Just getting back to this infernal cyber-machine after a few days of traipsing around the North Country with this fal-o-mine. The lady must know every road and trail, highway and by-way winding over, around and through the jumble of ridges hills and canyons whereon is strewn the entertainment center of the upper South, the town of Branson, Mo.
Leave it to me and we would never find our way in or out, but fortunately, or unfortunately according to one’s perspective, the lady sort of grew up with it, watched as it spring from the surrounding forest one piece at a time and insists on traveling there on mini-vacations at least three times a year.
For she, Branson is the go to place for Christmas shopping and for citified countrified entertainment; the fabric shop is always a “must stop” and so also the Amish specialty foods store for exotic jellies, spices, preserves, etc. Craft shops are way up there near the top of the shopping stops, and a short stop at a western shop may herald the end to my signature head gear, a black fedora.
This year’s end of the year excursion combined with the birthday celebration of she and that of my eldest son, the third born of four children, and no, referencing his age serves no purpose except to remind me of mine.
For older folks, dealing with the chaotic computerized life style of the tech culture can be a trying experience. The mother of all disconnects: The birthday boy resides at Bella Vista, Ark., just a skip and a trot from the Missouri border, and there occupies himself before a giant computer screen five days a week applying his technical expertise in service of a large website creator based at Scottsdale, Ariz. You may have seen its advertisements during the Super Bowl telecasts. He has two weeks off for Christmas and only a dog to keep himself leashed to the house.
His birthday gift to me August last was a weekend for me and mine at the Down Stream Casino in Joplin, Mo., and now it is time to reciprocate by treating him to a show up on the Branson strip, to a day at Silver Dollar City, to a birthday dinner and guesting over at the cabin. For Ms. Barbara and me the trip would combine Christmas shopping with two birthday celebrations beginning with the musical act “Six” at 2 on a Saturday afternoon followed by dinner at White River Fish House down on the river by Bass Pro.
The southernmost of the troop pulls out of Ozark morning of Dec. 9 the kid’s birthday, and “Sally” our Global Positioning tech indicates arrival time at Branson 11:30 a.m. I do the driving to Huntsville, first leg of the trip, and the Missus takes the wheel for the second stretch, which includes the onerous maze of streets, highways and by-ways up at the latter end.
Leaving Huntsville we stops at a fuel and refreshment center on Highway 412 just short of Eagle Creek for coffee and a candy bar. Humming along a few miles beyond Huntsville, the cell rings: It’s the guys from Bella Vista but the highway winds through a canyon, phone signal is lost ere ya can say “howdy” and can’t reconnect until we top out on a ridgeline farther up the road. When reconnection is managed we’re asked our position and inquire of theirs. Joplin came the answer.
Joplin? Isn’t that somewhere in Canada? What in hades! Reservations for the show are 2 p.m. seating begins 1:30 and directions are a concern. The lady isn’t at all happy that our schedules are in jeopardy, and to be truthful neither am I, but que sera sera. Shrug it off and continue on.
We get to Branson but our contracted lodging has been let out to another party because the fellow in charge of reservations has been injured in an automobile accident and hospitalized ere the contract is properly recorded. Well okay: however, we’re misdirected to the substitute digs and it takes a frustrated while to find them. Eventually we locate, check into our assigned unit and run on down to a nearby Panera sandwich shop for a bite to hold us over until dinner.
We understand the kids will be lodging at the Radisson Hotel adjacent to Panera, drives up to hotel parking, sits there and waits.
Time growing short, impatience mounting we gets a call that our fellow revelers have arrived in town located the opera house, are at their own two night flop, and no, it’s not the Radisson, rather the Marriott down the street where their finagling ways, tech associations and internet bull cooking has resulted in a day’s free lodging. Thanks for cluing us in on the change? These birds will soon make out like the proverbial “bandit,” but for now we keep with the narrative.
We get the call, it’s getting late, no time to check into their digs, Ms. Barbara knows the territory so it’s decided we gather at our Thousand Hill’s condo, all pile into our auto and make a mad dash for the Hugh’s Brothers theater where it’s all happening. Seating is just beginning.
The “Six” is an a cappella group featuring six brothers, “acclaimed and dubbed as an orchestra of human voices.” No musical instruments here folks, all vocal effects. Great entertainment, chosen by the little Missus day’s before the excursion and despite the ‘touch and go’ moments leading to, thoroughly entertaining. I recommend.
