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.

On the Road Again – Day 2

What Would Jesus Do?

In December of 2019, I purchased season tickets for Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., for my wife and me for 2020.  After the coronavirus hit in early 2020, Silver Dollar City announced policy changes which included mask wearing indoors and out, social distancing, and attendance control measures which mandated reservations to visit the Park.

When I balked at these restrictions, Silver Dollar City personnel were very accommodating.  If I did not visit the Park in 2020, my season tickets would automatically roll over to 2021.  I chose to do that in the hope that the restrictions would be unnecessary by 2021.  The good news is that the restrictions were lifted on May 15, 2021.  The bad news is that we visited the Park on May 14, 2021 when social distancing mandates required long waits to get into theaters. 

By 2 pm, we were discouraged at our inability to see any shows that in most years we might have been able to see multiple times in the same day.

Though we didn’t get to see Bluegrass headliners Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver like we planned, after leaving Silver Dollar City early, we did get to see JESUS.  No, He did not come to Branson in the flesh, but the amazing story of Jesus’ 33 years on earth told in the New Testament comes to life twice a day at the palatial Sight & Sound Theater in Branson.

While schedule flexibility has its benefits, getting good last minute show tickets is not one of them.  We ended up with seats near where the angel later began its descent from heaven to roll the stone away from the tomb of Jesus.

The theater has 2000 seats, but even from where we sat the view was excellent, perhaps better than those closer to the stage because of the massive dimensions of the theater.

As the lights dimmed and on stage the story started with the future disciples of Jesus bemoaning the poor results from a long day fishing, the two people with tickets for the empty seats directly behind my wife and I arrived. In the darkness behind us was jostling & seat-bumping as our new neighbors settled into their seats and tried to get comfortable. Shortly thereafter the crackling of cellophane food wrappers from the seats behind us began to compete with the dialogue on the stage.  I began to struggle with the words of Jesus to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”. 

Eventually, after Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount and fed the 5000 with a few loaves & fishes, the people behind us also got full.  The only noise I heard from that point to intermission was their applause mingling with my applause at inspiring times throughout the performance.

As the lights came on for intermission, the man behind us leaned over tapped my wife on the shoulder.

“I would like to apologize to you”, he said.  “I accidentally kicked your chair when I sat down.  I have not been able to straighten my right knee since I was 18 years old”, which I estimated had been sometime in the latter years of the Eisenhower Administration.  My wife’s mobility is also somewhat limited due to two titanium hips, two titanium knees, and a couple of bunion surgeries thrown in for good measure.  My wife and the guy began to commiserate on the challenges of living with bad joints.

The earlier wrapper crackling incident was soon forgotten amidst the camaraderie engendered by shared surgical experiences. 

When the elderly couple learned where we lived, mutual acquaintances were discovered.  While we didn’t make dinner arrangements together, a respect and bond began to form which supplanted my earlier irritation.

Ok, just as a refresher course, here are the lessons I was given on the first two days of our vacation:

Day one – It is more blessed to give than receive (even if the recipient has expensive taste in coffee).

Day two – Love your neighbor as you love yourself, even if they cracklecellophane food wrappers behind you in a darkened theater.

Branson already has a reputation for wholesome, family entertainment.  Sight & Sound Theater, bringing stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament to life with amazing depictions of JESUS, MOSES, SAMSON, NOAH, and QUEEN ESTHER can only help bolster that reputation.

A couple of nights after we attended JESUS, I met a military couple from Pa. who had been to see JESUS the same night my wife and I attended.  Their seats were 6 rows from the stage (but they had to sit through a time-share presentation to get them).  Even from the upper reaches of the balcony we experienced the same amazing sights and sounds as they.  But If you order early (or sit through a time-share presentation) and get seats on the floor like the Pennsylvanian’s did, instead of 40% of your five senses (sight and sound) being stimulated, you get one additional sense stimulated (smell) at no additional cost.  The profusion of well-trained camels, Roman soldiers on horseback, sheep, & pigs roaming the stage and aisles also stimulates your sense of smell according to my new friends who live not far from the other Sight & Sound Theater in Lancaster, Pa.

Adult Ticket prices were $62.50 with a 10% discount for veterans. 

Steep, but after I saw the performance, I thought it was worth it. 

