In the Streets of Lonoke

As a child, my family lived in a small farm town east of Little Rock, Arkansas called Lonoke.  It was named for a famed landmark oak tree near the train tracks whose rails cut straight through the town. Lonoke’s main exports were rice, soybean, and fish.  I took pride in the fact that it was home to the largest minnow farm in the world; China being it’s biggest customer.  Although we think of minnows as being a form of bait, the Chinese use it as a food source.  In fact, there used to be a Chinese restaurant in downtown Norman that served it’s fried rice with whole minnows.  As I picked them out of the rice, I would wonder if they came from Anderson’s Minnow Farm in Lonoke.

Lonoke was a town of catfish fries in the park or in the street between my church, First Presbyterian, and the Methodist church.  They fried the fresh caught catfish and hush puppies in large drums filled with dangerously hot oil.  One time, Governor Bill Clinton attended a fish fry in the park just south of my house.  I’ll never forget the warmth and strength of his handshake.  There was something reassuring about it in my child’s mind.   I’ll also never forget that Hillary introduced herself as Mrs. Bill Clinton.  She had received criticism for going by Hillary Rodem in her early years of first ladyship in Arkansas.  I recall, a local journalist for the Lonoke Democrat scratching out shorthand for her brief interview with Bill.  You don’t see that very often anymore.

Many other wonderful things happened on my street, Center Street, which was the town’s main drag.  Every year, the homecoming parade crept passed my house.  We were the Lonoke Jackrabbits, and I always looked forward to the Easter Bunny-esque mascot who threw out candy along with the rest of the paraders, but there was something special about getting a Now N Later from the jackrabbit.  The most exciting part, though, was that any kid who wanted to and was old enough could ride his bike at the rear of the parade.  Then after the parade, my friends and I would search for hidden candy in the gutters.

I also recall a yearly fall hay ride through the streets.  However, this event was stained by the tragedy of one of the town’s boys getting crushed under the trailer.  There were many such tragedies in Lonoke.  A friend of mine’s little brother was sliced to bits by a combine.  A kid was killed on a three wheeler.  Countless others.

My street being the main drag, teens in Camaro’s, Trans Ams, and pickup trucks drove up and down it at night blaring music often with boosters to give it a kick. I would listen quietly at night from my bedroom and wonder if I would one day do the same.  I never did.  We moved to Norman in my 6th grade year.

A couple of winters, it snowed so much, that the snow plow piled a huge mountain of snow in the street in front of my house which my brother and I played on for a few weeks.  My dad also pulled us through snowy streets on a sled with our yellow Ford Fairmont station wagon.

This is not Lonoke, but it sure could’ve been.

As fall approaches my new hometown of Norman, I think about the signs of fall in my childhood hometown.  The first sign was a change in the atmospheric acoustics.  I would usually notice it for the first time when I heard the scream of a buzz saw somewhere in the neighborhood.  The sound would be more crisp, more pleasing.  This was a town of ancient oaks and pecan trees.  The leaves would turn colors in massive patches atop trees that may have been as old as the town itself.  And when they dropped their leaves, it was nearly unmanageable.  But we didn’t use bags or anything else to haul the leaves away.  And what we did do really brought the greatest sense of fall for me.  We burned our leaves.  The citizens of Lonoke burned leaves in the street in front of their houses, even on Center Street.  This wonderful fragrance expressed the heart of autumn for me.  I wasn’t supposed to mess with the leaves, but I often poked at the burning piles with a stick or threw acorns in them which would pop like a fire cracker if it burned well enough.

Now that I look back on it, this was a preposterously dangerous practice by today’s standards.  I say “today’s standards” because we are a culture obsessed with safety.  I don’t recall there being any problem with it back then.  I suspect the practice has been banned by nearly every state in the country.  Probably for the better.  But in that little town when I was a kid, the streets were friendly.  We celebrated our community in them.  And now in Oklahoma, I get a similar sense of fall when I smell the first fires lit in hearths of Norman, but it’s a really bad idea to throw acorns in your fireplace.

