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There Go the Beetles

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VW Beetle that has seen better days near Hermann, Mo.

Before there were Honda’s and Toyota’s and  Datsun’s (known today as “Nissan’s”), there were VW Beetles roaming the streets of Springfield, Mo. where I grew up.

Or, at least, where I grew older.  The jury is still out on whether I ever grew up.

I had a family tie to the proliferation of Beetles.  My Dad helped populate the streets of Springfield with VW Beetles and VW busses and VW Karmann Ghias.  He was a salesman for McAllister VW in Springfield in the 60’s when VW beetles were a novelty, sometimes referred to as “pregnant roller skates”.

But they still sold like hotcakes.

Rather than the Beetles arriving at the dealership on an 18-wheel car hauler, salesmen from McAllister VW carpooled from Springfield to New Orleans.  There they would pick up a VW straight off the boat from Germany and drive it back to Springfield where it was cleaned up and sold.  Here is a postcard my Dad sent from New Orleans on such a trip.  It is postmarked June 19, 1962:

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My Dad never got rich selling VW’s, but our family always enjoyed the “Demo” vehicle he was furnished as a perk.  In the summer of 1962,  maybe ’63, we went on the only 2 week vacation our family ever took.  We rode in style in a brand-new VW Bus.  My brother and I each had our own row.  Along with two other families, we visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Mt. Rushmore, camping out 12 of 14 nights along the way.

After graduating from high school in 1966 and getting a job while deciding between Vietnam & college, I became the proud owner of a 1964 VW Karmann Ghia.  It already had 35,000 miles on it and cost me $1300.  Though it ended up being a great car, the engine went out the first weekend I owned it.  The dealership stood behind it and replaced it with a rebuilt engine.  It was a fun, stylish car with 2 bucket seats up front and an “emergency” back seat suitable only for small children, contortionists, or luggage.

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A faded Picture of my 1964 VW Karmann Ghia taken in the Smoky Mountains Jan. 3, 1967

Karmann Ghia’s weren’t all that plentiful or well-known, but I loved mine.  The engine – which featured a whopping 1.2 liters, 40-horsepower, & four-cylinders – was in the rear.  Maximum speed was around 80 mph.  To fill the gas tank required raising the hood.  In 1967, somewhere in the deep South, I pulled into a gas station, popped the hood, and waited for the attendant. In those days I could fill up the Ghia’s 10-gallon gas tank and get my windshield washed for  under three bucks.  Standing back to take a puzzled look at my car, the attendant asked “What the heck kind of car is this?  A Studebaker?”

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In the days before email I kept in touch with home via postcards & a 4 cent stamp. This postmark on this card is January 3, 1967

I explored 15 states in the 2 years I owned that Karmann Ghia.   It got 30 mpg and had AM radio.  It had no air conditioning and the worst heater of any car I’ve ever owned.  On an 11-state roadtrip I took in January of 1967, I drove 3000 miles and spent $32 on gas.  I could drive a hundred miles for about a buck.  What more could an 18-year old ask?

I sold mine and bought a Ford Mustang in 1968.  VW stopped making Karmann Ghia’s after 1974.  They were discontinued to make VW Sirocco’s.  Scirocco’s were discontinued in October, 2017.  And now VW has announced that the iconic VW Beetle will be discontinued after the 2019 model year.

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This 1959 VW ad was once recognized by Advertising Age as being the greatest ad of all time

In 1968 I heard the siren song of the Ford Mustang and said goodbye to my Karmann Ghia.  I replaced it with a blue-gray 1965 Ford Mustang with wheel covers modeled after the wheels on the Roman chariots in the movie Ben Hur.

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LOOK AT THOSE WHEELS!

Though the last VW I owned was during the Nixon Administration, I am sorry to see the Beetle go the way of the Studebaker.  The only good thing about that news for me is that it reduces the odds of me hearing the words “SLUG BUG!” followed by a whack on the arm.

Maybe they’ll be back.  There are lot’s of new cars on the road today that have been resurrected from the 1960’s.  Think Challenger and Charger and Camaro.  When asked if there was a chance that VW might one day produce Beetles again, a spokesperson replied “Never say never!”

As someone who grew up with Beetle’s in the 60’s, I’ll paraphrase Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart:  “They may take our Beetles, but they’ll never take our memories!”

Got Bugs? Buff Orpington to the Rescue

Early this morning as I carried my cup of coffee out the door into our screened in porch, I was surprised to discover it was already occupied.  The screens were covered with an estimated two-hundred million newborn gnats.

Lawn gnats, to be specific.  I looked it up.  According to the article I read, the population of lawn gnats soars during hot (check) rainy (check) weather.   

There are estimated to be approximately 200,000,000 insects alive on earth at any one time.  Not total. 200,000,000 for each and every person living on planet earth. I am not sure how they coordinated such a large event, but my 200,000,000 all decided to get together and surprise me this morning.

The article I read provided an easy solution – eliminate damp vegetation and standing water sources.  That may be easy in an apartment.  We live on 45 acres of damp vegetation with a small lake in the middle.

