Farmer realizes longtime dream, stays true to the Ozarks

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Roland Netzer was hillbilly before hillbilly was cool.

Wait a minute, hillbilly is cool?

''It's certainly something that people have capitalized on in this area,'' the 70-year-old Ozarks farmer says.

For too long, Netzer says, society has allowed reruns of ''The Beverly Hillbillies'' and Branson comedy acts like Droopy Drawers to define what it means to be from the hills.

That's why his 272-page book of country sayings -- ''Echoes from the Hills'' -- is different, Netzer insists. It's written by the real thing.

Netzer, a southwest Missouri native, spent nearly 18 years collecting country phrases like ''long in the coupling pole'' (someone who is tall) for his self-published book.

''I know it may sound a little squirrely, and some people might say I'm just capitalizing on the image, too,'' Netzer says. ''But this is a true rendition of Ozarks sayings without any slant toward putting anyone down.''

Besides, he says, the phrases were compiled from family functions, neighborhood gatherings and front-porch gossip sessions. Any slant in the book would be like putting down one of his own.

Netzer grew up in the Depression Era, where social activities with family and friends were some of the only means of entertainment. These were situations where sayings were honed and delivery was practiced. And that's where he heard things like:

n Riding on my ''poppin' Johnny'' (a two-cylinder John Deere tractor).

n ''He took off like a scalded cat'' (a rapid departure).

n For breakfast, they dined on ''cackle berries'' (eggs).

n We waited for you ''like one pig waits for another'' (not at all).

Netzer's book reads like a hillbilly's dictionary. ''It's a defined guide to Ozarks country sayings,'' he says.

Netzer, who owns a beef farm outside Springfield, said the idea for the book came one day while he was on the phone with a woman who said she was ''getting antsy'' for something to happen.

Not knowing why at the time, he wrote the phrase down on a piece of paper and stuck it in his pocket. Eventually, Netzer started using a journal to write down all the words and phrases he overheard that he thought were unique to the area.

''It was just something I was recording because I thought my grandchildren might get a kick out of years from now,'' he said. ''By the time I had 6,000 collected, I figured I should do something with them.''

So, he started defining the terms -- a job he felt qualified for after living for more than six decades in rural southwest Missouri. Some 2,385 sayings ended up in the book.

Netzer is careful to point out that not all the sayings have Ozark roots. Some might have been brought back here after Ozarkers returned from travels around the country or abroad.

But he tried to make it as authentic as possible without contaminating his project by researching the phrases in other books.

''When I first got the idea in 1982 that this might have book possibilities, I decided then and there not to read other books of this nature,'' he says. ''The only research was with people I have associated with over the past 70 years.''

Self-publishing his first book, which goes to print in mid-May, was a dream that Netzer refused to let grow old. There might even be a lesson in there somewhere, he says.

''They say, 'Never teach an old dog -- he might have one bite left,''' Netzer says. ''I say, 'Nothing ventured nothing gained.'''

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