And as everyone knows who read yesterday’s account of the first day of our trip, I’m not one to hand out money like it grows on trees.

On the Road Again

What Would You Do?

My wife and I were barely 20 minutes into our first vacation since the good old “pre-corona” days.  The morning was cool.  Our spirits were high.  We were headed to Branson, Mo. to enjoy a week of vacation that had originally been scheduled for May of 2020.  That week was cancelled when I received an email from the hotel suggesting we not come due to the uncertainties, closures, and untested restrictions that had been implemented in response to the then newly declared pandemic.

So – this was not to be a “blazing new trails” trip.  It was an “ease your toe back into the water” trip visiting long-familiar places in and on the way to Branson, Mo.  Having grown up only 40 miles from there, my wife and I had been enjoying Branson since our parents had taken us there to enjoy the Christmas parade when we were just kids.

Our first stop was to join a moderately long line at a Scooters Drive-thru in Jefferson City for a burst of caffeine.  I rarely sleep well the night before we leave on vacation.  This vacation was no exception.  Rarely, also, do I face a question more difficult than “room for cream? (NO!) when I order my usual large, dark roast coffee. 

Today would be different.

We advanced slowly toward our goal of two dark roast coffees, large for me, medium for my wife, no sugar, no cream.  Just delicious, tasty, dark roast non-prescription caffeine to clear our heads and invigorate our souls.

As we waited, I observed the car behind us from my side mirror.  An older guy was behind the wheel, unsmiling, with a short, gray-haired lady in the passenger seat. Maybe they were married.  Maybe it was an older son caring for his octogenarian mom.  He seemed stressed. 

As I pulled up to the drive-up window expecting “That will be $5.67” and adding a buck in the tip jar, the cashier said something unexpected.

“I’m sorry.  Could you repeat that?” I asked.

“The car in front of you paid for your coffee.  You don’t owe anything”. 

That had happened to me once before when I got in line behind an old man in an old pickup truck with a dog of undetermined age by his side.  It had seemed to take forever for him to get thru the line.  When he finally pulled away, I pulled up to the cashier, ready to pay and glad to be on my way. 

“That guy just paid for your coffee,” said the cashier.  That pleasant surprise was diminished by the embarrassment I felt from the realization that only moments before I was wishing he would just hurry up and get on his way.  The cashier said they were at fifty-something people in a row who had “paid it forward”.  I did the same to add 1 to their record.

Back to the present.

I know the thing to do when someone pays $5.67 for your coffee is to then pay for the coffee of the person behind you.

“How much do the people behind me owe” I asked, holding a ten-dollar bill and ready to happily pay it forward. 

“Their bill is $16.71” the cashier replied.

$16.71?  My eagerness to pay it forward suddenly evaporated.  I am a man of simple tastes, a man satisfied with a good dark roast coffee, no cream, unaccustomed to paying for designer lattes.    No wonder the guy was stressed., I thought to myself.   At $15 a day he was shelling out $450 a month to Scooters.

I wish I had had the opportunity to drink my large cup of Scooters coffee while I pondered this dilemma.  My usual decision-making rationale of “I’ll sleep on it!” seemed inappropriate.  Drivers behind me were beginning to get restless.  In fact, drivers in a drive-thru coffee line are restless when they enter the line.  I have long advocated for an express lane for customers at a coffee drive-thru whose order involves two ingredients or less.

“Uh”, I think I will pass” I said as the cashier waited patiently to see if I would continue to “pay it forward”.  I had fully intended to pay it forward if I had not been stricken with sticker shock.  And in retrospect, I wish I had. 

Large coffee in hand I drove away with a full day ahead of me to second guess my decision. Forking over $16.71 (plus tip) is better than the “cheapskate” guilt I experienced in response to my refusal to let a stop to purchase two cups of coffee set me back the better part of twenty dollars less than twenty minutes into our vacation.

From now on, the cashier will receive no blank stare from me when informing me the car in front of me has paid for my coffee.  I have already charted my course of action should this situation reoccur. 

I plan to pay it forward up to a $20.00 maximum, including tip. 

And if the tab for the car behind me exceeds that amount, I will resolve the situation with one simple question: “How much for the car behind the car behind me?”

We had been on the road for about 30 minutes and our vacation was already off to a memorable start.

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