My first introduction to the Ozark’s beautiful hills, valleys, lakes, and streams came when Sgt Lavern Parker and I rented a fishing cabin on Table Rock Lake, near Branson, Missouri. My dad, Pat Carney, accompanied us for the weekend. The cabin came with a warmth that was enhanced by rocking chairs and an old oak table on a screened-in front porch.
On the first night, as daylight was beginning to fade, we saw a bonfire coming to life a ways up the shoreline. The fire was being built by a group of young people who we met earlier in the day. That fire and the strumming of guitars drew us as surely as the sunset. When we got there the guitar players were playing folk songs.
Folk music was a part of my ’60s generation, and that night I was able to pass along the good feelings that folk music brought to me when I was a young man. Songs by The Kingston Trio; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Pete Seeger gave us the hope that peace would come to a decade, filled with riots and war.
Back in 60’s this kind of gathering would have been called a Hootenanny. Thinking about that word while listening to the songs being sung, made me smile. It felt good to be passing along my folk songs to a dozen or more people who were sitting by that fire..
The next night we took my dad to see the Baldknobbers performing in Branson. On the way back to the cabin, guided by chance, we stopped at a small diner. That diner happened to be where many talented people went after playing in their own Branson show.
A man came in with a guitar slung across his back. Before long he started picking out tunes. When he started picking and singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Road”, the diner came alive. Everyone started to sing along. The country hits kept coming and the people kept singing.
We had all come to Branson to find a connection to our country roots. We had found that link singing country songs, with people we did not know. That is as country as you will find.
Back at the cabin dad went to bed. Sarge and I sat on the front porch in rocking chairs. We sat staring out into a beautifully moonlit night and talking. We determined the Missouri Ozarks was a place where spontaneity rules. This weekend was proof positive, with the strumming of a guitar we had made many strangers, our new best friend.
Mel was raised on his family farm in southern Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live in Shawnee, KS. Their three children and six grandchildren all live in the Kansas City area. Mel’s BA in communications from Notre Dame College and his master’s in marketing from Webster University, helped him have a long and successful sales career.
While traveling the country selling his products, he wrote. Writing brought joy to his life. He was able to tell stories that took him back to a time when he rode a white stallion with Roy and Gene, solved the mystery of The House on the Cliff with the Hardy boys, and trailed west with mountain men in Zane Grey novels.
From the wellspring of his memory, he tells of hitching across the country, taking a swig from a truck driver’s vodka bottle as they wheeled down a tiny west Texas highway, eating hot beignets with friends at Café Du Monde, sharing cheese and sourdough bread with tourists in a Sausalito park, and in backwater San Francisco bar, talking long into the night with a new-found friend.
His published pieces includes:
Command at Dawn: The Novel takes his readers through months of training for combat and gives them a taste of combat in the jungles of South Vietnam. Deeds Publishing. www.commandatdawn.com
Tomorrow’s Road Home: A collection of stories telling about growing up on an Iowa farm in the 40’s and 50’s
On Wings of Imagination: Sales prose and poetry written while traveling across the country to sell his wares.
Our Iowa magazine has published several of Mel’s stories.
Mel is currently working on a new book “Just Past the End of the Carpet.” The book relates stories about 48 years of selling to people who worked for a living.