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MUSEUM MUSINGS: Poet’s work extolled the joys of Ozarks living

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on September 3, 2020

Audra Connerley Milum asked only one thing of life.

“This one thing give to me

That no one else can see,

That no one need the wiser be

Please let me keep my memory.”

Milum was granted 70 years of memories, many of which she shared through her verse.

Milum was born in 1885 in Champaign, Illinois, but at an early age, moved with her family to Kansas, Missouri, and the Oklahoma Territory. In 1897, the Connerleys came to Harrison, where they owned and operated the Connerley Hotel. Milum would live in Harrison for the remainder of her life.

Milum would develop of love of writing poetry, and her work reflected her thoughts on life in general and life in the Ozarks in particular. In 1947, her poems were published in a book titled “Echoes From the Ozark Hills.”

Otto Ernest Rayburn, who edited many books about Ozarks cultures said of Milum’s work, “The poetry of Audra C. Milum is homespun from the heart and much of it carries a distinct Ozarkian flavor.”

Milum herself left no doubt as to the great influence on her work.

“My inspiration for these poems comes from having spent the greater part of my life in the Ozark Hills.”

In “Arkansas,” Milum said that the state was the topic of a lot of jokes, but that was okay. Providing some fun for outsiders was not a bad thing.

“If we struck them as not funny

They might look our way … with hate.

We much prefer to see them smiling

As they enter our great state.”

Milum continued the theme of smiles in her poem “The Land of a Million Smiles.”

“We haven’t a lot of money;

We haven’t a lot of fame;

We don’t play the stock market

‘Cause we don’t know the game,

But when it comes to livin’!

We’re free from strife and care

Down in the ‘Land of a Million Smiles,’

Can you guess where?”

Milum even wrote about her home town. In “Our Town,” she said that strangers would often wonder how Harrison kept going, to which she replied that it was going at a steady gait.

“They marvel at our luck

And say we must have pluck

To always hold our own,

When others rise and fall

We puzzle … all.”

In “Headin’ Back For the Ozarks,” Milum’s subject was selling the farm and moving to the big city. However, the city turned out to be a disappointment.

“Well, we got to the city alright,

But we’re crowded as can be

So we’re headin’ back for the Ozarks

It takes forty acres for me.”

Milum often wrote about aging and memories. In “Against the Chill of Age,” the springtime of childhood is followed by the summer heat of adulthood and finally into winter.

“And now the time for memory,

Though winter storms may rage,

I’ll hold the thought of childhood

Against the chill of age.”

In “For I Possessed Youth,” Milum wrote, “Odd how lovely everything is when one possesses youth. Odd how changed everything is when he finds he is bidding it goodbye.”

Milum didn’t leave out autumn, though. In “Autumn in the Ozarks,” she wrote,

“All the leaves are red and gold

And I dream of wealth untold

For ’tis autumn in the Ozarks

Splashing paint in tiny sparks.”

In “Roads,” Milum wrote of the “wonderful roads threading the hills of oak and pine.” Those weren’t the best roads, she went on to write.

“The road though that I think so fine

Is the road that leads from your house to mine

The one without any detours

It also leads from my house to yours.”

There was often a whimsical side to Milum’s poetry.

In “The Jay Walker,” she wrote:

“A fender can always be repaired

When it gets in a jam,

But the party who’s endangered

Is the jay-walking man.”

In “Gals,” she warns,

“There are gals and gals

All kind of gals

Some find it hard

To land men

But how quick those gals

Can spot the guys

Whose wives do not

Understand them.”

Simple joys were often the theme of Milum’s poetry. “Checkers” was a good example.

“The games were hot;

The stoves were cold;

Someone would spin a yarn

At those old games of checkers

We played down on the farm.”

Or “The Rag Doll,” which told of a little girl playing with a doll made from an old sock.

“One would think the old sock had served its day

And in life’s duties played its part

But this little mother was of the thrifty kind

And knew how to warm her child’s heart.”

In her poem, “Cracklin’ Cornbread,” Milum recalled her mother’s love demonstrated through her cooking.

“Sometimes I think that Heaven

Will not be quite complete

Without that cracklin’ cornbread,

And my mother’s kitchen, neat.”

Milum died in 1956 and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.