boy and teen, Jones spent a lot of time at the station, listening and “soaking up all the knowledge I was exposed to by being there.” The station functions as a cornerstone in Jones’ debut memoir, too. He portrays small-town Arkansas—the school, churches, local elections, hunting and haying—by recalling conversations over the ESSO lunch counter or near the hydraulic car lift. Jones covers a range of topics but is most poignant when describing the poverty that united the town even in an era of segregation. Poverty “transcended age differences, racial lines, and even religious beliefs,” he writes. In one anecdote, the town’s largest grocery store burns to the ground, destroying hundreds of credit records. There’s speculation on the money lost, but Jones later discovers that everyone paid what they owed or more, including “[o]verpayments by most folks who didn’t have two nickels to rub together….The locals displayed that type of giving all my life.” Other stories might seem impolitic by today’s standards. For example, Jones tells how patients from the local psychiatric hospital—or Nervy Hospital, as it was called—were hired to haul hay one year; the tractor operators found their ineptitude hilarious and sent the patients back to the hospital. Throughout his memoir, however, Jones reminds readers that he tells of different, tougher and less complicated times. He’s nostalgic for the days when tales were told face to face, before email and text messages, days when community and hard work mattered. The corner station still stands in Carthage, Jones says, “a monument to a happier and simpler time.”
A feel-good memoir about rural values and the lost practice of conversation.