Saturday, November 17, 2007

Riverview Court

Two relative constants in my parents’ lives were these: they seldom worked for wages, preferring instead to own and operate their own businesses, and it was a rare day indeed when they paid rent. One of my Dad’s favorite tirades to this day is on the wastefulness of paying rent, or as he puts it, “just throwing your money down a rat hole.” Those two principles came together nicely in the summer of 1958 when they bought a tourist cabin court four miles north of Noel, Missouri, on the beautiful Elk River. Not only would being innkeepers make a nice, seasonal income, the court also boasted living quarters for the owners.

I was ten-years-old and my sister, Gail, was closing in on eight when we were uprooted from our home and friends in Goodman, MO, and moved to Riverview Court. I was excited to be living so close to the river and suspected that it would be a life-changing event, but daily swimming and fishing aside, I had no idea how much of an impact that this unique experience would have on my formative years. We were there six years, a time that proved to be as much of a transition for me personally as it was for the country.

Riverview had eight units, with five of those being kitchenettes that would suit families looking to spend a week or two playing on the river. One night in a sleeping-only cabin ran six dollars, and the kitchenettes ranged from eight to twelve dollars per night depending on the number of beds required. The two largest units were triples, with three double beds each. There were special rates for three-day stays as well as those that lasted a week or more.

It was at Riverview where I learned to work and follow routines. Every morning I had to empty trash from the cabins, dump and clean the garbage cans, and help my mom and Gail clean cabins. We washed sheets and towels in the afternoons, using an old ringer washer with two rinse tubs. I then helped to hang the laundry outside to dry, and brought it back into the laundry room later where my mom would iron the sheets on a “mangle.” I usually mowed one afternoon a week, a process that took several hours. When all of that was done, Gail and I were free to swim or play with kids who were staying at the court. For a couple of years I also managed the soda machines and learned to be a successful merchant in my own right. My dad owned and operated a DX gas station (remember DX?) in Noel during those years, leaving much of the cabin business to the rest of us.

We had two sets of seasonal neighbors who had summer cabins next to the court. Bill and Olive Bledsoe from Tulsa and her sister, Mabel Rainey, from Fayetteville, AR, were there most summer weekends, as were Charlie and Maureen Legg and their daughter, Jonne Sue, from Webb City, MO. Gail and I spent lots of time with them and always hated to see the summer end and the neighborhood become quiet again. Jonne Sue taught us to play pinochle, an activity that I carried on into my college and army years. Her fat Chihuahua, Tinkerbelle, would roam around our feet looking for scraps of food while we played endless hours of cards.

Our neighbors, primarily Olive and Mabel, also managed to get us hooked on the soap opera, “As the World Turns”, which aired weekdays at 12:30 p.m., usually after the cabins were cleaned, but before time to do the laundry. I would make grilled cheese sandwiches, and then Mom and Gail and I would settle back with our meal to wallow in the fictional lives of the Hughes family. Gail and I were at school that fall day in 1963 when Mom’s show was interrupted by Walter Cronkite with the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

Riverview was on the side of a hill with a trail and steps leading down to the river. We were on the muddy side of the river, but my dad built a small dock where three or four aluminum flat-bottomed boats were kept for customers so they could paddle across to the nice gravel bar on the opposite shore. It was also relatively easy to jump off of the dock and swim to the other shore, or float across on inner-tubes. Gail and I both learned to swim while we lived there. I spent many happy hours catching sun perch, letting them go, and often hooking the same ones again. I also liked to quietly sneak up on turtles sunning on logs, and then jump out of the boat and try to catch them as they frantically swam to safety. Water moccasins were plentiful too, but I usually make enough commotion stomping through the water that they gave me a wide berth.

A friend gave me four Muscovy ducks while we lived on the river, two drakes and two hens. That fall they were joined by three mallard hens who cottoned to the idea of just waddling up and enjoying the corn chops that I left on the bank each morning and evening. After a year or so, all of the ducks disappeared except for one of the mallard hens. She stayed on a couple of more years, and even laid two nests of eggs. The first nest was washed away in a flood. The second time Mama Duck nested farther up the hill behind the cabins, but a snake or some other critter managed to destroy that effort. She eventually became tame enough to walk the long hill to our yard where she would quack for her supper. After eating, often out of my hand, she would take flight and go back to the river. To this day I find that animals are often more comforting to be around than people. (Someday soon I will post about my little farm in the Ozarks, Rock’s Roost.)

My best memories of those years at Riverview involve sitting outside on the warm summer evenings and visiting and playing with the kids who would stay there while on vacation. We always looked forward to Nancy and Jimmy Hurn and their parents from Henrietta, Texas, arriving each August for one or two weeks. Their vacation often felt as though it was also our own vacation as well. (Kids who worked all summer in the tourist industry never got to go on vacation, so our best bet was to glom onto someone else’s!) The Hurn’s cousin, Danny, from Wichita Falls, Texas, was a regular as well – and there were many others who were important to Gail and me, but too many summers have passed for me to come up with their names.

Living on the river and having the opportunity to interact with people from a variety of areas and backgrounds was a wonderful experience. Yes, it was hard work, but it was also fun, and exciting, and educational – and I am a better person today for having grown up there.

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