Also on my recommendable list is the White River Fish House at old town, down at the river by Bass Pro. Just don’t go there late on a Saturday evening two weeks before Christmas. Traffic near gridlock, parking at a premium, patience required.
Silver Dollar City is tomorrow’s schedule; gates open at 1 p.m.
Again the gal and I are up early, ‘spiffs up’ drive over to Panera for breakfast and back to the lodge.
The clock ticks 11:30 and the “technicks” have yet to report in; we call to find them in a lengthy breakfast line down at the local I-Hop. Once seated, service is unduly delayed and afterward the restaurant chef, hung up on a problematic order of two poached eggs assures their breakfast will be further delayed.
We arrive at SDC to long acres of parking jammed with automobiles. The lower more distant parking areas are free with transportation to the gate provided: A fee is charged for upper parking deemed close enough to the gate for walking, closer still is “free of fee” parking for the handicapped. With handicapped tags and two seasonal passes, each pass allowing one guest, the four of us enter the premises with no up-front expense.
Once inside there will be plenty opportunity to unload your cash. The various shows will be free but expect long lines unless private seating service is purchased at the gate or you’re chair bound.
Silver Dollar City is built into hilly territory, steep and rugged; the old guy can yet ambulate well enough but after traipsing up, down and all around feet are sore and a hitch develops in the old get along. By and by we find ourselves in a developing line to the staging of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol where the lady taking pity, tells me she’ll hold our place in line while I go to the forward area have a seat and rest my weary tootsie’s. Hey! My own idea of making out like a bandit! There’s an outhouse up there where a guy can relieve any last minute worries about the possible - or probable - discomfort a fellow may encounter sitting in a cramped auditorium hours on end.
I settle atop a rock wall beside a paved pathway a few feet from the blocked entrance leading to the theater, and wait; about three dozen souls mill around there at the head of the line. My son in the nearby handicap section tending his motorized friend motions me over but as I arise to comply things begin to go awry. Right there before the gathering crowd, the Good Lord and everybody else I stumbles and pitches forward in an undignified all-fours sprawl; my knee is scraped and minute particles cling to my pant leg but we brush it all aside and manage to regain a modicum of composure. Such of it was possible under the circumstance. The agony of embarrassment is somewhat eased by the graciousness of a young lady sitting alone on the opposite wall who expresses concern then sympathy by recalling her own similar incidents. She invites me over to sit with her while we await our respective spouses.
First, I hesitate but determine she has the same maturity, assurance and - commanding presence of my wife, limp over, sit down and engage in conversation. Get the chance see the Silver Dollar City version of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol, well worth the effort. But be careful of that low rock wall.
The day wound down well after the sun sank below the western horizon with the most spectacular display of human created visual effects this old pilgrim has ever witnessed. Christmas lights of every hue, red, gold, yellow and blue climbed the trunks and into the branches and canopy of every tree one end of the park to the other; every angle of every building beneath and above highlighted in a festive holiday display, the creativity and construction of it unbelievably sophisticated. Our small group stayed until lighting of the large Christmas tree at the parks entrance and darkness ushered in an evening chill. Still scheduled was the Christmas parade but tired and cold we voted to call it a day.
Breakfast next morning with my son’s then off on their way home while the lady and I did our holiday shopping. Oh, yes that “making out like a bandit” stuff? A small Missouri casino along his drive home was far more generous with a birthday gift than being treated to a weekend in Branson: Maybe next year he’ll do the ‘treating’ - and the next year and the year after that.
The gal and I wound up our own celebrations Monday evening at the Andy Williams Christmas show featuring the Lennon Sisters and Merrill Osmond, former lead singer for the Osmonds. The performance served to take an aging pilgrim back to the familiarity and comfort of his own generational territory, but just amazing how much better those gals have weathered the years than has he.
Up early on Tuesday morning, to Panera’s for a quick breakfast then homeward bound. Next stop a short stop at the Huntsville convenience for a fresh cup of coffee and candy bar. Alas, the coffee is still cold out of the pot just as on our way up on Saturday.
PS. In the mail: Arriving home first cat out of the bag. Two seasonal passes to Silver Dollar City.