Much to cherish about life in the Ozarks

The Examiner

I assume I am just like everyone else. I put my pants on one leg at a time.

But something that does seem unusual to me is when it comes to putting my shoes on, I always put the left shoe on first, then the right shoe, then I go back and tie my left shoe, and then my right. If I attempt to do it any other way, I’m all out of whack.

Ted Stillwell

I don’t know. Does that sound odd for someone who is right-handed?

One thing I do know for sure, though, you can drop me off anywhere down in the Ozarks and I would be as happy as a lark – a meadowlark, no less.

Simple joys, such as candy after school, seem to be cherished more deeply in small-town life.

That Ozark thing probably stems from my childhood, as my parents took us kids and headed for the Ozarks at least a couple of times every summer. I don’t ever remember staying in a motel. We always pitched a tent in some campground along the way. I've loved camping out ever since. We have been to Big Springs, Round Springs, Meramec, Bennett Spring and Alley Springs. I’ve canoed on the Current River and the Elk River, and I’ve visited all of the caves, the Shut-ins, Elephant Rocks, Bagnell Dam, Powersite Dam, and of course, Branson and many of those thousands of small towns scattered all across the Ozark hills.

I did actually get dropped off down in the Ozarks for sure a couple three times throughout my life. During my broadcasting days, I mentioned that fact to my boss about being happy as a lark down in the Ozarks. 

His reply: “I’m sure glad to hear that, because we are sending you down to Bennett Spring for a year and a half to the radio station in nearby Lebanon, Missouri.”

Lebanon at the time had about 1,200 residents but was the shopping center for something like 12,000 as the hill people swarmed the town every weekend.

Then it was a short stint for me in Springdale, Arkansas. After that, I got shipped off to Springfield, Missouri, and then to Joplin. Wrapping up that phase of my life in northeast Oklahoma, down on the Grand Lake of the Cherokees, where I got to hang out with a lot of Native Americans.

One of the best things about living in the Ozarks was the people. The beauty of a place, or a way of life, can best be seen in the faces of the people. Just look into the faces of the children. The ritual of daily lives that pass through places like small-town grocery stores is a kind of prayer – the quiet joy of children buying a piece of candy after school, the smell of fresh-cut onions, the memories of old women who have put a thousand thoughts on their shelves and then given those thoughts away.

Small towns open like flowers, unfolding from out-of-the-way places to reveal a kind of beauty and harmony not found in the cities. Here one can see the values of human existence, can sense the intricate cooperation and communication among creatures inching their way along the path of civilizations.

An Ozark day begins with clean light, with the sound of birds not lost in the noise of larger places. The first footsteps are those of a boy and his dog delivering the morning newspaper. The sounds of “good morning.”

In small towns you can hear the sound of a screen door opening, the sound of a broom sweeping the sidewalk, the sound of porch swings in the evening. The sights and sounds blend into something that is more than the things seen or heard, something you can walk into and know that small towns hold a quiet joy.

To reach Ted W. Stillwell send an email to or call him at 816-896-3592.