Copyright 1998
Sam Elmore

The Magnolia, Arkansas N. S. & W. Club


These days when people talk about ‘progress', and how far we have advanced over the past umpty-clutch years, they always cite the modern technology that made it possible for us to send people to the moon. I have no argument with that; for them smart folks who sent those astronauts into outer space...and brought ‘em BACK...I say: "atta boy!"..."atta girl!"

On the other hand, somebody a lot smarter'n me once said: "We can't never tell where we're going unless we recall where we come from." (Or something like that.) I learned real early that one should ‘dance with what brung ya'; so it's not easy for me to stray from the beaten path when it comes to modern technology.

I don't have a real good handle on the new-fangled "micro-chip" stuff they are selling these days; nor even the words they use to describe them. I mean, they've had to go and invent words to explain all the new inventions. You take a word like ‘modem', for instance. ‘Modem'---if that word was used back in my youth, it would be like: "Boy, you better go mow dem turn-rows like I told you."

I am reliably informed that a ‘modem' is a device they invented to hook up one computer to another, through the telephone lines. If a feller is smart enough, that same modem can hook up this computer of mine (that I'm pounding on now) to everybody else's computer....just using the telephone wire. But...before you go looking for your side-cutter pliars and a roll of black electric tape, be advised that there is one little catch to it.

Them old crank-type wall phones, like up there at Edderd's Jot-em-Down Store in Pine Ridge, Arkansas, won't hook up real good to your computer. Modern technology ain't got that far yet. On the other hand, if you still have one of them ‘crank-'er-up-and-holler' telephones, two longs and a short will get you hooked up to my big sister Bess, down there in Philadelphia community. (Come to think on it, it'll hook up with everybody that lives on Burnt Bridge road. They ain't all that partial to how many times it rings....they gonna listen in anyway.)

But, going along with what that feller said about knowing where we come from, I'd like to climb up on my stump for a little bit here. For certain, modern technology is working real good, and a heap of folks have got richer than ol' Croesus his-own-se'f off of it. But in my honest opinion, a valuable chunk of our heritage has been ‘thrown out with the baby's bath water', if you ask me. I am referring to the Magnolia, Arkansas, Nod, Spit & Whittle Club.

Ever since I can remember (and that's been longer than a good while) the N. S. & W. Club convened every Saturday on the town square, right there in the middle of down-town Magnolia, Arkansas; good weather or bad, made no difference a-tall. And there, the world's problems were sorted out, and discussed, and turned every whutch-a-ways...until every body who was a member of the N. S. & W. Club had a chance to be heard on the subject.

As a youngster, I learned right quick that the Magnolia N. S. & W. Club didn't have no young members of it. Naw sir. There weren't no ‘written rules' that I know of; everybody just seemed to know by heart whether or not they was old enough to belong. Them that didn't belong knew they didn't, so they just nodded when they was supposed to, and otherwise hushed a whole lot.

Some of the things I heard up there on the square have stuck with me all these years. It is no surprise that many of the same things spoken on the square are as valid today as they were when they was spoke back then. I'll give you a couple of examples of how them sayings got going in the first place.

One Saturday morning, Papa Abb (my father) walked past the square; he nodded, and all the N. S. & W. folks nodded back at him. After he'd gone a sufficient distance so he couldn't hear what was said behind his back, somebody spit, nodded, and said:

"Y'all see ‘at feller goin' ‘ere?"

Everybody nodded, spit, and kept whittlin'.

"Wa'al, I'll tell ye' one gol-durn thang....there ain't no body, no where, can make a crop like that man can."

Nods all around. More shavings and amber hit the dirt.

"He can plant corn in the middle of a concreek road and get 30 bushel a acre."

(Translation: Papa knew so well how to plant, tend, and harvest a crop, that he was always successful; no matter the season or weather conditions.)

Another feller came strolling past the square. He was the bank president's youngest boy, who had an ego bigger than one of Papa's Stone Mountain watermelons. Very few of the N. S. & W. members nodded as he went past, seeing as how the boy didn't do any nodding of his own. Even before he got out of hearing, one old-timer spit, nodded, and said:

"I'd sho like to buy that boy for what he's worth and sell him for what he thinks he's worth." (Translation: there ain't any needed.)

Everybody nodded and spit.. and kept whittlin'.

They used to hold fiddling contests up on the square, too, when I was a boy. The members of the N. S. & W. were in their element when that happened, because they had ‘dibs' on the same nail kegs they'd been settin' on for years. Every now and again, Papa Abb would play in them fiddling contests.

