By Dr. Curtis Varnell
Cows were bellowing, chickens clucking, and coon hounds baying mixed with the sounds of salesman hawking their wares up and down the many rows of vendors. Sweat smell of onions and frying hamburgers wafted across the grounds. Hundreds of people milled around, looking at the mixed wares brought to the flea market for sale. You could buy anything from a ballerina suit to a sawed off shotgun from the many individuals lined up along avenues marked off in the sandy barn lot.
Old men sat out in front of the restaurant, exchanging tall tales while spitting chewing tobacco and whittling. Farm trailers carrying cattle, horses, goats, and poultry weaved through the crowds of people as they made their way to the animal holding yards where they would be auctioned off later in the day. Under the few sparse trees, men stood talking while a farrier shod their horses or tried to sale them harness. Todd Patterson meandered through the crowd, carrying his portable speaker, keeping up a constant banter while auctioning and selling goods at the many mini-markets.
Just a typical Wednesday at the County Line sale barn. As far back as I can remember, the Patterson brother’s sale barn was the mid-week meeting place for people throughout the Arkansas River Valley and beyond. A typical week would find cars parked for miles along highway 22 and its side roads. If you arrived late, which might mean any time after 6 AM, you could either walk a long distance or pay a dollar for a parking place. A cultural event, mornings were taken up by a huge flea market, an exotic animal sale, a gossip center and, best of all, a center for country music. My parents and I loved to get there early and go to the sale area to listen to music that connected us to our roots. People came down out of the mountains and valleys carrying mandolins, banjo, guitars, and fiddles and joined in impromptu groups to sing songs handed down for generations.
On a typical day, you could hear everything from I’ll Fly Away to Watermelon Wine sang from voices ranging from professional to bathtub only quality. We would clap our hands, pat our feet, and sing along. If we had the money, we would wonder into the restaurant and try out some of the delicious hamburgers and food prepared by Mrs. Patterson. In the afternoons, the same sale floor would feature Todd Patterson and others auctioning off every type of livestock known to man.
You never knew what to expect next at the sale barn. Once a goat got loose and circled through the crowd, upsetting tables, chasing kids, and frantically looking for greener pastures. On another occasion, someone forgot their medication and performed a rendition of The Streak, pulling clothes off as they ran up and down and through the flea marker.
In recent years, a school bus pulled into the parking lot and unloaded dozens of kids. I wandered over to talk with the teacher and ask about their visit. “I wanted my kids to see rural America, to hear and see common hard-working people talking and living; to allow them to see culture and a way of life that is disappearing way to rapidly,” she stated.
The Patterson brothers are gone, the singing is now more professional and done at night, but the flea market and the sale barn restaurant and livestock sale still continue the traditions every Wednesday at County Line Sale barn.