The Beebe Flea
by
Maggie Wood

"The best deal I have going today is two pair of heavy socks and my old hunting cap for just two dollars. They are guaranteed to work, but the socks were just too little for me. My feet are so big it is a wonder my wife still loves me."The sun was just rising on the mists of a warm Saturday morning when I arrived at the outdoor country flea market in Beebe Arkansas. It was like a page out of the past.

"Almost 200 friendly sellers meet here each week," Garry Aldridge told me as he laid out his quality knives for sale. "I've seen sales prices range from pants for a penny, balls for a dime, bottles for a quarter, bassinets for a dollar, cedar chests for a single bill, but baying hounds start at two bills each."

Kenneth Hastings came over from the van next door. "Yes," he said. "But the real bargains are free. Where else would you think it was normal to see a little girl with her piggy for sale in a blanket? Thousands of products are on display here, but you can look at the people who come to buy, for free."

Kenneth is from Birmingham in England, {the home of modern industry.} He has been selling in America for four years now. And, what is he selling? "I left Birmingham with a potato peeler in my hip pocket and now I sell up to 400 of them a day."

It is dawn's early light, but people are already showing up for a look see. "This is dress up time. People grab their fancy boots before they come and their hair is slicked down."

I listened. Real laughter bubbled up like a stream of clear water gushing from the side of a mountain. No one was in a rush. People were cheerful as they strolled casually down the aisles, reaching out to feel the samples they were welcome to touch, with low, low prices that might well come tumbling drastically down with the rising sun.

"Where do all these people come from?" I asked Garry.

Garry puffed out his chest to get enough breath. "Oh, they come from Possum Grape,
Hot Springs, Conway, Little Rock, East Memphis, Lonoke, Carlisle, England, Stuttgart,
Pine Bluff, Pencil Bluff, and places like St. Louis, or Shreveport. They come here for
bargains. They come to mingle with friends. And they come because this place feels like home."

Voices rose from down the aisle. "You can have a pair of them for five, or all three of them for ten."

I glanced at Garry. His 370 pounds of good humor quivered in a robust chuckle. "That's an Arkansas joke," he explained.

On another aisle I found a freckle-faced little girl selling home-made half-moon pies for fifty cents each. I bit in. My eyes rolled upwards in pure pleasure as the raisin and apple filling caressed my tongue. "My mother, Karen O'Connell, made them," she said. "She won 49 ribbons at a County Fair one time."

I took a dozen more -- blueberry, peach, chocolate. All of them were delicious. Karen had made candy too. I took some of that. Then I grinned as I realized what I was doing; I was trading with a friend.

This flea market is about 30 miles north of Little Rock on U.S. Highway 67/167 heading for St. Louis. Get off on the first Beebe exit. Turn to the right (east) and go to the four way stop sign. Turn to the right once more. The flea market is less than half a mile, on your left. There are acres to park in. You'll know it when you get there because that is where everything is happening.

The feeling of being among friends grew on me as I went. Here was a cage of big yellow canaries. There was a cage full of little red roosters. Bargains in shoes greeted me on the right, computers on my left. I also found fresh flowers, old groceries, apples, ancient jars, brand new rolls of carpet, antique dolls, an old timey Singer sewing machine, a cowbell, geese, goats, rabbits, carved wooden signs, cosmetics and used air conditioners. The list went on and on and on. Everybody had something different.

A live band struck up, with the kind of country music I used to hear on the Grand Ole Opry. I felt like dancing, until I saw the tiger coming towards me on the leash. He was just a little feller, but in my head I heard an old song rumble: "When you see me coming you'd better step aside." 

I stepped way back.

Somebody behind me honked and rather cautiously I moved again, over to one side. It was some socialite in a new Cadillac. Her uniformed chauffeur was driving with care as if he were doing ninety on the autobahn. I watched as they stopped to pick up a handmade birdhouse through her window. Behind her came a family in overalls driving a rattle-brained pickup with broken springs. They bought twenty pounds of potatoes for a dollar, two heads of cabbage for fifty cents, and okra, fresh from the garden for a quarter a pound. "Keep us alive for a week," said the father. 

Then the kids fanned out to get what they had really came after. 

One vendor I'd just met seconds before asked me to watch his merchandise while he went to get a cup of coffee. I was invited to "drag up a seat." several other times. The Beebe Flea Market is that kind of place. 

By noon it was mostly all gone like the circus,  but while it lasted I had a whole lot more fun because I was part of it.

Does this sound like a flea market you'd like to visit?

Maggie Wood                        

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