Plan B?  The article continued “Missouri Botanical Garden experts recommend just living with small populations of fungus gnats (200,000,000 or less).  Though they may do the backstroke in your coffee, they are considered “beneficial insects.” That’s because they also pollinate plants and help with the decomposition process “which releases nutrients for the grass and other plants to absorb.”

My son’s family doesn’t have this problem. Earlier this year they invested in a “ Buff Orpington natural insect control” device. 

Six of them.

Their house now has an insect shortage.

The Buff Orpington chicks shortly after arriving in our neighborhood.

In March, they were baby chicks.  Now they are only one month away from turning insects into my breakfast.  They are fun to watch patrolling the yard and interacting with each other. Some people call watching their antics “Chicken TV”. They are goodnatured and very patient with kids. They follow my grandson as he walks or runs around the yard. He is currently trying to teach them to march. Don’t bet against it.

The chickens are voracious eaters.  Last week as I paused while walking in the driveway we share with our son & his family. I suddenly found myself surrounded by the Buff Orpington gang.  I thought it was cute and reached for my phone to take a pic. In the brief interlude as I started up my phone, one chick mistook a scab on my leg for an insect, pecked it off, and ate it quicker than I could yell YEE-OWWWWW-EEEE!

I would not recommend investing in chickens to people with freckled legs.

My 6-year-old grandson rushed out to save me. 

It was just an honest mistake

This six-year-old “Chickenmaster” has already decided he wants to be a farmer. He has developed very distinctive calls for both cows and chickens.  The chickens come running when they hear his shrill, prepubescent “CHICK, CHICK, CHICK!” He learned his cow call at his other grandpa’s farm. At our home it is primarily reserved for when a neighbor’s cow gets the wanderlust and ends up in our field.

Hup, Toop, Treep, Har! Get in step!

If farming falls through, his backup plan is to be a doctor.

Depending on what part of my anatomy the chickens mistake for dinner in the future, having medical personnel close by may prove very handy.

So far, only one member of our family is not excited about the showboatin’, insect eatin’ Orpington chicks.

Dog to self “I thought once the cat finally kicked the bucket the attention would be mine, all mine!”

Our dog will eat about anything. She specializes in eating things you intended for something else. Or things so disgusting nothing else would want them. I hopeful that she may begin competing with the chickens for insects around our house.

I wouldn’t mind seeing ticks (chicks love them), horseflies (so far chicks can’t catch them), and mosquitoes on the endangered species list in central Missouri.

Ogden Nash wrote “God, in His wisdom, made the fly – and then forgot to tell us why!”

I would like to update that with the 2021 Country Living Edition: “God, in His Wisdom, made the tick, as a tasty morsel for a healthy chick. He then created mosquitoes, gnats and flies, so we would get some exercise.”

A Bit of Heaven Beneath a Sports Bra

In retrospect, it seems that a lot of my blogs involve caffeine procurement.

This blog is no exception. It took place at Starbucks. The one located inside the local Hy-Vee. The one with no drive-thru.

I was walking from the parking lot to the store when a twenty-something female reached the automatic door at the same time I did. I slowed and let her enter in front of me. I was rewarded in two ways:

  1. I received a refresher course on what an amazing material spandex is; AND,
  2. I was inspired by what followed to write this blog.

As I stood in line behind her, I glanced over her shoulder to see what type of coffee was brewing. It was then that I made an intriguing discovery. (Note: I am a firm believer that Yogi Berri was right when he said “You can observe a lot just by watching.”) Tattooed between her shoulders was Proverbs 2?: 5-6. It wasn’t actually 2?. Part of her tattoo was obscured by the “X” of her sports bra strap.

As I waited for the first person in line to finish her very detailed instructions regarding exactly what she wanted in her
“Skinny Latte”, two questions came to my mind:

  1. Isn’t “Skinny Latte” an oxymoron? And,
  2. I wonder what scripture was important enough for this woman to have it tattooed on her back?

Finally, my curiosity got the better of me.

“Excuse me” I said politely. “I was just wondering what verse in Proverbs you have tattooed on your back?”

Smiling (thankfully), she moved her bra strap to one side so I could see: Proverbs 27:5-6.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Bitter are the kisses of an enemy” she quoted. An unusual, but insightful, choice of tattoos. A friend may hurt you when they are trying to help, but watch out when an enemy is nice to you. I was hoping she might share the story that motivated her to have it tattooed on her backside, but just then she got her order. With a beverage in each hand she turned, smiled, and left the building.

I am a big fan of Proverbs, the twentieth book of the the Old Testament. The wisdom contained in its thirty-one chapters was written, or at least compiled, by King Solomon. When God gave Solomon the choice of anything he wanted, he chose wisdom over riches, fame or power.

Proverbs is divided up into thirty-one chapters – very handy for reading one chapter each day of the month. It is possible to easily glean some nuggets of wisdom each morning while drinking your coffee, or skinny latte, or whatever else kickstarts your brain.

Some of my favorite verses from the book of Proverbs are:

10:14 – A wise person holds their tongue. Only a fool blurts out everything they know.

26:17 – Getting involved in an argument that is none of your business is like going down the street and grabbing a dog by the ears.

26:20 – Without wood, a fire goes out; without gossip, quarreling stops.

