ON MY FIRST trip to Hope, the boyhood home of Bill Clinton, I was so focused on eats that I neglected to really ruminate on the quote attributed to Joe Purvis, a contemporary of the former president: “Hope is the cradle of civilization.” But who could blame me? I was so busy consuming mind-blowing cracklins from Terry Powell’s Grocery, and skin-on potato salad at Tailgaters, and rack of lamb and Cornish hen and creme brulee from Dannie’s Cafe that I couldn’t possibly concentrate on the bigger picture (although, it could be argued, who would want to?). Three years later, however, it occurred to me that perhaps I could get my brain out of my belly long enough to really contemplate Purvis’ proposition—could Hope be the cradle of civilization? The definition of which, as the dictionary tells us, is “the society, culture and way of life for a particular area.”

A Guide to Expanding Your Southwestern Arkansas Vocab

so·ci·e·ty /sə’sīədē/

noun. A community of people having a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular place.

Is there anyone in the state who still isn’t familiar with the Watermelon Festival? I hope not. For 43 years now, the town has sectioned off the second Sunday of August to celebrate that most gorgeous of green gourds for which they are famous. This year, on Aug. 8-10, head on down to Hope for the festivity that has more events than the number of seeds in Lloyd Bright’s world-record-setting watermelon from 1985 (all 268.8 pounds of it). With arts and crafts, food vendors, a pageant, a 5K race, a dog show, a car show, the Watermelon Idol competition and the Watermelon Olympics (is that where the seed-spitting and politically correct watermelon-eating come in?), past Watermelon Festivals have hit the spot and then some. And this year, on Aug. 10, Grand Ole Opry member and Grammy Award-winner Diamond Rio will give a concert on the CMC Stage inside Hope Fair Park. Now that’s a society we’d like to be part of.


cul·ture /’kəlCHər/

noun. The customs, arts and social institutions of a particular people.

There is no more central location of culture in Hope than Hempstead Hall, a 65,000-square-foot event space, conference center and concert venue on the campus of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope. Hosting everything from church events to retirement celebrations to big-name concerts (the Gatlin Brothers or BJ Thomas ring any bells?), Hempstead Hall is a true cradle of civilization within the cradle of civilization. With the Watermelon Festival on tap, the facility will be pretty quiet in August, but watch out come September: With reduced-price movie tickets of only $4 each, you can go see The Secret Life of Pets 2 (which finished first in the box office on its opening weekend) on Sept. 8, or A Dog’s Purpose (based on the No. 1 New York Times book by W. Bruce Cameron) on Sept. 27. My personal favorite, though, is The Second City Dinner and Improv show, to be held Sept. 23. With tickets for Chicago’s legendary improv and sketch comedy show (which has funneled many performers directly to Saturday Night Live) going for just $4, there’s no way I won’t be moving heaven and earth to attend the show.

way of life /’wā əv ‘līf/

phrase. The typical pattern of behavior of a person or group.

Just a few minutes from downtown Hope sits Historic Washington State Park, a pit stop of famous American icons James Bowie, Sam Houston and Davy Crockett. Serving as the Confederate capital of Arkansas from 1863-1865, Washington is a step back in time, where folks can experience a day like the original pioneers, wandering from the Blacksmith Shop to Williams Tavern Restaurant to the 1836 courthouse to the biggest magnolia tree (my personal favorite) in the entire state! Saturdays in August are really hoppin’, with a Master Gardener offering a gardening basics class from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 3, and Music in the Park on the lawn of the 1874 Courthouse from 7:30-9 p.m. Aug. 17. Bring your covered wagon—or a comfy lawn chair—for a night of live music enjoyment, with tunes from long (and not-so-long) ago. Ain’t no better way of living than that. Hope to see you there. 

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