Sunday, April 1, 2012

If It Weren’t for Bad Luck

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Our trip to the Ozarks in the spring of 2008 was one for the record books, especially one particular day driving through the mountains.

We always have to plan stops for gas carefully when we’re in rural country, and that day we didn’t. The Ozarks have a lot of very rural country and towns that looked big enough on the map to host at least one gas station often did not. As we bumped along the remote mountain roads that day, the next town on the map was the town of Oark and we were counting on a gas station there.

The car had long ago dinged its warning that the gas was almost gone, and we were holding our breath and coasting when we could. As you can probably guess, we didn’t make it. As the car sputtered to a stop, we wondered what to do. We were so far out in the country there was no cell phone coverage. We have AAA, but without a way to call, what chance is there that they will deliver gas? After sitting for a few minutes, Joann decided that I should stay with the car and she would hike to town and hopefully buy a gas can and some gas.

I watched as she walked down the road, and as she got father away, I continued to watch with my binoculars. When she was just about to turn a corner and be out of sight, an old pickup truck went past. As they passed, I looked inside and all I could think of was “hatchet murderers.” As they neared Joann, I saw them pull over, and then I watched in my binoculars as they slid over and she climbed in.

Now what? I was worried, but luckily the pickup truck soon returned with Joann and some gas. The guys were friendly, and they had a gas can with them, which is a good choice for anyone who drives in the mountains. Joann didn’t have to buy a gas can and we didn’t have to find a way to carry one in our always overloaded car. Thankfully, we now had enough gas to make it to Oark.

The “town” of Oark is an old general store. No houses, no other buildings, just an old general store and two gas pumps, which were so dated that they couldn’t support the current prices. A big sign on the pumps warned that you owed twice what was displayed on the pump. Obviously you couldn’t “pay at the pump” so, after filling the tank as full as we could get it, we went inside to check out the store and to pay for our gas.

We chatted with the two women working at the store, and when they asked where we were headed, I told them we were going to visit an old mill. The older of the two told us that she doesn’t drive the dirt roads and she wouldn’t suggest it to anyone. She only took the “blacktop” road to wherever she was going. There was no blacktop road that would take us to the mill I was trying to get to, so we debated if we should take their suggestion and drive the better of the dirt roads, or chance it and take the road we had originally planned to take.

We decided that, since they both suggested we not take the road I was planning, we wouldn’t chance it, and turned onto the dirt road that they said was better. Driving down the road, we crossed over a small river. As we always do when crossing a bridge, we both glanced down the river. Hmmm, there might be photo opportunities here.

Joann pulled over and soon there were butterflies all around the low water bridge. Joann got out her equipment and started to photograph. I watched her and the butterflies for some time, and then, seeing that we were going to be there for a while, I headed back to the car to check the butterfly book. I also needed to figure out where this unplanned road would take us and what we might see along the way.

Occasionally I glanced in the mirror to see Joann moving around, still photographing butterflies. And then I looked up and she was gone.

NOW WHAT? I got out of the car and went back to the bridge. The butterflies were gone, and there was no sign of Joann or her camera. I called her name – no answer. I looked both ways down the river and didn’t see her. I walked up and down the road looking for a trail into the woods and didn’t see anything. Where was she? Then I spotted her camera lying at the edge of the road inches from the water. I picked it up and continued to look around. I couldn’t see any sign of her.

There was no cell phone coverage since we were now well off the blacktop road and in even more rural country. We hadn’t seen a car the whole time we were on this road. I wondered what to do. Should I leave and go back to the general store for help? I got in the car and checked the map. I could follow the road along the river and see if I could find her.

I opened the windows on the driver’s side of the car and started slowly driving along the river, calling as I drove. About half a mile down the road, there she was, clinging to a small tree on the side of the river. She looked like a drowned rat, but she was laughing and seemed unhurt.

I was relieved and I couldn’t wait to hear what had happened. She told me that she had followed a beautiful Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly down along the river hoping it would land. When it landed on a rock in the river, she thought that would make a really cool picture. So she stepped on one rock and leaned over the rock with the butterfly on it. But the rock was slippery and she fell into the river. Fortunately, her camera landed on the bank. Unfortunately, though, the river was moving swiftly and she was carried down the river until she could get herself to the bank.

After I gave her the “what for,” we got a garbage bag out of the back of the car so she could sit on it, and we headed back to the general store so she could change into dry clothes. And that’s how our whole day went. As they used to sing on the old Hee Haw show “If it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all!”

Speaking of days, did you remember what today is?

April Fools! Most of this story is sheer poppycock.

We did visit the “town” of Oark and the pumps really are old enough that they can’t support recent gas prices, but we didn’t really run out of gas. We have definitely gotten a little too close for comfort several times in different states, but not that day.

And Joann did photograph butterflies that day, but she hasn’t floated downstream… not yet anyway. However, I’m always telling her, “If you fall in, I’m not coming in after you.”

Happy April Fools’ Day and Happy Shunpiking!


  1. You had me going their. Hope you had a great Fools Day. :-)

  2. Oh my gosh!! You really had me going there too, Ruth! The whole time I was reading this I was thinking, I can't believe these things happened and that I haven't heard about them. Have you considered a second career in fiction writing?!! Great story!