Down to Earth: Rasberry Thyme Vinegar for Sore Throats

Jim Long provides his famous neighbor with an herbal sore-throat soother.

| December/January 1997

My dalmatian's excited barking alerted me to a silver-green van that had stopped in the driveway. It was November, and our herb shop was closed for the winter. Occasionally, however, someone would ignore the signs and stop anyway, something that generally irritates me and may be the source of my nickname, “the Ozarks Curmudgeon”.

By the time I had put on a jacket and shoes, three women were on the front porch of the shop, pulling on the locked door. Dressed in red-and-white-striped pajamas and long red stocking caps, they looked like truants from a clown college. I walked outside on the porch and yelled, “We aren’t open until spring!”

Undaunted, they introduced themselves as the sisters-in-law of my new neighbor, Johnny Cash, and explained their odd outfits as traditional garb for their annual Christmas shopping spree. After I had shown them around the shop and the late fall garden, they invited me over to meet Cash.

Now I can’t claim to be a serious country music fan, but Johnny Cash is different. With him, I felt a connection. During my high school years in the 1960s, my best friend and I often used to drive to the top of the sandstone bluffs overlooking the Osage River. From that point, we could see for miles to the valley beyond, but more important, we could pick up the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville on the radio in my 1951 Chevy. While we sat talking about school, our dreams, and life in ­general, Johnny Cash would sing to us. His wife, June Carter Cash, also serenaded us on occasion.

I thought of these things as I walked along the curving road leading to the Cash house. Johnny and June were sitting in chairs on the patio that overlooks a clear blue lake. He held out his hand and, in that deep voice I had heard so many times over the radio, said, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. I hope you don’t mind neighbors.”

As we sat there on the patio, he’d eat a few bites from a plate of food, talk a little, strum a chord or two on his guitar, then take another bite or two. He seemed quiet, perhaps a little shy. June didn’t seem much different from when she was “Little Junie Carter” on the Nashville show forty years ago: still telling funny stories, laughing, and cutting up with her sisters.

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