4:23 – Be careful how you think. Your life is shaped by your thoughts.

11:25 – Be generous and you will be prosperous. Help others and you will be helped.

But if I was going to choose one verse from Proverbs to have tattooed on my backside, it would be Proverbs 14:4:

“An empty stable stays clean, but much increase comes by the strength of an ox.” (Loose translation according to me: You can accomplish more if you are willing to deal with a lot of BS. Or, in King Solomon’s case, O.S.) I have found that bit of wisdom especially pertinent in my life.

Proverbs 4:7 says “Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do.”

Even, I believe, if it is partially concealed beneath the strap on a sports bra.

From Golden Baptist Church to the Streets of Gold

From this weather graphic on my way to Ben Fine’s Visitation . . .

To this view of a double rainbow from the balcony of my room that same evening.

It was a turbulent weather day on my way to pay my respects to my old friend, Ben Fine, at White Funeral Home in Cassville, Mo. A 12-year-old girl drowned near Neosho, Mo., as did a 34-year-old man who jumped in the water to try and save her after she was swept away.

As I drove back to Springfield, Mo. after the visitation, the City Park in Monett had lots of flooding and my windshield wipers were getting an extreme workout. Later that evening, the rain subsided. As I stood on the balcony of my motel room in Springfield, a beautiful double rainbow appeared in the eastern sky.

The next morning as I drove south on 160 Highway through Nixa and Highlandville toward Golden, Mo., to attend Ben’s funeral, the sky was overcast, but calm. The drive on that peaceful morning took me through familiar territory.

Many of my wife’s ancestors are buried in Flood Cemetery west of Highlandville just off of Route O, behind Pleasant View Baptist Church. My wife and I own a couple of plots near the back of that cemetery. I will be buried under a walnut tree to which someone already tied a wind chime to a lower limb. If I go first, I have instructed my wife to surreptitiously remove the wind chime and dispose of it. Having to listen to that throughout eternity would drive me nuts.

Further down the road I crossed the bridge over Table Rock Lake at Kimberling City. In times gone by, I have fished and waterskiied in that area. Just beyond that is the Mill Creek Recreation Area. In the late 1960’s, Ben Fine, another guy whose name I cannot recall, and I pitched at tent at Mill Creek. We played Indian Ball until it was dark, followed by the card game, Spades, until late. Before we crawled into our sleeping bags we got hungry. We attempted to cook a frozen chicken over a hastily built fire. We did not starve and we did not contract any foodborne illnesses, but I recall the chicken was charred black on the outside but still had some ice crystals near the center. The middle was perfect.

The funeral was at the Golden Baptist Church, in Golden, Mo. Behind a well-maintained sanctuary I drove to a large, metal building with a concrete floor suitable for basketball and large dinners, with plenty of room to stretch out. The building also had a stage. In front of the stage was Ben’s casket.

As I walked in the door, I was greeted by the delicious smell of fried chicken being prepared by caring people for a family dinner after the funeral.

A large crowd was present. Many, I suspect had planned to attend the visitation the day before, but were wisely discouraged by the weather.

After a welcome and a song, the Pastor asked if anyone had any stories they would like to tell about Ben. There were multiple stories about Ben’s goodness and concern for others. And more than a few fishing stories. His son, Brad, also told a “moving” story – as in moving away. After finishing his education, Brad wanted to move to Los Angeles. Ben was supportive. They rented a U-Haul, loaded it with Brad’s possessions and headed west. After numerous breakdowns, the truck finally gave out near Gallup, N.M. When U-haul arrived with a replacement truck, Ben & Brad unloaded the first truck and loaded everything into the new truck in the desert heat. As often happens, L.A. did not work out and Brad and his family now live near Charleston, S.C.

I debated whether to take the microphone.

The next thing I knew I was walking to the front. The Preacher handed me the mic.

“I went to school with Ben. We were both in the Hillcrest High School Class of ’66. Ben and I went fishing a lot at Fellows Lake, north of Springfield, Mo., in our younger years. We would rent an aluminum boat for three bucks a day from the Marina there, and row around the lake. We both loved fishing and we both love spending time on the water” I said. “On my way down yesterday, I decided to visit that old Marina – just for old times sake. When I arrived, I was greatly surprised to find it was being demolished. By today, I imagine it is gone.”

There were disappointed murmurs from those in attendance.

“They plan to build a new Marina on Fellows Lake. Another fifty or sixty years in the future, it will wear out too. Ben Fine’s body wore out. But Ben now has a brand new heavenly body that is never gonna get COPD or wear out!”

I handed the microphone back to the Preacher and hurried back to my seat. As I was seated, the Preacher handed the mic to another guy who had made his way to the front.

“My name is Gary Ellison. I was also in the Hillcrest Class of ’66 with Ben. And it is great to see my old friend, Doug Reece! What’s it been, Doug? Fifty years since we’ve seen each other?”

And with that, though I had lost one old friend, I had just been reunited with TWO OTHER old friends! After the funeral, Gary, his wife, Judy and I exchanged hugs and contact information. I was in their wedding. They had already celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.