He'd hitch the mules to the wagon on a Saturday morning, and tell us boys to go get our guitars and mandolins, and to bring his fiddle. We'd ride to Magnolia in the back of the wagon, bare feet dangling off the back end...happy as a pack-rat with a new pair of saddlebags. Just about every fiddler who entered the contest brought their own family members to play ‘second'. Them that didn't have anybody to play second to their fiddle would borrow us boys.

We enjoyed playing second for them almost as much, or more, than playing behind Papa. He was a mite ‘dubious' about what was, and wasn't, exactly ‘right' about the way we played. The other fiddlers we seconded for…wa'al, they took what they could get, and didn't raise a whole lot of ruckus when we made mistakes.

The prizes in the fiddling contests were all furnished by the local merchants around the square. (I reckon that would be called a ‘advertising campaign' now-a-days.) Generally, the prizes consisted of things like a new hatchet from the hardware store, or a new pair of brogans from the shoe store, or a whole wheel of rat cheese from the M-System grocery...(things that everybody needed.)

A few members of the N. S. & W. Club were always picked to be the judges, and they selected who they thought was the best fiddler. One time that I remember well, after about four hours of the finest fiddling ever heard, the judges selected an old fellow in his 80's, from down on Horsehead Creek, as the best fiddler in that particular contest. Papa got second place, and won a new hatchet. The winner was presented with a---new fiddle. It was in a fancy black case an' everything, with a new bow, and a sizeable chunk of yeller rozum.

He had played his own fiddle in the contest; an old, well-used, fiddle. It had no brand name of any kind inside. That fiddle had been in the old man's family for Lord-knows-how-long; and there they was...holding out that shiny new Sears and Roebuck fiddle to him. He just stood there, looking askance at it...like it was a live rattlesnake or something. That ol' man had no more use for that new fiddle than he had for forty more acres of Jimson weeds.

My cousin, Ray Dodson, strolled past the square one Saturday morning, when he was just a yonker. He nodded sort of reverentually at the old-timers on the square. They all nodded back. One of them spoke up:

"That boy looks like he was whittled off-a Joe Dodson's butt with a dull Barlow."

(Translation: Ray was the spittin' image of Uncle Joe.)

Everyone nodded in agreement, spit, and went on a-whittling.

Another time, a man walked by the square and one of the old coots in the N. S. & W. Club was heard to say:

"I hear tell he hired him a feller to call his dawg fer ‘im."

(Translation: The man lied so much, even his own dog wouldn't come when he called it.)

Considerable spittin', noddin', and a few ‘sho' nuffs' were heard in response, as the shavings got deeper.

I don't have a single thing against modern technology. Heck, some of it is downright handy, even to me (if she don't buck.) But, I do regret the departure of the N. S. & W. Club from the square on Saturday mornings. Back then, society moved at a much slower pace. At this stage of my life, I need a slower pace, I guess.

Where do you reckon the Magnolia Nod, Spit, and Whittle folks have all gone off to? Well, it's sad to say...but they don't exist any more. They just gave up the ghost, when the Town Square went all modern. Shoot...'cept for when the annual Blossom Festival is going on, they don't even let you walk on the grass around on the square.

They went and tore down all the hitching rails; they haulede off all the watering troughs; they went and paved the whole square, and put in them two-headed parking meters all over the place. Even with the yeller lines they painted on the concreek, nobody can tell who's got the right-of-way, or which-a-ways they are supposed to turn.

It's no mystery why the members of the N. S. & W. club meandered off into the sunset; there weren't no place left to hunker down and whittle and spit and nod, or to conduct world-problem-solving meetings on a Saturday morning.

The last time I saw a fiddle played on the square, it was for some politician that had hired a ‘band' to draw a crowd, so he could get up ‘ere in front of everybody and tell his lies.

Even the fiddles are different, these days. The fiddle that long-haired boy (I think it was a boy) was playing, in the politician's band, had been ‘lectrofied; it had wires and things hanging off of it like spaghetti. When he drawed down on it with the bow, you could hear them weird-sounding, amplified, caterwauls all the way over in Smackover!

I do hope that a few of the wise old sayings by the members of the N. S. & W. club hang on through this modern technology era. I escially hope one saying comes true again during my lifetime:

"What goes over the back buckles under the belly." (Translation: What goes around comes around.)

I'll tell you how come I wish that...at my age, I just ‘know by heart' that I am full-qualified to be a member in good settin' of the Magnolia, Arkansas, Nod, Spit, and Whittle Club.

(Nods...p-tuuuui!...shavings pilin' up between my brogans.)