|Giving a wild flower program, 1985.|
I spent a lot of time at Wildflower over the years. So did a lot of other people and I met an amazing array of talented and amazing people there. One weekend I fondly remember was at this time of year, almost April. My partner, Josh and I were at Billy Joe and Hally's (her husband), to hunt morels. It was a Sunday morning, we were up having coffee and sitting on the deck overlooking the beautiful wooded valley below. The phone rang and Billy Joe answered. We could hear only half the conversation but could tell Billy Joe was saying no to someone who wanted to visit. I heard, "No, I'm sorry, you can't come. Yes, I know who you are, I've seen your show a time or two. No, I'm sorry." Then a pause while she listened, and finally, "Because it's morel season" and she thanked the caller and hung up.
|Billy Joe and Hally at their 60th wedding anniversary, 2011.|
Hally asked, "BJ, what was all that about?" She replied, "Oh it was that Charles Kuralt fellow with the CBS "On the Road" program. He wanted to bring a film crew and do a story on me. I told him he could come sometime but not now because it was morel season. I guess next time he needs to call farther in advance." (Evidently he was calling from about 30 minutes away).
|Billy Joe and my partner, Josh, cutting up at a dinner, 1985.|
|Billy Joe, on the left, with her wild flower bouquet.|
|Out of print but still the best.|
One of those early years, about 1983, I was at Wildflower for the weekend. The event was a fundraiser for Bill Alexander, a Republican who was running for state Senate. Back in those days, politicians weren't as mean-spirited and hateful as they are today, and one of the "helpers" was Democratic Governor Bill Clinton. The party was about a couple hundred invited guests with Alexander the guest of honor. I was there as cook's helper, for one of Billy Joe's famous wild foods dinners. I saw a car drive up in the driveway and Billy Joe opened the door and gave Bill Clinton a welcome hug. She turned to me and introduced us, then turned back to the Governor and said, "Bill, here's the broom. I want you clear the furniture out of the living room and sweep the floor. We're having a square dance." Without hesitation, he thanked her and went off to do her bidding. Next to arrive was Republican Win Rockefeller. We were introduced then I heard BJ say, "Win, here's a can of wasp spray. Go upstairs to the walkway over the living room. There'll be kids watching the dancing from up there and I saw several red wasps in the windows." He, too, followed orders. I was stunned, one of the richer men in Arkansas and the Governor of the state, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, cleaning house for Billy Joe. This was one powerful woman!
|Billy Joe came to visit and we canned.|
Over the years, Billy Joe came to Long Creek Herb Farm and we'd can things from the garden. Once she gathered and canned a dozen pints of lamb's quarters - still my favorite greens. I'd go to Wildflower and she'd take me "botanizing" as she liked to call it. We'd tromp through the woods, sometimes just us, sometimes with the likes of Lee Allen Peterson, of Peterson Field Guide fame. She introduced me to plants I'd never found before, to people I could not have met otherwise. I once asked her if I could be her biographer because she led such an interesting life. "No," she said without hesitation. "I'm not that interesting and anyway, you know way too many stories about me."
|Billy Joe last year, telling wonderful stories on her and Hally's 60th anniversary.|
Billy Joe wrote for The Ozarks Mountaineer for many years and it was that magazine that eventually led to the publication of her books. She stared out life wanting to be an opera singer, she told me. Instead, she became a rural doctor's wife and created her own career out of the love of her surroundings and became nationally famous for being herself. She is remembered by hundreds, maybe thousands of people beyond her own close and loving family. Like her amazing books, Billy Joe is now out of print. I truly thought she would live forever. Rest in Peace dear friend. It's hard to imagine life without you in it.