Sometime around the early 1960's I came into possession of an old book entitled Take to the Hills, the story of a city couple who moved to the Ozarks during the Great Depression and began operating a small sheep farm - a one-hundred-and-sixty acre spread that they lovingly called Sunrise Mountain Farm.
I never read the book, but for reasons unknown I hung onto it. Then, in the late 1970's while teaching history at the Mountain View-Birch Tree High School, somebody mentioned the volume and noted that it took place in and around Mountain View. At that point I read one chapter which dealt with the girlhood of a lady whose children were students of mine, but still I neglected to read the entire thing - and still I hung onto it.
Now, at long last, I have read Take to the Hills, and I am pleased to report that the experience was a real treat!
In 1935 Robert and Marguerite Lyon, a professional couple living and working in Chicago, witnessed a friend suddenly lose his job at the height of the Great Depression. In an effort to protect themselves from a catastrophe like their friend endured, the couple became proactive in planning their future. After hearing a relative speak of the low land prices in the Ozarks, the Lyons bought a 40-acre farm in the Ozarks - sight unseen for the sweet price, even then, of one thousand dollars!
The couple remained in Chicago working to save money to invest in livestock and crops on the new farm. Robert moved to the farm first where he made enough money working for the National Republican Party on behalf of the presidential candidacy of Alf Landon to pay for an additional 120 acres that were adjacent to the farm. By the time Marge joined him, he had hired a knowledgeable farm hand, gotten into the sheep business, bought a few chickens and geese, and begun to be known throughout the neighborhood as a man of some intellect.
Robert's political work, traveling around the country with a speaker-truck and giving impromptu political speeches, did not even put a dent in the solid Democratic voting patterns of the area. But the political activity did earn him some personal respect in the area, and he was eventually elected to be the first head of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce. Later Robert was appointed and then elected to the position of Justice of the Peace, a job which earned him the appellation of "the Jedge."
Marge Lyon was a writer by trade, drawing a regular salary for penning commercial prose to help sell products. It wasn't long after her arrival at Sunrise Mountain Farm that she began jotting down stories of their daily lives as they became accustomed to a different lifestyle and dealt with characters unlike any that they had ever encountered in the city.
Marge wrote about Doris, a child of the Ozarks who could travel from cabin-to-cabin through the woods at night and never get lost. I knew Doris years later, long after she had a grown family and was presumably through traipsing through the nocturnal woods. Marge wrote at length about Aunt Mealie whose cabin leaked profusely, Mealie used her sole umbrella to protect her most valuable possession - a thirty-year-old sewing machine. The neighborhood knew spring had officially arrived when Aunt Mealie shed her long underwear. And then there was Wild Rufe, a man who suffered "fits" that resulted in him losing his clothing in inconvenient places.
Marge also talked about the weekly Saturday sales at Mountain View and the various ways that people managed to get into town for those sales. She described "Ozark Station Wagons" which were worn out cars that had their tops cut off and their tires packed tight with straw. Those contraptions were then hooked up to a team of horses or mules and the family rode into town in style!
My enjoyment of this book was based in large measure on the glimpses that it gave me into my own adventures in small-time farming - not with the current farm, but with the one I had near Noel a decade ago. The work was hard, yet I had a lot of fun - and the relaxing was great! I am beginning to experience those same things again - and I thank Marguerite Lyon for reminding me of why I came here!
Life is still pretty sweet in the Ozarks!