By Jackie Sikes
Texas born but Van Buren County, Arkansas, raised Harvey Henson recently shared his memories of the good and sometimes tragic times growing up in this county.
Harvey’s dad was a carpenter in Shirley who raised Harvey and his siblings by himself after his wife passed away when Harvey was only 11 years old. Times weren’t always easy back then but Harvey never knew he was poor or was any different than the other kids in town.
“Back then neighbors looked after one another,” he said.
When the Henson’s lost their home to a fire, the community pulled together and got the family everything it needed.
“Van Buren County was a great place to live,” he said.
“You learned back then to live off the land,” he said. “We used the creek for water, we couldn’t afford a well; Christmas came out of the Sears catalog and everyone got three pairs of pants and one pair of shoes.”
Harvey’s shirts were made by a neighbor out of flour sacks and the family worked wherever it could, young and old alike, to make money for their needs.
A wonderful storyteller, Harvey begins each tale with, “Everything I tell you is true.”
Harvey mowed lawns when he was only 8 years old, chopped wood and was one of the first of two male carhops at the Pee Dee Drive-in.
“I met my first two or three first true loves at the Pee Dee Drive-in,” Harvey remembers.
Nicknamed “Cotton-Top” as a child because of his fair hair and bright blue eyes, Harvey soon learned that his good looks and smooth talk could get him a second look with the ladies.
When the kids weren’t helping with the money they went to the pool hall, dances at the church and boat dock, they fished, hunted, went to the swimming holes and hung out with friends.
“That movie Stand by Me was just like the group of boys that I hung out with. We were kids of the streets, very shy, not nerds by any means, just shy. We never got into any serious trouble.”
He does remember the red brick jail house in town. Sometimes he and his friends were a little creative on earning a buck and the prisoners would pass them money through the barred windows for the boys to go and buy them cigarettes.
The hardest work Harvey remembers doing was unloading coal for a driver making a delivery in town.
It was a time of party lines, and doctors still made house calls. In fact Dr. Hall would drive his Ford Mustang out to Choctaw when Harvey’s mother needed him during her illness.
Harvey misses the old pines in Choctaw where the lake is now. “The lake covered up some of the best land in Van Buren County, ruining the hunting and fishing we used to do there.”
There were only about a thousand people living here at that time.
Harvey recalls many good weekends spent shopping around the town square. During a few of the drawings that the merchants sponsored on the weekends Harvey remembers winning a free oil change, even though he didn’t own a car at the time, and he got a discount ticket for a dress at a local store.
The town square was packed and everyone bought local first.
“Van Buren county was a great place to grow up,” Harvey said.
Other entertainment included drag races.
“The local cops even knew about them, in fact they had lines drawn on the highway. The word about a race in town would pass as fast as a text message does today,” he said.
“I was a lucky child and my dad was my hero,” Harvey said.
His father served in the Marines during World War II. Harvey said his dad had an even temper, was well respected in the community and taught his children to learn for themselves.
At 16 Harvey got his first car, a ‘61 Chevy. He has a lot of good memories driving around town in that car and later followed in his father’s footsteps by serving his country, joining the Navy right out of high school.
Harvey has made money and lost it. He’s had good times and bad in his life.
There weren’t any jobs here when Harvey got out of the service and he wanted to see the country.He left the county and didn’t look back. When he visited he was surprised at how many of his friends stayed here and married fellow classmates that they are still with today.
Each year he would come back to visit his father but didn’t really miss it until recently.
Harvey came back in 2012 and while he felt like he no longer belonged here before, things changed for him during that visit and he is back now for good.
He will always love Texas, but his heart is in Van Buren County.
Harvey has a sister, two brothers, two sons and grandkids now.
He is disabled after 30 years in the heat and air business.
“Van Buren County is peaceful. We have the best people in the world here, they were always there for me and my family.
“I was raised the youngest of six, five boys and one girl. We never got in serious trouble growing up, we had respect for ourselves and others,” he said.
“I have seen and heard it all. I love the women, I’m a fighter and I don’t let things get me down. I like to make people laugh, I love my motorcycle and my family.”
The Van Buren County Democrat is featuring some of the folks who make Van Buren County what it is today. If you have a good subject for our profiles, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 745-5175.