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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For someone who was raised in Arkansas with a love of eating, visiting with folks and watching football games, it's hard to beat the annual combination of food, family and football.

I'm especially thankful this year that I had the opportunity to return to writing on a full-time basis. I get to travel this state, visit with colorful characters, see interesting places, eat in good restaurants and then write about it. What could be better than that?

I'm thankful to live in Arkansas. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can attend the annual Gillett Coon Supper each January and then show up a few weeks later for the annual Slovak Oyster Supper. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can be a part of the all-tomato luncheon during the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival at Warren, get a room at the Mather Lodge atop Petit Jean, tour the Lakeport Plantation near Lake Village, walk the boardwalk through the swamp between Brinkley and Marvell to see the Louisiana Purchase monument, and eat a slice of melon at the Hope Watermelon Festival.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can see people in kilts at the Scottish Festival at Lyon College in Batesville, attend a meeting in the room behind the kitchen at Doe's Eat Place in Little Rock, buy an ice cream cone at the Ernie Dunlap Store in Kirby, watch the toad races during Toad Suck Daze in Conway, and have breakfast at The Pancake Shop in Hot Springs. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can watch the rice harvest near Weiner on a fall day, go to Garvan Woodland Gardens on Lake Hamilton when the tulips are blooming in the spring, attend the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Hot Springs, and have my photo taken while straddling the Arkansas-Texas line at the federal courthouse in downtown Texarkana.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can cross the U.S. 62 bridge over Norfork Lake on a clear day, go kayaking on the Mulberry River, visit Judge Parker's courtroom at the Fort Smith National Historic Site, and attend the huge Fourth of July community picnics at Piggott and Corning. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can watch Sonny Payne do his King Biscuit Time radio show at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, fish for bream on a south Arkansas oxbow during the day, gig frogs on the same lake at night, and watch the cardboard-boat races at Greers Ferry Lake before heading over for a big dinner at the iconic Red Apple Inn.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can take a boat onto Grassy Lake in southwest Arkansas to look for alligators, and sit outside at Basin Spring Park in Eureka Springs on a Saturday evening while enjoying live music. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can catch an outdoor concert in the Murphy Arts District at El Dorado, have a catfish dinner at Dondie's on the banks of the White River at Des Arc, and buy a stack of books about Arkansas at the Dickson Street Bookshop in Fayetteville. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can try to finish a tamale spread at McClard's in Hot Springs, attend the King Biscuit Blues Festival at Helena, eat a turkey leg at the Arkansas State Fair, and sit on the east side of Mount Nebo while watching the sun rise over the Arkansas River Valley.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can dig for diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro, buy strawberry shortcake in the spring at the Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob, gather wild blackberries in the summer, and eat some peaches picked earlier that day while attending the Johnson County Peach Festival at Clarksville. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can spend a summer Saturday morning at the farmers market on the square in Fayetteville as the locals walk their dogs, take a slow walk through history at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, visit a sand blow in northeast Arkansas while contemplating the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-12, and get a sunburn while sitting on a White River sandbar.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can attend a Battle of the Ravine college football game between Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University each November in Arkadelphia, watch the sun rise on a winter morning from a duck blind on the Grand Prairie, and sample dozens of versions of duck gumbo at Stuttgart on the weekend after Thanksgiving. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can drive along the Talimena Scenic Drive when the leaves are changing, spend the day walking around Historic Washington State Park when the jonquils are blooming, and wrangle an invitation to one of the fried squirrel dinners in the fall at Gene's in Brinkley.

I'm thankful to live in a place where I can have a steak on a Friday night at Jerry's in Trumann, combine fried chicken with spaghetti at the Venesian Inn in Tontitown, and drink the water at the Mountain Valley headquarters in Hot Springs. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can read the Civil War markers at DeValls Bluff before having some of the country's best barbecue at Craig's, tour the Johnny Cash boyhood home at Dyess, see the English Tudor architecture at Wilson, and spend the night at the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs. I'm thankful to live in a place where I can go to a winery near Altus before visiting the monastery at Subiaco, climb Pinnacle Mountain, visit one of the most beautiful state Capitols in the country, and fish for smallmouth bass on the Kings River.

I'm thankful for Arkansas.

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Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

Editorial on 11/22/2017

Print Headline: Thank you, Arkansas

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