I HAVE ANXIOUSLY looked forward to my Saturday escape to Clarksville; my husband, Dave, has been getting on my last nerve all week. After 22 years of marriage, sometimes all I can see are the dirty clothes on the floor and unwashed dishes in the sink and those stupid water spots dotting the bathroom mirror after he shaves. When I have time to see those things, that is, between shuttling my daughter to dance and reminding my son to feed the dogs and asking my 14-year-old what’s so important about Instagram.
So I do what any sound-minded woman in my position would do: I invite my husband, Dave, to come with me.
I know it’s counterintuitive, but that song “Last Train to Clarksville” by the Monkees? Well, one of my very first dates with Dave was to see the stage version of The Brady Bunch, and Davy Jones, lead Monkee extraordinaire, was in it. So clearly—CLEARLY—the fact that my trip is to Clarksville is a sign from the universe to leave the children at their nana’s and reconnect with the one who won my heart a quarter of a century ago.
The stores along Rogers Street are a varied and well-named lot. I see Pioneer LED Signz, Island Cowgirl Boutique and Super Donuts (the most desirable destination in any town, as far as I’m concerned). We dead end on Main Street, and we face a choice.
“Right or left?” Dave asks, ever the consummate chauffeur.
Since the University of the Ozarks is to the left, and I’m looking for downtown, I choose right.
I choose poorly.
Main Street to the right leads us right out of town. At first I wonder if all is lost, and then I see the sign for Needy Paws Animal Shelter.
“We’re not taking anything home,” Dave says, referring to the menagerie we already have at home. “I don’t care if it’s a schnauzer or a goldendoodle. Unless they trade.”
“For kids?” I respond.
He is not amused.
We pull into the parking lot of Needy Paws, and as soon as we enter the doors my husband strides to the animals, spreads his arms wide and pets cats in two different cages simultaneously.
“We’re not taking anything home,” I say, recalling something somebody told me recently.
I feel smug in my proclamation, my own putting down of the foot. But not three minutes later, we’re standing on the sidewalk with Elliott, a mastiff mix who comes up to my armpits. We’ve “checked him out” for a walk, just as the sign in the lobby suggested.
The trail near the shelter is not long. While we walk less than two blocks, my husband tries to teach Elliott to sit. In a five-minute walk! Elliott sits spread eagle in the middle of the trail. He leans up against my husband’s legs. He drools copiously. And I laugh. My husband is optimistic at best. And at this moment, he is truly his best.
We return Elliott, and Shelbey, the worker at the front desk, gives us a mock sad look. “I’m sorry this was your first stop in Clarksville. It’ll be your highlight! It’s all downhill from here.”
We thank her for her time and head back down Main Street. This time, we successfully find downtown. As we cross the bridge over picturesque Spadra Creek and its accompanying nature trail, red brick buildings pop up on both sides of the road, and a charming town square materializes, complete with a historic courthouse built in the Italian Classical Revival style. There are just too many things for me to see properly while in a moving car.
“We gotta stop!” I holler, causing Dave to veer to the nearest parking spot. “You’ve got your wallet, right?” I ask as we meet on the sidewalk.
He is slightly amused.
Sitting in the wide windows of the nearest store are a pair of black motorcycle boots with gray stars on them. I love stars. I have stars tattooed around my ankle. Even Dave likes the boots (and he is notoriously picky about shoes), so we go into the store: La Herradura.
The smell of leather is so rich it’s intoxicating. I want to walk back out just so I can walk in again. Dave looks at the motorcycle boots, and I stand agog at everything else on display: cowboy hats and bejeweled jeans and the most intricately carved saddles I’ve ever seen.
“They’re for charrería,” Mike the salesman tells me.
“What’s charrería?” I ask.
“It’s a Mexican rodeo,” my husband interjects. “But it’s more to show the control of the horses.”
“And how do you know this?” I ask.
“I don’t know.” My husband always has the most random information stored in his head. It’s one of the reasons that, over the years, I have come to call him Mr. Science.
We continue our sojourn, passing through paisley pearl-button shirts and woven baja jackets and dresses you could spot on any episode of Toddlers & Tiaras. But it’s the cowboy boots we circle back around to that astound me.
“Look,” Dave says. “Exotic skin boots.”
Dave identifies ostrich and crocodile and shark, then comes across a leather he doesn’t recognize.
“It’s paracuru,” Mike informs us.
“Oh!” My husband smiles. “A Brazilian fish.”
He’s right again. And then Mike shows us manta ray and armadillo boots, completing the safari.
Just down the road is The Painted Canvas, a little shop where people can paint for fun. “Blessed are the curious,” Dave reads on one canvas displayed in the window. “For they have adventures.”
I read the sign next to it. “You are my greatest adventure.”
We hold hands as we cross the street. Just a block away is an unassuming little brick building with green awnings. It houses Fox & Fork, the cutest Beatles-adorned restaurant you’ll find this side of the Mississippi. Hyperbole, maybe, but who else has John, Paul, George and Ringo on the facade of their building?
Dave and I order the bread-and-butter plate, with a side of goat cheese with honey. They have locally brewed Prestonrose beer on tap, and it’s delicious. “What are you gonna get?” I ask.
“Depends upon what’s after,” Dave replies with a mischievous grin. “Dinner with dessert in mind.”
He orders a plate of poutine, and I order a caprese sandwich. We drink the shared beer, eat the heavenly goat cheese (I’d bathe in it if they let me) and stuff ourselves so full we don’t even have room for dessert, even though Loblolly ice cream and French pot du chocolat are on offer.
We head back toward our car, passing the post office on the way. We’d been told that there was some interesting Works Progress Administration art there. In Paris, Arkansas, where my grandparents lived, the WPA art at the post office stretched from wall to wall, a full 13 feet wide. It was a beaut to behold. When Dave and I peek in at the Clarksville post office, though, the painting—while beautiful—seems a bit … petite. Now, I might have just remembered the Paris one to be significantly bigger; most of my trips to my grandparents’ did happen when I was a child. But I find myself laughing at how the reality of this experience didn’t quite live up to my expectation of it, and my husband laughs with me, my amusement infectious. We’re both finally amused at the same moment, even if it’s for different reasons.
Just four hours in, we have to head home. Time to go back to being parents and teachers and dish-dirtiers.
But at least we’ll always have Clarksville.
WHAT A PEACH
Living the sweet life in this cutie-pie town
Spadra Creek Nature Trail
This 3-mile loop trail that runs on either side of scenic Spadra Creek meanders through forest, next to pastures, over an iron bridge, up to campus and along a stretch of downtown—basically, a highlight reel of all Clarksville has to offer. (Multiple access points; clarksvillear.gov)
Fox & Fork
Live music, pork rillettes, rosemary poutine and roasted red snapper make for an unexpected—but very welcome—surprise of a small-town eatery. (117 S. College Ave.; facebook.com/robsfoxandfork)
Oark Burger Co.
It might be in a gas station, but this ain’t gas-station fare: half-pound burgers, hand-cut fries, the juiciest chicken sandwiches and, like, so many pies. A must stop for burger aficionados. (1100 E. Main St.)
Cox Berry Farm
From its perch on Red Lick Mountain, this pick-your-own operation cultivates juicy strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and those Johnson County peaches. (1081 Arkansas 818; coxberryfarm.com)
Arkansas Wine Country
In Clarksville, you’re within easy sipping distance to the Arkansas Wine Trail. Our rec? Chateau aux Arc, where vintner Audrey House offers tastings atop St. Mary’s Mountain. (8045 Champagne Drive, Altus; chateauauxarc.com)