The funeral procession slowly made its way from Golden Mo., down busy Highway 86, to Roach Cemetery. Along the way, passersby stopped their cars in the roadway to pay their respects. Roach Cemetery is 200 yards of dirt road north of 86 Highway in Eagle Rock, Mo.

Ben’s remains were buried just to the right of the large tree in the background

Rest in peace, Ben. Thanks for making the good times better. Not sure who will be next, but the Class of ’66 seems to be headed your way in ever increasing numbers.

The weather was pretty scary on Day 1, but cool, beautiful and dry on Day 2. As I drove home, I felt I had accomplished two goals:

  1. I had paid my respects to an old friend and his family; and
  2. I had followed the advice of Yogi Berra, who observed “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours!”

Paying it Forward (Revisited) and Paying My Respects

The morning I was to depart to pay my respects to my old friend, Ben Fine, started off ominously. After a restless night of sleep, I sat on our screened-in porch shortly after dawn. As I pulled up the newspaper on-line, I thought I detected a faint rumble of thunder in the southwest. Frogs, turkeys, whippoorwills, and a few mourning doves joined in a chorus in advance of the approaching storm.

Though the sun had risen, the woods and fields around our house began to darken.  The sudden sound of wind in the treetops added to the anticipation as the fast-moving storm approached.  Big splats of rain began to hit the deck. They were accompanied by nickel-sized chunks of hail.  It was fast and furious, but in 20 minutes it was all over.  The hail was mercifully light. 

As I got in my car to head the direction from which the storm had approached, weather forecasters on the radio warned more turbulent weather was on the way. 

On my way out of town I made a brief stop at Scooters for a large cup of dark roast coffee to go.  On my last trip through Scooters the people in front of me had paid for coffee for my wife and me.  I had declined to pay for the vehicle behind me when I found their bill was the better part of a twenty-dollar bill including tip, and my bill had been just under six bucks.  I had second-guessed my decision that entire day. 

Today I intended to make it up.

As I ordered my coffee, (three bucks) I glanced at the car behind me.  It was occupied by a single female.  When she had pulled into the line behind me earlier, she had blocked the lane for cross-traffic, a pet peeve of mine.  As I continued to watch, she lit a cigarette and talked into her phone.  Maybe not the person I would have chosen to buy coffee for, but I was committed. 

As I progressed in the line, I noticed the car behind the lady behind me was occupied by several people.  It was déjà vu all over again.  I was going to pay for her drink ($4.76).  Then she would ask how much for the car behind her and it was going to be twenty bucks.  She would be faced with the same dilemma that had troubled me the last time I visited Scooters. 

Or maybe not.  Based on her “I’m in a hurry” lane blocking, she might have just taken her free cup of coffee, exhaled a cloud of smoke, and sped away.

The important thing was that I had paid it forward and still had enough money for my trip.

Near Springfield, Mo, I decided to take a quick side trip and visit Fellow’s Lake.  That’s where the Marina was located from which Ben and I had rented aluminum rowboats and gone fishing many times. That was way back in the days of the Richard M. “Tricky Dick” Nixon Administration.

I drove slowly through the countryside as I neared the lake, savoring the trip down memory lane. 

A surprise awaited me.

As I pulled into the Marina parking lot, yellow tape blocked the concrete stairway to the lake.  The noise of heavy equipment from the direction of the Marina dominated the beautiful setting.  Peering through the trees down to the site of the Marina I saw a large machine rip up a section of the Marina floor and carry it aloft to a large, nearby dumpster.  The Marina was being demolished.

The Marina I remembered . . .

A slab of Marina flooring headed to the dumpster

All that was left of the Marina the day of my visit- Going, Going . . . Gone!

Maybe its my fault. 

The hospital where I was born?  Demolished.

The Church where my wife and I were wed?  Demolished.

The High School I attended? Part of the original building is being demolished even as I type this.

And now the Marina from which Ben and I launched many fishing trips, mostly on days when the fish were not biting? Demolished.

A new Marina is planned. It just seemed ironic that the very week Ben died they tore down the Marina that had been standing, actually, floating, since 1958.

Overhead the sky began to rumble.  I took a few pictures and got back into my car. On the radio was more talk of weather watches and warnings, flooding, damaging winds, and lightning.

By the time I reached Republic, Mo. it was raining so hard the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up.  The next 30 miles were similar to what I imagine driving 50 mph in a car wash would be like.  Following the instructions of Google maps, I turned onto HW 39 south at Aurora, Mo. 

The deluge continued unabated.  In some places water began to run across the road.  At one spot, I was carefully passing through standing water over the road when a large pickup pulling a large travel trailer came speeding around a sharp curve toward me, edging ever closer to the center line.  When the truck hit the water,  I anticipated the travel trailer might spin in my direction.  I am not sure what happened. As the truck hit the standing water it threw up a tremendous spray that completely obscured my vision.  The travel trailer prolonged the blinding spray of water.  

I braced for an impact that never came. 

There had to be some (very wet) angels protecting me. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I drove on.

When I was finally directed to turn west on 248 toward Cassville, the curvy road followed a ridge to my destination.  No more water over the road.  I made it without further incident.

As I pulled into the funeral home parking lot I reflected on the white knuckle drive.  At least, I thought, if that travel trailer had wiped me out it wasn’t too far to the funeral home.  

