NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I lived in the Ozarks, on a little ranch that covered a good portion of a not very tall mountain about 15 miles south of a town called Yellville, Arkansas, population roughly 1200.
We’d gone to Arkansas because Harry Thomason, with whom I’d worked on the series The Fall Guy back in the ’80s had always insisted “Arkansas is the most beautiful state in the union. It’s the perfect place to retire.”
Another thing he’d insisted back then was that his best friend and at the time the governor of Arkansas, a guy named Bill Clinton, “is going to be President someday, you’ll see.”
Harry had proved right about the President bit, so when the Brodys decided to escape from showbiz we checked out Arkansas and he seemed right about that as well. It definitely was a beautiful state. Especially north central Arkansas, up near the Missouri border.
We bought the property, and with the help of Harry and the Bill Clinton connection we opened Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts, a TV and film-making “colony” where new talent could live and work with experienced pros on equipment that at the time wasn’t readily available to noobs and learn how to create their own productions by actually creating them there on the premises.
When we got to Cloud Creek we thought we knew, and were prepared for, the challenges that lay ahead. Of course, we didn’t really know, and definitely weren’t prepared for what really happened. But, hey, isn’t that what makes life the grand adventure it so often is?
During our years in the Ozarks, I wrote a newspaper column for The Baxter Bulletin, the biggest paper in the area and enjoyed the experience more than I did just about any other writing gig I’ve ever had.
A couple of days ago, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I received a public communication from a former agent of mine in which he asked if I was still living in what he called “Bumfuck, Arkansas,” and I realized that it was attitudes like his that had contributed greatly to making me want to leave L.A. in the first place.
I also realized that I hadn’t been thinking much about Cloud Creek for awhile, so I revisited some of the old columns and – I can’t lie – enjoyed them.
Here’s the first of them, written shortly after we arrived. If enough of us agree that there’s nothing inherently Bumfuck about life that’s just about as far from the big city as it can get, I’ll probably post more.
By Larry Brody
My wife Gwen the Beautiful and I (and our three dogs and three cats) had been on our mountaintop ranch for a couple of weeks when the stragglers in our family arrived—our Appaloosa “brother,” Huck and his mustang mare, Elaine.
We hadn’t exactly had room for them in our pickup, so they’d made the 1700 mile trip from Southern California in the company of a husband and wife team of professional horse transporters. Huck announced his presence with a sound-barrier breaking whinny, and I led him into the corral we’d built. Elaine refused to be separated from her guy, so she came along after him, free and unattended—as a mustang should be.
Gwen paid the transporters, and I stood with Huck nibbling on my chin and watched their big Dooley truck and 4-horse trailer pull away. Make that “try to pull away.” They’d stopped halfway up what I call the rocky driveway and were stuck in our Ozark mud. After an hour of wheel spinning and me getting nowhere trying to pull ‘em out with my two-wheel drive truck, I knew I had to come up with a better plan.
The way I saw it, this was as good a time as any to meet the neighbors. I edged past the transporters and made my way down the road. It was sunset, and I was looking for lights I could see through the trees. I never saw any.
But I did see Willie Horn.
I found big, sweaty, muscle-shirted Willie Horn on his tractor, heading from his field to his house. Calling out over the noise, I explained my problem. Willie Horn didn’t hesitate, except to say, “Where do you live?” I’d already learned the difference between addresses and directions, so I told him how to get there. “See you in a few minutes,” he said.
Sure enough, fifteen minutes later he pulled up in an old, rusted-out, 4-wheel drive truck. Wordlessly, he drove up to the top of the hill. Backed up to the Dooley. Set up a rusty chain—
And hauled the truck and trailer up to our clearing without a problem. As the horse transporters made the turn-around and vanished down to the road, Willie Horn got out of his truck and thrust a meaty hand out at me. “Willie Horn. Don’t ever call me William. Or Bill. Or Mr. Horn. I’m Willie Horn.”
“Thanks for coming by, Willie Horn.” I shook Willie Horn’s hand. He had a grip that could crush Ozark rocks. Willie Horn shrugged. “Gotta do the right thing. Always wondered what it was like up here,” he said. Nobody ever invited me before.”
“Hey, you’re invited now. Come and hang any time.”
Willie Horn smiled. “I’ll do that. Gotta do my hangin’ while I can. Got cancer, you know.” He gestured under each arm. “Lymph glands. Doctors give me—maybe—one or two years more. Need to make sure the family’s taken care of by the time I say good-bye.”
After Willie Horn left. I didn’t see him again for a couple of years. Worried he was dead. But not long ago there I was on the feed store loading dock, and about three feet away stood this familiar looking bulk. The bulk and I looked at each other more closely.
“I know you,” we both said at once. And, also simultaneously: “Willie Horn!”
We shook hands. Our gazes went to the vehicles at the end of the dock. Two new pickups. Again we spoke as one: “You got a new truck!”
Willie Horn let me answer first. “The old one almost slid into the pond one day last year, so I got myself a 4-wheel drive.”
“Sold my old one to my wife’s son,” Willie Horn said. “This one’s got 4-wheel on-the-fly.”
“Come up to my place and hang some time, Willie Horn,” I said.
“I’ll do that” he said, “Gotta do my hangin’ while I can.”
The loaders had finished tossing sacks into both our trucks. With a sweaty wave, Willie Horn jumped down from the dock, got inside and drove away.
The first time the two of us shook hands, the pain lasted for two days. This time it was gone after one. I‘d like to hang with Willie Horn. But I know he won’t come by. He’s busy making sure his family’s taken care of.
Busy doin’ the right thing.