As we arrive and pass these annual milestones on the calendar, I’m repeatedly saying to myself, What a difference a year makes. We spent the Thanksgiving weekend last year at The Farm, agonizing until we were sick about the life-changing decision that lay in front of us. This year, as a result of that decision, we celebrated Thanksgiving in the Ozarks of Missouri.

Kates and I didn’t have to go to work on Wednesday, and no one stirred in our house until almost 10 a.m. Which has to be a record for The Missouri Era. … Within a couple hours we had our bags packed and the car loaded. And we were leaving The ‘Ville. Funny, in Wisconsin everybody talks about "heading north" for vacations and holidays; now the popular phrase is "heading south."

Little did we know we’d be driving through tornadoes to get there. We drove through not one, but two blinding, torrential rainstorms that I think are the new benchmark for Hardest Storms To Drive Through … Ever, beating out what became known as the Ingrid Michaelson Storm in Milwaukee last year. Again, I felt like I was navigating the Edmund Fitzgerald. … Somehow, Kates and I have a knack for finding such storms on our road trips, including the one we drove through a couple weeks ago to get to Kansas City.

No fear. I blasted through the storm. And we made it to our destination just fine.

After checking into our accommodations for the weekend, we reunited with my family at Joel and Stephanie’s new home. Some good old-fashioned Wisconsin brats for supper. While Phoebe and Sophia renewed their bond, watching Nickelodeon over plates of cut-up grapes and hot dogs. And Freddie just sat in his hi-chair and smiled. Endlessly.
* * *

Thursday we slept past 8 and indulged in the hotel’s continental breakfast. Then Phoebe camped in front of the television in our room and provided the play-by-play of every balloon passing through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade -- from "Snoofy" to Buzz. I’ve never been a big fan of the holiday parades, but watching it this year with Phoebe added a new dimension to the annual spectacle.

Outside, we had gone from 73 degrees the night before to 36 degrees, with a mixture of sleet and snow falling from the sky. Such is winter in Missouri.

We were back at Joel and Stephanie’s for the afternoon. We watched football and conversed while Phoebe and Sophia ran laps in their Disney dress-up clothes and butterfly wings.

One of the best things about visiting Joel’s and Stephanie’s house is their meals, and they delivered another delicious one for Thanksgiving. From the Ina Garten recipe book, they laid out a Thanksgiving buffet that included herb-roasted turkey breasts, green beans, cranberry relish, sweet potato casserole and pear-apple sauce. We were joined for dinner by member's of Stephanie’s family, and the room was filled with fun conversation.

Eventually, the goodbyes began. We wished Mom and Dad safe travels as they were returning to Wisconsin the next day. … And we played a fun game of Are you staying, or going with us? with Phoebe. We had given her the option of having a sleep-over with Sophia, but she soon decided to come back to the hotel with us.

Phoebe was asleep less than halfway into the five minute drive back to the hotel. Kates carried her limp body up to our room, and we laid her on the bed without a sound -- complete with the pink tutu she refused to take off when we left Sophia.

I went downstairs for a dip in the hot tub, while Kates sat in bed reading.

That was Thanksgiving Day.
* * *
Friday, we maintained our morning vacation routine. Slept in. Continental breakfast. But on this morning, there was a brilliant sun shining into our room.

After making ourselves look presentable, we were heading down U.S. 65 once more toward Joel’s and Stephanie’s place. In our strange upside down adult world, Uncle Joel, my little brother, agreed to watch Phoebe for the day, thus allowing Phoebe and Sophia -- the 2-year-old duo -- a full day of fantasy play and dress-up. … As usual, Phoebe clung to us and begged us not to leave until finally Kates and I distracted her long enough for us to creep through the door. As usual, we heard her screaming and running to the door while we headed for the car. By all accounts the screaming lasts only a few seconds before she’s off and playing, which is exactly what Joel texted to us a few minutes later as Kates and I drove to Branson.

Without a kiddo in tow, Kates and I spent the entire day in historic downtown Branson, joyously walking the sidewalks, breathing the crisp fall air and slipping in and out of the stores that appealed to us. Kates got to treat herself to a Starbucks coffee and lovingly pulled me into one too many jewelry stores. Both of us hunted for treasures within the numerous antique store booths; holding us back, however, was our tight budget and the lack of permanent housing to inspire us. And all of the vinyl records that appealed to me were outrageously overpriced.

We enjoyed a home-cooked lunch -- a taco salad for me and a patty melt for Kates -- at The Shack Café. We delighted in strolling through the aisles of Dick’s 5 & 10 -- a colorful array of everything. And we had fun filling a paper bag of old-fashioned candy at the Old Fashioned Candy Store. …

But, for a glorified historic downtown, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Our trips to Stillwater, Minn., and Galena, Ill., seemed to offer so much more in scenery and variety.

By late afternoon, we ventured down the hill to Branson Landing, a picturesque and modern outdoor shopping center in its own right. The atmosphere was bright and festive. A tall Christmas tree stood at the main entrance to the shopping center, Holiday music was blaring over loud speakers and the Landing’s trademark fountains were attracting eyes. … We explored a few stories in search of Christmas gifts, but came up empty.

We never made it to the classic Branson strip. Around 5 p.m., we had had enough and decided we needed to rescue Phoebe -- or Joel, depending on your perspective.

Back at their house, it turned out Joel had survived. He’d done just fine. … We downed some Thanksgiving leftovers with him and enjoyed each other’s company while the kids continued playing.

Stephanie completed her workday and joined us later. The goodbyes began shortly after that. … We were halfway out the door when Phoebe stopped in her tracks and said with wide eyes, “Wait! I give Unco Joe a hug n’ kiss!” She whipped around, ran to hug him and planted one of her trademark open mouth kisses on him before rejoining Kates and I.

For the second night in a row, Phoebe fell asleep less than halfway into our drive back to the hotel. Kates carried her to our room, and we laid her on the bed without a sound … I went downstairs for a dip in the hot tub, while Kates sat in bed reading.
* * *
This morning we were packed and on our way back to The ‘Ville by 11 a.m. We cruised toward Kansas City and made a pit stop at a Flying J -- where we filled up on caffeine, Phoebe walked up and down the store aisles picking out snacks, and we met a trucker from Janesville with whom we exchanged our Wisconsin knowledge and connections.

Around 3 p.m. we were nearing home and I was overjoyed to finally be within range of receiving the Bearcat football game on the radio. Lo and behold, our boys were trailing in the fourth quarter again, but staying within range -- a scenario we’ve witnessed the last four weeks and grew accustomed to long ago.

In this afternoon’s playoff game, they were down by as many as 10 points with 10 minutes left in the game, but a ‘Cats touchdown closed the score to 31-28. As the minutes waned and our heart rates increased, the defenses held tight.

With about four minutes in the game, the ‘Cats took the ball for a do-or-die possession and drove 80 yards downfield. They scored the game-winning touchdown with 17 seconds left, just as we’d arrived back in town and were traveling down Main Street. The silence in our vehicle was broken by loud cheers and pumping fists. Classic ’Cats football.

A few minutes later we were parked in our driveway, waiting out the final seconds, a hail mary pass and confirmation that the ‘Cats won the game. Smiles abounded.

“I guess we’re going to a football game next weekend!” Kates said.

Yes, we are.

1 comment:

Branson Traveler said...

The next time you're in town, you may want to hit up the Strip and maybe some of the attractions that are on Highway 76. Lots of things to do there that it sounds like you may have missed.