The rain began to slacken and I hurried to the front door of the funeral home.

The attendance at my friend’s visitation was not as heavy as I had expected.

A lot of sensible people had stayed home rather than brave the horrendous weather and treacherous roads.

Just goes to show Harry Truman knew what he was talking about when he observed, “It doesn’t matter how big a ranch you own or how many cows you brand, the size of your funeral is still gonna depend on the weather.”

Next up:  Ben Fine’s funeral. I lost a good friend – but I found two!

On The Road Again – This Time to Pay My Respects

I woke up shortly after 6 am on the last morning of our vacation. 

“Are you awake?” asked my wife softly.

“Yes” I replied.

My response was followed by four words from my wife that completely changed the trajectory of our last day of vacation.

“I have a toothache.”

Instead of leisurely packing and dawdling on our way home, we hurriedly packed and headed north.  Dental emergencies are bad enough, even with your personal Dentist – the person the authorities would call if they were trying to identify a mangled corpse they suspected might be you.   I find it reassuring to have a Dentist who knows the inside of my mouth like the back of his hand. 

Our goal was to avoid a visit to an unfamiliar Dentist who might have a payment due on their new x-ray machine and need to raise a little cash fast.

After 8 am when Val’s Dentist’s office opened, she reached him on the phone.  He brought the urgency level down a few notches.

“Take 3 Advil and see if things calm down” was his advice.

I love a Dentist who goes with the least intrusive, most economical, potential solution first. 

The advice worked. 

You know how vacations work: normal diets go out the window and your teeth are tasked with chewing all kinds of strange foods. I am certain a new treat we discovered at Andy’s Frozen Custard shown on the menu as a Snowmonster Concrete contributed to my wife’s dental distress. It is a blend of frozen custard, strawberries, and melted chocolate chips.

I have two observations about the Snowmonster:

  1.  It is delicious; and
  2.  It is a good thing we do not have an Andy’s Frozen Custard near our home.

Amazingly, after 24 hours without a Snowmonster my wife’s dental discomfort disappeared.

It was good to get home, even if we arrived a few hours earlier than planned.

A few days later another all too frequent bane of a Baby Boomer’s life necessitated another change in plans for me. It started when I received a Facebook friend request from the wife of an old friend. I thought we were already friends. I was right. The request was from a hacker. But while I was checking the real Facebook page of my friend’s wife, I started seeing messages like “So sorry to hear about Ben” and “You are in our prayers” with no explanation.

I googled my friends name followed by “obituary”. I discovered my friend had passed away two days after we returned from vacation.

That sad discovery is the first time anything useful has resulted from numerous attempts to hack my Facebook account.

Ben and I had spent more than a few nights in our post-high school years cruising the streets of Springfield, Mo. Ben had a dark blue 1966 Ford Mustang. 

High tech sound systems of that era included an eight-track tape player mounted below the dash.  Ben liked that eight-track loud. While some sophisticated sound systems today will rattle the windows of the homes and businesses as the car passes by, I rarely hear the occupants singing aloud.

Ben & I did.

“Mustang Sally” was our favorite song.  Also high on our charts were “Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly, Miss Molly”, “C.C. Rider”, and “Sock it to me Baby”. Ben and I sang along enthusiastically. What we lacked in vocal talent we made up for in volume.

Taking you back to circa 1968, here is a video of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels for your listening pleasure. Imagine a warm summer evening in 1968, windows down because A.C. was a rarity in those days, and a couple of young guys belting this out in the car next to you at a stoplight.

Fishing was another favorite, less noisy, pastime of ours. We spent many hours in aluminum boats (minus an outboard) we rented for three bucks a day on Fellows Lake near Springfield, Mo. We took turns being the motor. I don’t recall it ever taking long to clean the fish.

Ben’s was a visitation and funeral I would attend.  I last saw Ben in 2017. In the last few years we had gone full circle from fast cars and rock and roll to trading pictures of cows, sunsets, kids and grandkids on Facebook.

To pay my respects to Ben, my journey would take me as far as you can go into the hills and hollows of southwest Missouri without crossing the Arkansas line.

The end of one trip with a dental emergency, the beginning of another with the loss of an old friend.

Ben Franklin once said that the only two things certain in life are death and taxes.

To which Will Rogers later added “At least death doesn’t get worse every time Congress is in session!”

Personally, I think “dental problems” should have made Ben’s list.

You’re Seventy, You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine!

In 1960, Johnny Burnette recorded the song “You’re Sixteen, You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine.”  It reached #8 on the Pop charts.  For those of you who may not have lived in a couple different centuries and a couple different milliniums, here is the original song by Johnny Burnette for your listening pleasure.

In 1974, Ringo Starr recorded the same song.  It made it all the way to #1, possibly because former bandmate Paul McCartney played a kazoo solo during the recording.

Nothing like a kazoo to add a little pizzazz!

In 2021, I rewrote the lyrics of the song as a tribute to my wife on her 70th Birthday.

Here goes:

You come on like a dream on Titanium knees

And hand me my list of chores

You’re 70, you’re beautiful, and your mine!

