MY TWO best friends and I are headed almost as northeast as you can get without leaving the state of Arkansas—to Paragould, population 28,488. Before the three of us even get to the city limits, we see three signs that make us think the town’s going to be a blast: The Party Store Liquor Shop (exciting to this dry-county resident, at least), Cinderella’s Prom and Pageant (we better wrap things up before midnight) and Goobertown (what can I say? The name just makes me laugh).

For thousands of years, the number 3 has transcended cultures, subjects and even logic. In music, three-note chords are the building blocks of harmony. In physics, Sir Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion are fundamental. And many three-beat phrases have become seared in our collective consciousness: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” “I came, I saw, I conquered;” “Location, location, location.”

The location, location, location of Paragould also seems to be steeped in the mysterious rule of three. Three steakhouse names catch my eye—the Grecian Steakhouse, the Kimono Japanese Steakhouse and the Iron Horse Steakhouse and Barbecue. The Paragould PRIDE (the marching band made up of almost 200 high-schoolers who will be celebrating its eighty-third anniversary this year and has played before audiences as large as twenty-three thousand and travels across the region) have claimed the state championship for the third time. And we’re scheduled to stop by three audiologists so that my friend Amelia, a representative for technology that helps out people who are hard of hearing, can drop off some brochures about the services she has to offer.

 

And boy, do those audiologists know where to eat. Should we go to Avanzare, where Italian is on the menu? To Terry’s Cafe, to soak in the quaint downtown atmosphere? The three of us choose a third option, Kiss the Cook, where a black-bean vegetarian burger on a pretzel bun couldn’t be more inspiring to me if the three muses were singing about it in my ear.

While waiting for our food, we each pick a table of locals to ask what to do in the area. My table suggests Lake Frierson, “a hidden jewel out there.” My friend Monica’s table suggests the Greene County Museum, a reincarnation of the previously dilapidated home of former Arkansas Governor J. Marion Futrell. But Amelia hits the jackpot with table No. 3: the ladies there have an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Paragould, including the origin of the town name itself. In the 1870s, a community grew around the intersection of two important railways, one owned by James W. Paramore, the other by Jay Gould. The postmaster of the area combined the names of the two railroad magnates—possibly the only town in the entire world with this exact name—and Paragould was born. Unfortunately, Mr. Gould was displeased with his name being second, and he refused to continue to list the town on his schedule.

Maybe things would have been better had three names been involved.

By 12:30 p.m., there’s not a single empty table at Kiss the Cook. Our waitress delivers three desserts—a Hello Dolly, a slice of lemon Bundt cake and a piece of peanut-butter pie—and all three of us share all three of them. As far as Amelia and I are concerned, the peanut-butter pie wins hands down. Monica disagrees, but one of the great things about threes is that you can get to a simple two-thirds majority pretty darned easy. Sometimes you even reach a consensus, as happens when we decide where to head next: downtown.

Something Sweet is in the 200 block of Pruett Street, and I immediately agree with the shop’s philosophy: “A cupcake is happiness with icing on top.” On Fridays—which just so happens to be today—you can get a box of goodies for just $10, and I mean a BOX of goodies: two cupcakes, a plain brownie, an iced brownie and a cookie sandwich. Any day of the week, you can get a shot of icing for 75 cents and a free sample of fudge and a bananas-foster coffee. Now I’m not a coffee fan, but I think Monica might be trying to convert me. She buys one for us to share, and sure enough … it tastes like coffee. But the white-chocolate-orange cupcake Amelia shares with me—now, that’s a different story.

The three of us wander farther along Pruett, stopping by RockStylez (a boutique and hair salon), where purple-haired shopkeeper Jeri Baldwin sells both Grateful Dead T-shirts and sparkly Paragould Rams wares. She moved here from Atlanta when she was in the eighth grade, and while she was less than thrilled about the change back then, she’s got a different view of things now. “I look back, and I’m very glad my dad moved us here,” she says. “I think my brother and I would’ve got in a lot of trouble if we’d stayed in Atlanta. I’m thankful to have moved here and to be raising my own family here.” With her “Barefoot Warrior” sweatshirt, Jeri has an air of wisdom about her, and when she tells us to go three doors down to the Paisley Pineapple, we do as we’re told.

Amelia is immediately enamored with decorative pillows, handcrafted with lake views of Arkansas and the latitude and longitude coordinates of Paragould. Monica browses the jewelry, pointing out a chicken-shaped ring festooned with a floral pattern. I, on the third hand, am consumed with the men’s grooming products, which feature the “Best Damn Beard Oil,” “Bloody Knuckles Hand Repair Balm,” and a “Big Ass Brick of Soap (Leaf and Leather Scent).” All three of us agree, however, that the Paisley Pineapple of Paragould was certainly worth our time.

As we leave for the day, I have to admit I am left with three wishes. I wish the Collins Theatre, which opened in 1925 with a silent film featuring Gloria Swanson, was open so we could absorb all the history that building has to offer. I wish the Paragould Meteorite—the second largest meteorite ever recovered in North America—was still in Paragould (instead of at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville) so I could’ve seen it. And I wish I had more time with good friends to enjoy a great town.

Maybe that last one can still come true.


Good as Paragould

Finding all that glitters in northeast Arkansas

Collins Theatre

In its 94 years, the Collins (formerly the Capitol) has played host to countless screenings and stagings. But unlike so many of the theater’s peers, the community has kept the lights on, making it the go-to venue for everything from local theater productions to a monthly bluegrass showcase. (collinstheatre.com)

Crowley’s Ridge State Park

Named for the oft-dubbed “unusual geological formation” that rises above the Mississippi alluvial plain, the park has been a fixture of these parts since its dedication in 1937, (with sturdy log-and-stone Civilian Conservation Corps structures to prove it). (arkansasstateparks.com/parks/crowleys-ridge-state-park)

Kiss the Cook

We’re suckers for good sandwich names—say, a “Pixie Hammy Hot Double Whammy” or “The Ole Greg.” But reading about the creative fixin’s in said sandwiches (everything from pepper jelly to a dusting of powdered sugar), well, consider us sold. (kissthecookyum.com)

Lake Frierson

Although it might not have the name recognition of a Bull Shoals or a Ouachita, this 335-acre lake on the western edge of Crowley’s Ridge still boasts all the amenities of its lacustrine fellows, with bream, catfish and crappie aplenty. (arkansasstateparks.com/parks/lake-frierson-state-park)

Greene County Museum

“In 2004, the Greene County Museum was just a dream,” reads the museum’s website. In the years since, the former home of Gov. J. Marion Futrell has been brought back to life, with each room dedicated to a different aspect of the county’s history. (greenecountymuseum.com)