Archive for Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Shouts and Murmurs

Rolling hills to east stir memories

April 28, 2004

Crossing Missouri last week on a trip to attend a funeral in the center of the state, we traveled over winding highways through a maze of rolling hills. Everywhere we looked the dogwoods were in bloom, the sun and blue skies bathed the countryside in the quiet of a peaceful springtime day.

It was enough to set my mind on thoughts of traveling, of long ago summer trips with my four brothers, sister and mother, cavorting across the Show Me State to visit Mom's parents in Missouri's boot heel.

Mom would make a trip out of the trip -- stopping in Branson when Silver Dollar City was younger and much smaller -- touring drafty caves everywhere we went -- pausing for a swim in the Current River, or a climb on Elephant Rocks. You name it and my mother was ready to go -- or to stop -- at our slightest urging.

It usually took three or four days to make the 500-mile trip (one way). And, they were memorable trips, made for me during the early teen years when there's nothing more delightful than having days off from school and the freedom to do a little exploring.

Of course Mom believed in teaching her children (and now her grandchildren) to read maps. On those trips through Missouri, we kids fought over who could ride in the front seat. But it came with a catch -- we had to navigate.

There were perils this plan of Mom's -- I recall missing a crucial turnoff in St. Louis which meant we headed downtown in rush hour traffic instead of around the belt as intended. I'm sure Mom still remembers that drive as well.

And there were life's little lessons to be learned along the way. I remember a hotel stay on the last night of a trip. As we were checking out the next morning, the owners said they would not accept an out-of-state check. The night before we had taken the owner's son with us to a nearby county fair.

Knowing my mother, and knowing she had just enough cash to get us home that day, I knew what was coming next.

I held my breath.

Mom said firmly, but politely, "Do you mean you trust me with your son but you don't trust me with your money?"

They took her check.

Missouri highways don't seem to have changed a lot since those days. They're still narrow and winding enough to take your breath away when a semi truck careens over a hill, tilting in your direction. County roads are still named after letters in the alphabet. And I wonder if there are still a few rickety bridges on paved roads that are marked: "Cross at your own risk."

Missouri may be next door to Kansas, but for some reason it's just a state with a vastly different flavor. Especially now, with the dogwood trees in bloom and memories of vacations long ago surfacing, like the nearly forgotten smile of a long lost friend.

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