You’re all hormones and pills, ooh, what a thrill

Eyes that sparkle when I whine

You’re 70, Your beautiful, and you’re mine!

We’ve got three beautiful grandkids, one dog for our pet

And medicare for all the diseases we ain’t had yet!

You’re by my side until my heart goes pop

You sleep with a machine so your breathing won’t stop

You’re 70, You’re beautiful, and you’re mine!

(kazoo solo here)

You walked out of my dreams when we first dated

Before I knew what hit me I was domesticated!

You’re 70, You’re beautiful, and you’re mine (mine, mine, mine, all mine!)

You were only 21 when you became my mate

We’re gonna be together til one of of our names is preceded by “the late”

You’re 70, your beautiful, and you’re mine!

(Kazoo crescendo!!)

One of the greatest events of the year 1951 was what became known as “The Great Flood of 1951″ in the Midwest.  Little did I realize that a baby girl born on June 4, 1951, in Hot Springs, Arkansas with the last name “Flood” made 1951 the year of TWO great floods for me.

Happy Birthday to my beautiful, patient, thoughtful wife!!

My

My wife in her early dancing days before becoming a dance major in college

My wife shortly before we were married.

49 years later here we are getting our picture taken in the actual vehicle driven by Jethro Clampet in The Beverly Hillbillies. We never dreamed we could be this lucky! And she is still smiling!

On the Road Again – Day 6

And Just Like That . . . Everyone was Vaccinated!!

Branson, Mo. rescinded its “Mask Mandate” effective April 16.  While masks were not required, businesses were free to require them if they chose to do so.  On May 13, the day we arrived in Branson, the CDC revised its mask guidance.  No longer were they needed outdoors and no longer were they needed indoors for fully vaccinated people.

Most thought the change was a blessing. 

A few thought it was a curse. 

On May 14 -day two of our trip -when we visited Silver Dollar City, I hoped Silver Dollar City would update its guidelines regarding mask wearing and social distancing to match the CDC guidance issued the day before.

The first clue that they had not was when we approached the turnstile to enter the park.  A security guy advised us “You cannot enter the Park unless you are wearing a mask.”

We complied, but when we entered the Park, hardly anyone was wearing a mask.

So neither did we. 

Social distancing was another matter.  As soon as the park opened, my wife and I and our neighbors headed to the Opera House as fast four septuagenarians not riding souped-up mobility scooters can make it.  The Opera House is about as far away from the front gate as you can get but I still thought we were close enough to the front of the line to get into the theater. 

I was wrong. 

After a 30-minute wait, the line began to move.  With about 25 people left in front of it, it stopped.  After a couple of minutes, a half-dozen more people were allowed inside the theater.

To much grumbling, the usher then advised “Folks, if you want to see the NEXT show after this one that starts in one hour and fifteen minutes, I advise you to stay right where you are!”

Not wanting to spend the entire morning in line to see one show, we did not heed the usher’s advice.

We left the line and while our bride’s waited patiently, my neighbor Tom and I rode the Barn Swing and the Outlaw Run Roller Coaster.  Both are thrilling rides.  We brought the average rider age up considerably on both.

Notice how relaxed and carefree the couple in the front row look after an 18-story almost straight, down drop, multiple vertebrae rattling twists and turns, and two consecut360 degree barrel rolls. My neighbor Tom and I are the ones in the back who look less relaxed and carefree.
The Giant Barn Swing! I love this ride. My wife, however, required multiple doses of industrial strength Dramamine to survive her first – and definitely last – time to ride it..

After zero bluegrass and eating zero BBQ on Day 2, we returned to Silver Dollar City on Day 6 of our vacation.

Presto change-o!   In compliance with CDC guidelines, we didn’t have to wear a mask to enter the park and social distancing was no longer enforced.  Theaters were filled.  We spent the day seeing all the shows we wanted to see.  Some we saw twice.

That night we went to see the Haygoods who were performing at the Clay Cooper Theater.   Five brothers and one sister comprise the Haygoods.  My wife and I first saw them perform at Silver Dollar City in the 90’s when they were just kids.  They are all grown up now.  They were great at Silver Dollar City.  They are better now.  The show we attended was sold out. 

No masks (unless you wore one voluntarily) and no social distancing.  

We partied like it was 2019!

Even though social distancing is no longer mandatory, I still have my own personal standard for how close is too close to another person.

I call it the “Biden Guideline”.

If you are close enough to sniff my hair you are too close.

My wife and I at the Haygoods- Mask-free! But no hair-sniffing please!

On the Road Again – Day 5

A Bunny and a Goat and a Dog, Oh My! Plus a Butterfly!!

The day we arrived in Branson, Mo. the forecast for the week was bleak.  Unless you are a duck.  There was an 80% chance of rain every day.  Up until Day 5, if it rained it rained at night when we were asleep except for one time.  It came a pretty good shower when I was sitting in the hot tub with a couple from Pennsylvania.

We ignored it.  If you are in a hot tub you can only get so wet and we had already reached the saturation point.  So we solved the world’s problems as a steady rain fell.

Day 5 was the exception.  It was raining when we got up and show no signs of stopping.  That was the day my wife’s motto kicked in:  “When the going gets tough the tough go shopping.”  I tagged along.

