Change is a constant part of life, and when we are in the midst of it, we scarcely notice it. However, someone who has lived in a place for a good length of time, and then been away from it for a great period, often has a fresh perspective on just how much change has taken place in the intervening years.
BJ Dickerson, who returned to Bolivar after an absence of half a century, found the town transformed.
She grew up in the Depression era on a dairy farm about ten miles southeast of Bolivar. The farm was between Bolivar and Pleasant Hope, but BJ always considered Bolivar her hometown.
“We did all our marketing and shopping and going to the movies in Bolivar,” she explained. “Our address was Bolivar.”
Back in the 1930s and 1940s, Bolivar was a very different place from what it is today.
“When I was young, people would leave the farms every Saturday and come to town and stand over there on the west side of the Bolivar Square and visit for a few hours before doing their marketing and buying the feed for their livestock,” she recalled. “On Saturday nights, the young people would come into town to go to the movies and to drive around the square to meet other young people.”
Going into town was a major activity for farm folks in those days, BJ elaborated, because methods of communication were so much less developed.
“We didn’t have electricity until 1949, so naturally we didn’t have TVs and VCRs or other conveniences that require electricity,” she explained. “We didn’t even have telephones except for a few in town, the old wall type.”
They lacked many other modern conveniences, as well.
“We drew our water from a well,” BJ recalled.
She left Bolivar in 1949 and came back to it to live in 2000. Why did she leave?
“I just wanted to go to California because I had relatives there,” she answered, “and I wanted to see what California was like.”
Some two decades ago, BJ and her husband, BE Dickerson, moved to McAlester, Oklahoma, where they lived on a 10-acre parcel of land.
“The good Lord told me to move back to Bolivar,” she said. “My husband had a post-polio syndrome attack and could no longer take care of the land in Oklahoma so I knew I was supposed to come back and spend my latter days with what family I had left.”
When she returned, she found Bolivar a vastly changed place.
“There’s more restaurants,” she observed. “There’s a Walmart. Nothing’s the same, but that’s the way life is. People visited more with neighbors then than they do now. It’s a different lifestyle. Even though we have more conveniences, we seem to have less time.”
The addition of a hospital has been a major change from the town she remembers.
“When I first lived here, there was no hospital in Bolivar,” she remembered, “so we used to have to go all the way to Springfield for a hospital and that was over 30 miles away.”
Traffic is what she sees as Bolivar’s biggest negative point because she believes the town is not built to comfortably accommodate all the cars currently on its roads.
“I’d like there to be less traffic here,” she stated. “I’m assuming when they built this town, they had horse-and-buggies and then the Model Ts and they weren’t expecting all these cars.”
Her home is in what she considers a good location, partly because it is close to the Assembly of God Church that she regularly attends.
“We live east of the highway and it’s very convenient,” she commented. “There’s the Woods store close by and the Dollar Shop and two churches that are within walking distance.”
She likes Bolivar and finds it a friendly town.
“The people are nice,” she remarked. “The restaurants are nice, too, and we have good churches.”
Bolivar today is very different in many ways from the town in which BJ Dickerson grew up, but the caring and hospitality of its people has remained constant.
Hopefully, these characteristics will remain a part of the town of Bolivar as it continues to enjoy the current technological improvements and as it meets the challenges yet to come.
Denise Noe is a guest contributor to the BH-FP.