Friends of ours attended one of their conferences last September near Wynne, and, when they returned, I asked where they’d stayed. Dan grinned and answered, “The Pluck-A-Duck Inn.” I howled! This made me think of other funny Arkansas town names.
Pretend you are a telephone operator back in the days before “touch tone” phones.
When making a long distance call, we simply dialed “0” for the operator. A REAL person came on the line and asked the town and person’s name to be reached. No area codes; no recorded voices.
Now, you’re on the switchboard when a person calls to speak to someone in Booger Holler? Possum Grape? Possum Trot? Chickolah? Or Toad Suck? Wouldn’t you have to ask for the spelling to be sure you’d heard correctly? This leads to my story about Grady Nutt, a Christian humorist who got his start as a regular on the T.V. show “Hee-Haw.”
Grady was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1982 . But my pastor, Dr. Jon Stubblefield, knew him. He and his wife, Jackie, hosted him in Magnolia in the late 70’s. Grady was speaking at a Chamber of Commerce banquet that was held at Southern Arkansas University which provided space needed for the large crowd. Jackie Stubblefield helped with this story…a waitress with heavily-lacquered teased hair leaned over too far in serving the head table and her hair was ignited by one of the candles. Grady jumped up and began slapping her head and around her face to put out the fire. He scared her to death! Later, at their home, he told the Stubblefields other funny stories I do not have space to relate in this column.
Now, I only met Grady Nutt once while a member of First Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He spoke to our Sunday School class in 1980 and he told this story at the end. When he mentioned my college and a personal friend of mine, I had to go up and meet him. The class had howled with laughter as he related the story…I later learned he interchanged the name of my friend and Gamma Phi sister, Johnita, with another girl with an unusual name, but I stick with the name I heard that day!
He began his talk that morning by saying that his last name “Nutt” had been the bane of his existence since birth! He said that second “t” on NUTT meant EVERYTHING to him and had gotten him out of at least a tiny bit of embarrassment over the years.
At some point in his life he met and took a liking to an Arkansas girl. Perhaps while he studied at Baylor. The girl’s name was Johnita Higgenbotham and she was a student at Ouachita Baptist University while I was there. She was a very pretty and popular girl and I spoke with her again for the first time in YEARS just this past month. Grady began his story that Sunday by saying that some people might think the story was false, but by the time he finished telling it, we would understand that NO ONE could make this stuff up!
He had fallen in “love” for the fifth or sixth time during his college years and this time it was with this coed from Arkansas. He decided to call her long distance one night and this is how the call went…
He told the operator he wanted to place a person-to- person call to Johnita Higgenbotham. “WHO?” the operator asked. “Johnita Heggenbotham,” he repeated.
“Could you spell that?” asked the operator. He said he tried the best he could but he wasn’t sure–after all, he had only been in love with her for three weeks.
“And the name of the town?” asked the operator. “Arkadelphia, Arkansas.” “Did you mean Philadelphia?” “NO…ARKAdelphia…just put “arka” instead of “phila” on delphia and you got it.”
“ARKAdelphia, Arkansas, is that correct? The operator asked.
“Yes, and she lives in the Cone Bottoms Dormitory,” he added
“Where? Could you spell that?” and he did, adding, “That’s at Ouachita College.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you WILL have to spell that one!” He did his best. Having grown up on phonics, he spelled it “Warshetaw.” He said he knew it was an old Indian name but never came across anyone who could explain its meaning. He thought it might be funny if a Baptist college was named for an Indian cuss word.
The operator told him there were only two colleges in Arkadelphia–Henderson and “Oh-shee-ta.” “That’s it!”, he exclaimed, “the last one you said.!”
“Yessir…now, Sir, who may I say is calling Miss Johnita Higgenbotham in Cone Bottoms at Ouachita in Arkadelphia?”
“Ma’am,” he hesitated for a moment, then admitted, “You’re not going to BELIEVE this…”
Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author residing in Hot Springs Village. She answers all mail directed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org