I had been looking for some cargo pants.  I found three pair I liked and purchased them.  That was before a lady in our neighborhood posted this meme on Facebook:

Good thing my self-esteem is strong.  I will wear my “purse pants” proudly.  A few years ago we visited Silver Dollar City and I rode the Outlaw Run roller coaster.  It features an 18 story drop almost straight down to get started. Then after multiple vertebrae rattling turns it does not one, but TWO consecutive 360 loops. A while later I reached in my pocket and my key fob was gone.  Luckily, my wife had hers.  I filed a report with the Silver Dollar City lost and found.  We had barely arrived home when they called to report it had been found.  They mailed it to me for five bucks.  Since then I require pockets that button, even if ridicule is a part of the equation.

After we hit a large strip mall, the rain stopped.  At my wife’s behest, we then headed towards the mecca of Branson shoppers, the Branson Landing.  In addition to a lot of nice stores & restaurants, it also has a nice boardwalk that parallels Lake Taneycomo for bored husbands that want to get a little exercise.  But not before I hit Bass Pro and took some pictures of people walking their pets.

Branson Landing is pretty upscale, but it is still in the Ozarks. 

Here is the first pet I saw.

Yep. That’s a Goat.

The second pet I encountered was a very photogenic, good-natured dog who happily posed for me.

Now THAT is a cute dog!

Finally, on my walk, I encountered some Branson wildlife

A Bunny that thought it was invisible.
And a Butterfly that Patienly waited for me to Snap a Pic

So . . .it wasn’t a total rainout! I don’t recall who once observed that “weather forecasters are wrong often enough that you can’t count on them, but right often enough that you can’t ignore them.”

If no one else claims that observation maybe I said it. As my wife will attest, It wouldn’t be the first time I totally forgot something I once said.

On the Road Again – Day 4

Fifty-Four Years of Entertaining the World (and each other)

Presley’s Country Music Jubilee in Branson, Missouri celebrates its 54th Anniversary next month. My wife and I rarely miss an opportunity to see the Presley’s Show. In 1967, I attended the show with my parents. Later with my wife, and then my wife and son, and later with my wife, my son, his wife and our grandkids. On this visit, my wife and I attended with our neighbors, Tom & Linda Block.

I think that qualifies as a family tradition.

My Favorite Visit to the Presley’s Country Jubilee

2017 marked the Golden Anniversary for Presley’s Country Jubilee. It was also Gary & Patty’s 50th wedding anniversary.

As they said in their advertising that year, “Now that’s a pretty good start!”

Gary and Pat also received a very special honor in 2017. They became the first husband and wife to be inducted into the Springfield, Mo. Public Schools Hall of Fame. I had the distinct honor of introducing them at that ceremony.

Here is a synopsis of what was said about them in the program and a short video featuring fellow Hillcrest students and celebrities alike

Branson’s first music theater opened 50 years ago and with it Gary and Patricia Presley launched a business and a partnership that would establish their family as a cornerstone of Branson’s entertainment and tourism industry.

Although Presleys’ Country Jubilee opened its doors in 1967 to entertain guests with a mix of comedy, bluegrass and gospel performances, Gary Presley, better known as the comedic Herkimer on stage, says it might never have happened had it not been for one fateful fire drill at Hillcrest High School where he ended up standing next to Patricia Adams.

The couple married a few months before the Presley family opened their theater along Highway 76—the glittering strip now crowded with theaters, restaurants and arenas. It was nothing more than a big metal box with folding chairs for 360 people. The show eventually gained national attention from television shows like “60 Minutes” and “Good Morning America” and today the theater seats 1,600 people and features three generations of Presleys. Gary and his brother Steve, who joined the show when he was 10, are the only original members still in the show. Patricia runs the front of house, managing anything and everything from customer inquiries to securing new costumes, which for the past 30 years have been made in Hollywood. 

The Presleys put on 230 live shows a year at the theatre plus 26 TV shows broadcast on RFD-TV to a weekly audience of 400,000 nationwide. 

I am proud to have been a friend and admirer of the Presley’s since they started this amazing journey. What they have accomplished is mind-boggling.

On this trip I got to visit the theater twice.

First to enjoy the show, and then the next day to attend worship services of the Freedom Fellowship Church which are held in the Presley’s Theater at 10 am every Sunday morning. Pastor Scott Presley delivered the inspiring sermon. I have never heard a better sermon while sitting in a more comfortable seat.

Congratulations to the Presley family on their astonishing accomplishments over the past 54 years and thanks for always, as Tim McGraw might say, staying humble & kind.

And now, in closing, here are some pictures of Patty & Gary from their years at Hillcrest High School in Springfield.

Patty, left, and best friend Wanda
Patty’s Senior Pic – Class of ’66
This is a picture of Gary with Ron Cordry. The caption states “Mr Ron Cordry, Freshman-Senior Counselor, seeks further information to advise Gary Presley on future plans.”
I wonder if Mr. Cordry advised him to open a music theater in Branson?
Gary in Action

On the Road Again – Day 3

Revisiting Famous Inlaws Who May Have Been Outlaws

Though my wife and I and our son and his family now live west of Jefferson City, Mo., we grew up in and around Springfield. Most of our relatives are buried in southwest Missouri – including a couple who achieved great notoriety during their lives.