Other posts about Lonoke

The Church Where I Lived

Tree Dweller

School Cafeteria:  A Fond Remembrance

Salvation and Hot dogs 

Calligraphy and Head of the Class

The Other Side of Town

 

 

41 thoughts on “In the Streets of Lonoke

  1. Thanks for this. I’m 23, you seem older. You’re memories of Lonoke are even more pleasant than mine, just MORE of the same, really. It wasn’t that long ago, but thank you for taking me back!

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  2. Hi David,
    I so enjoyed reading this. I, too, was raised in Lonoke, but I was the daughter of a rice farmer. Fall was the time of harvest and getting to ride with my Dad on the combine. I remember passing up a butterscotch sundae my Mom had prepared for an after school surprise just to go ride the combine! Yeah, I loved it that much! My time frame was earlier than yours, ’51-’69. I went away to college, got married, had kids, but came back home (the farm) over the years until my Dad passed away in 1988. My Mom then moved to an apartment on Barnes Street in Lonoke. I still live in Arkansas but my “home” of Lonoke is two hours away. I miss it and hope to return to stay one day.

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  3. I love this. You lived next door to my grandmother, Miss Maude McCrary. I was about 7 yrs older than you and your brother, but I remember you and your family well. I remember my grandmother’s maid burning the trash behind your house. This would probably have been before you all added on to the manse, but I remember the smell. I only visited in the summer, but I love your memories!

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    • I used to go to Miss Maude’s house to eat cookies and ice cream. She was very kind. She also gave my mom a heads up the day Paul and I came home from the park covered in mud from the new tennis court they were building. Out of curiosity, how did you find this post? It has had a crazy about of hits since yesterday.

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      • Sorry, just saw this. Emma McCrary (a cousin) shared it on FB. Since she knows EVERYONE in Lonoke, and many beyond, it got viewed a lot. I shared it also and have several cousins on my FB page too, all with Lonoke connections. Bet you didn’t know Lonoke was so well known!! πŸ™‚ Is your dad retired now? My dad was also a Presbyterian minister. Susan

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  4. Lonoke was a nice place for me to spend time during the summers of my childhood with my grandmother, Lela McNew, and aunt,Lucille McNew. I was born in Little Rock; but, have lived all of my life in Ohio. I am older than you, however, your description of that small Arkansas town brings back a lot of memories for me. Most of my relatives are gone now except for my Watson cousins who are still residents of Lonoke.

    You asked someone how they found this post ….. well, it was posted by another person on Facebook.

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  5. I love this! These are the same EXACT things that make me miss Lonoke! I’m 31 now and moved away when I was 17 and I miss it greatly especially after reading your post! But Omaha is my new home and my children & hubbies home but it will NEVER hold a flame to Lonoke! Just too big and times have definitely changed! But I can tell you my Grandpa still burns his leaves! Lol And oh how I love that smell! The mosquito truck still drives through town and when we go home my 12 yr old just loves that she can ride her bike or walk all over town where as here she’s lucky to be able to go around the block! Lol Just too big and not as safe and we live in the suburbs of Omaha! Thank you so much for writing that wonderful piece!

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    • When I think of you, I think of Melton Motors versus Perry’s Powerhouse Little League Championship. I contend that we would have won if Cisco McClain hadn’t been out of town. Just sayin

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      • I don’t remember the score of the game, but I’m sure you’re wrong. 😜😜😜 Great to hear from you!! Tell your family I said, “hello”.

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  6. Thank you for this David, I grew up in Lonoke, lived out of town in Furlow. I remember leaves burning, burgers at the Dairy bar before the football games. I was there from 61 to 76. I live in north Arkansaa but still have many fond memories of my time in my home town

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  7. This was wonderful to read, and brought back so many wonderful memories of my childhood. I always loved the Homecoming Parade too. I remember working so hard on the float every year. And our class won the competition almost every year, maybe because our classmate’s Dad was the owner of Privett Lumber Company. And we got all the chicken wire and supplies we needed probably for free. I also remember being a Brownie and a Girl Scout, and we had our meetings in the Methodist and Presbyterian churches you mention. I can remember the rumor going around during the summer of my 8th grade year that the Old Middle School was getting air conditioning, and riding our bikes to the school every day to see for ourselves. Thank you for bringing back so many fun memories for me. I graduated from Lonoke in 1979.

