I come from a lowly town called Van Buren- I’m sure you have never heard of it. It’s the county seat of Carter County, Missouri- a feature its 800 inhabitants were proud of- and in the Ozarks. Most of these people were lifetime residents, with the exception of a few outsiders, such as my dad who comes from St. Louis, who worked for the Park Service and the town doctor who was from New Jersey. There was an English teacher who had never been outside of Missouri save once, and that journey was to far flung Memphis, Tennessee for a doctors visit. However, my dad tells me that he knew others that had hardly been out of the surrounding counties. It was still legal in Van Buren to display guns on a rack in the back window of your truck and to swat misbehaving children with a paddle (a punishment I received more than once). The town offered scant opportunity to young people. Most of the high school’s 40 or so graduates did not go to college, a few went to community college, and even less than that went to universities. In the summer, many folks went shirtless or barefoot.
You probably wouldn’t think much of Van Buren, if you’d think anything at all about it. I’m sure it would repulse a good number of people, because it’s basically your stereotype of a small Southern town- but I liked it.
Oh, but God only knows how much I love Van Buren. I lived a few miles out of town in a house in the woods, and I often explored them and the rampant wilderness that consumed the whole County and Southern Missouri, most of the time with my dad. We would hike the whole day into a wild that had maybe seen a human but once. The people were grand, because everyone knew everyone and they were so friendly; you couldn’t drive home from school or work without seeing someone you knew. Many of them were real characters. There was a farmer whose last name was Casebeer, funny thing about him was, he really lived up to his namesake.
Then there was the river. You could call it the Pride of the Ozarks, but its real name was the Current River- It was beautiful, and truth be told I think there were even prettier rivers in the area. People think you have to search far and wide to find beauty- but you don’t, usually it’s pretty close.
As I said earlier, you probably wouldn’t think much of Van Buren. You’d think it a nice place for a brief visit, to float on the river maybe, but you’d smile at the thought of living there- but then again, maybe you’ll find then again, maybe you would. Because is not everything in this world a matter of perspective? I look at this place with fondness; you see a quaint Southern town. The world is subjective, that is what I believe.
With that said, the question remains- would I return to Van Buren?
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