Friday

"Where The Red Fern Grows" in the Ozarks.


Hey, wanna take a ride?” As usual RD chose the perfect line to make my heart go pitter-patter while I dropped everything to “go see.” Within the hour I was on a road trip to Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller in the northeast part of our state.
A visit to the Ozarks of Oklahoma is like driving back in time. Curving tree lined roads reach out to grab your imagination. Suddenly the trees clear and you see the Lower Illinois River snaking back and forth through rolling hills. Nature spreads out, hiding small valleys and meadows. It’s quiet except for the occasional hawk or screaming Blue Jay. Forget the sounds of highway traffic or noisy neighbors. The Ozarks refuse to be tamed.

Our destination was to help our friend, Bob Rice, with his BMW motorcycle. He spends weekends at the lake to ride. I noticed several hummingbird feeders on his cabin porch, but I've never seen so many hummingbirds at once! Those tiny little flying clothespins are fierce. They yell at each other, fighting over the sugar water at 400 mph.
Bob not only entertained us with his birds, he took us to one of the most unique restaurants in the Ozarks. We drove to Keys, Oklahoma - a small town off Hwy 82. At Qualls Road we swung south and followed seven miles of forest that occasionally cleared to frame a house. Then the trees swallowed us up again, stopping at the two lane paved road as if they were thinking of jumping on us, but hadn't quite made the move.
When the paved road stopped, we were at Jincy's Kitchen and the general store location for the 1974 movie "Where The Red Fern Grows." Jincy Powell Lane built the Qualls Mercantile in 1935. It stayed open until 1965. It was used as a setting for the movie before being re-opened by Rena Mae Rucker and her daughter Debbie. I love history. I love traveling to see history. But I especially love it when history comes with good home cooking.
This small "A" frame building with a tin roof and bench lined front porch has served anyone willing to drive the distance for decades. When you walk in the door you notice there are only two tables. But they are long ones, running down each side of the room. The café is lined with ceiling to floor shelving from its days as a general store. In the middle of the room is a wood burning stove and an old box ice chest. Jincy's is decorated with products and momentos from simpler times. Old coke bottles in their crates and kitchen tools I wouldn't even know how to use whispered to me as soon as I sat down.
Rena Mae, grand-daughter to Jincy, made me feel so at home, I just had to investigate her history on the shelves around me. I excused myself from the table to snoop. While I was looking, an old man dressed in faded coveralls walked in the door and sat at the counter separating the kitchen area from the tables. By then I was on the other side of the room, reading an old framed newspaper article. It was about a WWII veteran that had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for service in the Pacific. I about had a heart attack when I realized the gentleman in the article was the same one sitting at the counter.
I walked up to him and introduced myself. Told him I'd come from Oklahoma City because I heard his wife's fried chicken was pretty darn good. "What's the matter," he said, "don't you have chickens in Oklahoma City?" I fell in love at first comment. Jack, Rena Mae's husband, chatted with us like we were family.
Jincy's is not the place to eat if you want fast food. They cook in iron skillets, the old fashioned way. It's also not the place to eat if you don't have time to sit and enjoy a little live music. But it is absolutely the place to eat if you like fried chicken, chicken fried steak, brisket and ribs. I dove into the fried okra and cucumber salad. The ladies are very generous with their portions. That includes their fresh baked pies and cobbler.
These days they are only open on the weekends. When you go outside, you may have to scoot a dog or two off the porch. After a meal like these ladies cook, you may decide to sit for a spell and listen to the locust. As for myself, I'm going back to look for the red ferns and listen for hounds chasing raccoons in the woods. And see if I can't wrangle a few war stories out of Jack.
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