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  8. I grew up in Lonoke in the early 60 and graduated in 1969 . The city park was the greatest hangout place in the world….we had an outstanding group of athletes and our skills were developed by playing every game imaginable at that park…

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  9. I’ve been in Lonoke for almost 52 yrs. Now. Been alot of good and bad memories in this town. Alot of good and bad changes over the years

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  10. I grew up on South Center Street just a couple of blocks south of the park. My mother, Jane Privitt, still lives there. I am class of LHS ’81. I moved away for college. I have many great memories similar to yours. I do not miss the mosquitos!

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  11. David-
    Thank you so much for writing this! I was born on the second floor in Dr Mitchell’s office by the railroad tracks. I remember my brother playing baseball at the park in the summers & how much fun it was to be there! I also remember the swimming pool in the summers & driving from the Dairy Bar – to the interstate- “cruising”. You knew everyone’s car & gas was less than 25 cents per gallon. My Dad was a cotton, rice, & soybean farmer & I can still remember the smell at the huge rice dryer & seeing all of the trucks lined up in the fall. What wonderful memories. Lonoke will always be my “home”!

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  12. My Grandma Mrs. Francis Evans ran the swimming pool uptown for a few summers. I was raised in Lonoke and never really moved very far away because all my moms family was and is still there. Coach Laura Park is my aunt. I went to school in Lonoke and now my two girls do too. I couldnt imagine living too far away. Lonoke is a lil town centered around community. It will always and forever be “home” to me!! “Heres to Lonoke, dear ole Lonoke, to the school we love the best…..” lol

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  13. I went to school in Lonoke during the late 60’s, early 70’s. I will never forget when our brothers and sisters from Carver joined us in the main school on Academy St. Up till that time I had never the term “racist” or segregation. Growing up in the bean fields of Furlow, we just didn’t have time for such things.

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  14. My parents moved me to lonoke (furlow) when I was 15. We moved from Wilson Oklahoma. I swore lonoke would never be home and that I would always be from ok. Well that was 20 years ago. And now lonoke is and always will be my home! I now live in Cabot but I miss the small town feel of lonoke!

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  15. My my what memories all the above. I graduated the class of 1961. I spent many nights at the Bar- R dairy bar and drag racing that quarter mile strip from the Lonoke fish hatchery in to town. Don’t forget the Lonoke county fair and parade first sign fall was in the air. Those tremendous ham sandwiches and sodas at Lyons drug store none better . Nothing compares to a Friday night jackrabbit football game . I now live in Hot Springs however, Lonoke will always be called home to me. I feel blessed to have grown up in this town

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  16. I think the beauty of Lonoke is the warmth of the people. I was privileged to have worked at the Middle School for 6 incredibly happy years and I miss so much about the place. Abiding memories for me are watching the insects descend from the stadium lights during the Friday night football games, the barbecue sandwiches from the Dairy Bar (bought in by the fantastic Mrs Muse the school librarian on Fridays), and the Thursday afternoon pep rallies. The only thing I don’t really miss, back here in my home nation of Wales, is the heat and humidity of the Lonoke summers.

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  17. What a great memory. I lived in Lonoke and went to school there from 1968-1972, I remember when Carver and Lonoke schools merged, I worked at the Rexall drug store my last two years there until I joined the Navy. I have lived in California, Florida and am now in Texas……but I will always call Lonoke my home……. Thanks for your article….

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  18. Very Nice story !!! I lived in Lonoke my entire life till I was 31 and moved to Clarksville ! I did try to move back a few years ago, but it wasn’t the same so settling in was very difficult ! How about Flynts Drive in North of Town . And all the amazing cheese dip from Bowden’s ! NU-way was where everyone bought their meet and where I charged my lunch and breakfast almost every day !!! My favorite memories are hearing the Rice Dryer run in the fall…. crop dusters run over head in the spring and The mosquito truck in the summer time !!! I lived a block over from the football field so hearing the home games called every Thursday and Friday night was a given !!! Thanks for sharing !!!

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