Opinion

OPINION | FRAN ALEXANDER: Denele Campbell yields to the urge to write, preserving pieces of herself, the Ozarks

Campbell’s chronicles, recollections arise from Ozarks

"Dedicated to the future, that we who live in these hills and valleys will always know what came before us."

-- Denele Campbell

Sharing a foxhole in battle (figuratively speaking) against a mutual enemy often creates long-lasting bonds. Back in 1984, Denele Campbell and I were strangers before we began slugging away at an environmental threat that would have destroyed our quality of life as well as crush our property values. Two years later, we and countless others who joined in had won our side of the fray. The experience taught me there's a lot to be said for the strength of friendships forged in the heat of defending one's turf.

In the past four decades, I've also come to realize there's a lot to unpack when describing Denele. Like many of us, she followed the requisite path of schooling and graduated from the University of Arkansas. Music always played a major part in her life, probably due to the influence of her father, who was a music teacher, band director, piano tuner and piano restorer. After a few trial occupations, including running a gas station/country store and being a secretary, she too became a piano technician, a job she held throughout the hectic years of raising three children.

Along the way her suppressed desire to write led her into writing workshops, and it would surface "in bits and pieces of authorship" in newspaper columns, biographical profiles, essays, local history pieces, etc. She says, "I had zero confidence about writing fiction ... and lots of what I wanted to write needed to be fiction. So I made a detour and spent time researching and writing local history. I loved that, but it felt like I was avoiding the elephant in the room [fiction]. So I opened a cafe." This, of course, happened only after she declared that tuning pianos for almost three decades was over. She made a clean break and didn't look -- or listen – back. Instead she created and ran the Trailside Cafe and Tea Room as the cook (and everything else) for three years. And, of course, published a recipe book of the tea room goodies.

In 1997, Pineapple Press had published her first book, "Notes of a Piano Tuner," a collection of her experiences in homes, churches, schools and concert halls. She describes hunting down problems such as why some keys on a county church's piano weren't springing back. The discovery story of skin left behind by what was probably a 7-foot long black snake, which "had woven itself around the hammer shanks and abstracts and action struts," hopefully was not revealed to the church's pianist. She really didn't need to know her knees were inches from the live snake that probably was relaxing inside the piano the Sunday before. Another favorite of mine was about a used piano taken through a car wash for a good cleaning, but for some reason didn't sound too good afterward.

Other collections, like "I Met a Goat on the Road and Other Stories of Life On This Hill," vie for her time researching local characters, living or dead. Four separate biographical books tell of the lives of Ray Mooney, Denny Luke, Rex Perkins and John William Campbell.

For a better understanding of "the guts, glory, and grief of 1960s social upheaval," she compiled "Aquarian Revolution; 32 Interviews, Back to the Land." For better understanding her family, she amassed research on both parents' lineages.

Local history is her passion, research her obsession. She has self-published "Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of Old Washington County," "The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys," "The West Fork Valley," "Glimpses of Fayetteville's Past," "Second Glimpses," "Gas, Grass, and Ass," as well as, "Self-Publishing: The Basics" and "Adventures in Real Estate."

Her meticulous digging has extended to "Good Times: A History of Night Spots and Live Music in Fayetteville, Arkansas," which brought her background and love of music to the fore, as has, "The Music Men of Turn-of-the-Century Fayetteville." Also recently published are, "When Fayetteville Moved on Four Hooves," and "Around the County." Her next book will be "The Wild Men of West Fork." And, to keep herself busy, she also writes a blog at denelecampbell.com. The Washington County Historical Society (https://washcohistoricalsociety.org) carries some of her books, and books can be found on Amazon.

Denele has also finally befriended that literary elephant, fiction, which has stopped evading her, but that's another list for another time.