On Day 3 of our trip we decided to visit the graves of our best known kinfolk.

A distant relative by marriage of my wife’s family was recently portrayed in a new movie produced by Branson resident Michael Johnson. It was released in 2019 and titled Baldknobber. Nathaniel Kinney, known as “Captain Kinney” by his fellow Baldknobbers, was featured prominently.

After the Civil War ended, southwest Missouri was a dangerous, lawless place.  Forsyth, Mo., not far from Branson, was one of the most dangerous.  According to the Missouri State Historical Society, The Chariton Courier reported in 1892 that “the town of Forsyth is 50 years old, but does not contain a single church and never did.”  According to Google, there are 18 churches in Forsyth today so there has been progress.

After the formation of the Baldknobbers, which were predominantly in favor of the Union, another group was formed known as the “Anti-Baldknobbers”. They were predominantly Confederate supporters according to a Doctoral dissertation by Matthew James Hernando titled “The Baldknobbers of Southwest Missouri, 1885-1889: A Study of Vigilante Justice in the Ozarks.”

 At the height of the vigilante justice, Nate Kinney was gunned down in his own store in Forysth, Mo. He is buried in the Forsyth Cemetery, which was our first stop of the day.

Captain Nathaniel Kinney’s (1843-1888) Final Resting Place

We had only minor difficulty finding Mr. Kinney’s grave.  His wife Maggie is buried beside him in a small, peaceful cemetery on the outskirts of Forsyth.  My wife’s family used to vacation in nearby Rockaway Beach with distant relatives of Capt. Kinney when my wife was a kid.  That was in the days when the water in Lake Taneycomo was still warm enough to swim in before the Table Rock dam was constructed. 

If you would like to see a movie that shows the good side and the bad side of the Baldknobbers,  the movie Baldknobber is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Prime at the following link:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2919200/

As I often do, I wandered among the other graves to see what else I could find.  Off by itself, I found the large, moss covered crypt of Ernest Crist.  Ernest died January 8, 1923 at the age of 14. I did some research but was unable to find a cause of death or any other information about Ernest, but his crypt was unique so I suspect his family was well-to-do.

Ernest Crist’s (1908-1923) Moss-covered Crypt

Near the entrance to the cemetery I found the headstone for James C. Johnson, MD, who died in 1906 at the age of 66.  Buried next to him was his wife, Sarah E. Johnson, Nurse, who died in 1934 at the age of 93.  It is very possible that James and Sarah treated many of the Baldknobbers and their victims, possibly even Nate Kinney himself.

Remember Stranger as You Pass By, As You are now so once was I

What I found most interesting about the Johnson’s headstone was the inscription below the names and dates on the headstone.  It read:

Remember Stranger As You Pass by,

As You Are Now So Once Was I

As I Am Now Soon You Will Be

Prepare For Death And Follow Me

This is not the first time I have heard of this epitaph, but it is the first time I have actually witnessed it.  When I first heard about it, it was because someone had taped a note below it which read:

To Follow You I’m Not Content

Until I Know Which Way You Went

That is one of my favorite epitaphs, rivaled only by one I found in the Cemetery in Anutt, Mo.  It was on the grave of a girl who died young.  It read:

Here Lies Debbie

Who Didn’t Give a Doo-Dah

All Decked Out in Her Purple Baracuda

I would love to know the story behind that.

Our Day 3 cemetery tour ended at Bonniebrook, the home of one of my distant relatives by marriage, Rose O’Neill. Rose is best known as the creator of the kewpie doll, though she had many other achievements in her life, including some that were quite controversial for her day.  Bonniebrook is 10 miles north of Branson in the woods on Bear Creek.  When Rose O’Neill first moved there around the turn of the 20th century, it was a two-day wagon ride to get from Bonniebrook to Springfield.

I’ve read Rose’s autobiography.  At one time she was one of the richest women in America.  She got some of her artistic ideas from gazing into the forest around Bonniebrook where she used her imagination to conjure up the images of “sweet monsters” in the foilage of the densely wooded property.

Bonniebrook was closed when we visited, but the gate was open so we strolled the beautiful trail from the home and museum down to the small family cemetery in the woods just across a small bridge over Bear Creek.  Rose died of pneumonia on April 6, 1944 in the Springfield home of my grandfather’s sister and her husband, Rose O’Neill’s nephew.  She was 69.

Though there is no epitaph on her grave, in her autobiography Rose said her personal philosophy was “Do good deeds in a funny way.  The world needs to laugh or at least smile more than it does.”

On our way back to the car, we noticed a relatively large dog eyeing us suspiciously at the gated entrance we had breached. 

“Maybe that’s the guard  dog” I told my wife.

While I am not scared of dogs, I did get a little nervous when it came running toward us.  When it reached us, it laid down, rolled over, and put its feet up in the air. It wasn’t playing dead, though that would have been appropriate based on our days activity.

Turns out with the museum closed it was just looking for someone to rub it’s stomach.