At an establishment in Greene County recently I stumbled into a conversation between two workers as I approached the checkout counter.

She was saying something about white beans and ham, and he was shaking his head in disbelief.

“We’re talking about how different Southern cooking is from Northern cooking,” the woman told me.

“It certainly is!” I said.

Then I shared my girlfriend Kathy’s story with them. She’s from Arkansas, and is doing security work for different General Motors plants in Michigan, but from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti, she just hasn’t been able to find an acceptable serving of biscuits and gravy – not in Detroit, not in Grand Rapids, not in Lansing – nowhere!

Those poor Michiganders. It’s not that they don’t have biscuits, or gravy, but she hasn’t been able to find anyone who does it right. It’s not the buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy like we do down here.

The fella working with the woman in the store I mentioned earlier then shared his own horror story with me about the time he tried to seek out biscuits and gravy while in Chicago – I nearly fainted.

Speaking of food, Kathy said some guys at one of the GM plants held up a piece of cardboard with a word they had written on it, and asked her if she could read it. She said she could. They asked her to read it out loud, so she did: “Grits!”

The guys fell out laughing. Apparently they not only wanted to hear the word spoken with an authentic Arkansas accent, but they were anxious to find out how many syllables she would use to pronounce it.

Kathy has met folks living and working up there from Arkansas, however, and she’s posted some pictures on social media of truckers that have come through GM plant gates wearing Razorback caps. There was one from Little Rock, one from Hot Springs, Marked Tree, and one just the other day from Jonesboro.

Several others she’s met not from Arkansas have been very familiar with our state, including a guy from Africa, and another one from Romania, who especially knew about Mississippi County because he made a special trip to Dyess Colony to see where Johnny Cash was raised. He’s a big Johnny Cash fan, that guy from Romania.

“You can go all over the world, but you’ll never be far from Arkansas,” Kathy said.

It’s a shame we can’t say the same about Southern cooking.

By the way, anyone wanting to help update Arkansas’ image to the rest of the world can still donate to the state’s National Statuary Hall project. The statues of attorney Uriah Rose and former Arkansas Gov. and Sen. James P. Clarke in the U.S. Capitol will be replaced with statues of civil rights leader Daisy Bates and music icon Johnny Cash.

Last November, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that the state was halfway to its $1 million fundraising goal to replace its statues in Washington D.C. Artists for the statues were picked in June of this year. To donate either as an individual, or as part of a group project, go to the website https://arkansasheritagefoundation.org/donate/.

Hutchinson has said his goal is to have both of the statues in place before he finishes his term as governor in January 2023.

Shane Broadway, chairman of the state’s National Statuary Hall Steering Committee, said: “Millions of visitors from all around the world will now see and hear the Arkansas story of Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash, and how their lives, their actions, and words impacted people around the world, as well as their home state.”

Daisy Bates (1913-1999) was originally from Union County, Arkansas and later lived in Little Rock. She was a mentor to the Little Rock Nine, the African American students who integrated Central High School in 1957, and she and her husband, Lucious Bates, published the Arkansas State Press newspaper, which dealt primarily with civil rights issues.

Johnny Cash (1932 –2003) was born in Cleveland County, Arkansas and raised in Mississippi County. He was a singer, songwriter, musician, actor, and author who is in the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame. He also was an advocate for prison reform, Native Americans, and other social justice and political causes.

Steve Gillespie is an editor with Paxton Media Group. Email him at News@newportindependent.com.

Steve Gillespie is an editor with Paxton Media Group. Email him at News@newportindependent.com.

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