Once upon a time, living far from my native Ozarks and feeling homesick, I found a book about Missouri in the local library. Sadly, I can’t remember either the name of the book or its author, but one sentence in that book jumped out and pounced right into the middle of my imagination. It was verification of a fact I had always known but hadn’t yet put into words.
“Missouri is spooky.”
Spooky. The original meaning of the word involves ghosts, of course, but as anybody who lives and imagines there knows, Missouri’s spookiness is much more than ghosts–especially in the rural Ozarks. I grew up in the northern fringes of the hills, left to go to college in Oklahoma when I was eighteen, and have never lived there since. The Ozarks, however, never left me. Those ancient hills and secluded “hollers” are ghostly, eerie, weird, uncanny, fantastic–and beautiful. To this day, my personality and everything I write is influenced by them, and they feel like home in a way no other place on this earth does.
What creates that spookiness? Do people who weren’t born there feel it? Do people born there within the last thirty years feel it? I recently asked several non-natives what came first to their minds when they heard the word, Ozarks. Mountains and scenery were the top two answers. Hillbillies ranked third. Only one person mentioned Branson. One person said, “Bugs–big bugs!” But nobody mentioned spooky, or any of its synonyms.
When some of my ancestors left Scotland and Ireland and made their way into the Missouri Ozarks, they brought little with them but sweet music, ancient tales, and fine imaginations. Those three staples–especially the imagination–took deep root in the thin, rocky Ozarks soil and flourished among the homey hills. Is their legacy fading now in the harsh light and homogenizing influence of invasive technology and a highly mobile society?
What do you think? I would love to hear your opinions!