Fielder’s Choice

Exiting to Dyess, Ark.

My mother loved country music.

She listened to Conway Twitty and George Jones, her two favorites, no doubt.

We always had a turntable, even after we graduated to eight-track and then cassette tapes.

I could almost sing the words to “Hello Darlin’” and “It’s Only Make Believe” myself. Those were big Conway Twitty hits back in the day.

And then after listening to some Conway Twitty, the next album would likely feature the songs of George Jones – like “He Stopped Loving Her Today” or “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes.”

My family has some of my mother’s old albums. And yes, we have a turntable.

I still have a case of 45s, too, with some of those being the top country artists from the 1960s and 1970s.

I grew up listening to some Johnny Cash, too. He was one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 90 million records worldwide.

This past weekend, my wife Pam’s family, on her mother’s side, had a family reunion in Blytheville, Ark., where an aunt and two first cousins live.

Part of the reunion itinerary included a visit Saturday to Johnny Cash’s Boyhood Home.

To be honest, I looked forward to reuniting with family, many who I had not seen in years and even some I had not seen at all, but I was equally as excited to be making the stop in Dyess, Ark.

We exited I-55 North and took a two-lane, rural road until we saw a sign pointing to the tourist attraction and made the turn to Dyess.

The Dyess Colony was created in 1934 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to aid in the nation’s economic recovery from the Great Depression. As a federal agricultural resettlement community, it provided a fresh start for nearly 500 impoverished Arkansas farm families, including the family of music legend Johnny Cash.

The colony, thanks in large part to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, has been resurrected through the restoration of several historic buildings now open to visitors.

We first stopped at the visitors center, watched a brief orientation video, toured the exhibits in the adjoining museum and then visited Johnny Cash’s Boyhood Home.

Ray and Carrie Cash moved their family to the Dyess Colony on March 24, 1935. They lived in a five-room house built with wood from the site. In addition to the house, the property included a barn, a chicken coop, a smokehouse, and an outhouse. After the Cash family sold its farmstead in 1953, the property changed owners several times until the Stegall family purchased it in 1974. By the time ASU bought it in 2011, the house had been on the list of Arkansas’s most endangered historic places for five years.

The restored home, which opened to the public in 2014, is located a couple of miles from the visitors center on a gravel road. It is furnished as it appeared when the Cash family lived there, based on family memories.

Pam doesn’t care for my singing. But as I left, I just had to sing a few lines, from memory, of “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring Of Fire.”

I’m glad my mother introduced me to country music.

Holly Springs South Reporter

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