Where have I been?
- The Ozarks
Wrong. The answer is d. all of the above. Yes, ladies and gents, I spent last weekend in the great Cracker Barrel of America, destination: the Show-Me State of Missoura. Here’s how the story goes.
I decided, what with all this work and worry, I was about due for a spontaneous long-weekend getaway. So, on Sunday afternoon, I hopped in my car and went on a quest to find Laura Ingalls Wilder, or at least the closest thing. You see, visiting her home and museum in Mansfield, MO, has long been a dream of mine. Sure, she’s no Hemingway or Dickens or Fitzgerald or Austen… but Laura Ingalls Wilder and her work have meant something to a lot of people. She’s meant something to me.
So, off I went, on a 7 hour drive to rekindle a friendship with myself and a renewed appreciation for one of history’s strongest women. Here are some of the fun things that happened along the way.
First stop, dinner in St. Louis. I hadn’t gotten so close to the Arch since driving past it with Bonnie after her college graduation. I recall it was rush hour traffic on the freeway and she was putting in her contacts. Anyway… I pulled off at Kirkland Street, hoping to find a good steak, passing all the chain restaurants and ending up in a cute neighborhood by the Amtrak station. There was a new brewery there, but it wasn’t open yet, so that will have to wait. Instead, I went to Ice & Fuel, a bar/grill nearby, and had myself a nice steak and a Fat Tire. I watched the locals joke around with each other, boys playing video games and parents tipping their daughter-waitress heavily. I bought a t-shirt and got back on the road.
Made it all the way to Springfield on Sunday night, which was good, because I’d reserved a room at the Krystal Aire Motel there. I know, it sounds really bad, but it was actually very nice and smoke-free (thus, the name). They even had free Belgian Waffles for breakfast in the lobby. I can always be bought with waffles.
On to Mansfield. Of course, it was only going to be 93 degrees in the middle South humidity, but I left the windows down anyway. Sometimes I like the way humidity wraps its arms around you like a hugging blanket… or maybe I’m just too lonely. Ha ha. Anyhoo… gotta say, the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum and house are amazing. Maybe not to the naked eye, but for someone like me who practically lived vicariously through Laura for my first 20 years of life, seeing the validity of the stories for myself was unbelievable. Mary’s Braille slate, the lace Ida slipped Laura during her wedding ceremony, all the name cards and autograph books, the “wee tiny” jewel box with the gold cup and teapot on top, the “Give us this day” bread plate from their first anniversary, PA’S FIDDLE, everything, it was all there. She had saved so much (I’ll never chide myself for being a packrat again!!!). It was honestly overwhelming, and I couldn’t help but cry… I wanted to sit down and just soak it in, but every bench was taken by an old lady knitting or an old man reminiscing. So I just walked around the house and thought about the life she had led, and scribbled a bit in my journal.
I was pretty wiped out after that, and didn’t want to rush home just yet. So instead, I drove a few more miles down the road, through Houston and Rolla, and eventually into Cuba, a small town on I-44. There I walked into a Best Western and struck up a conversation with the old lady behind the counter, who gave me a discount as long as I listened to her secret 4th of July Baked Beans recipe (which, purportedly do not give you gas). I checked into another nice room, put on my barely-worn bikini, and headed to the pool.
When I got there, I found that there was a large family gathering piled into a puddle about the size of my bathroom sink. However, I did not want to be rude, so I took up residence on the only available deck chair, which also happened to be broken (one side of upper half sloped downward more than the other side). I pretended it was all fine and laid out, patiently hoping they’d all go to dinner and let me splash around on my own a little. No such luck. They continued to play while I sunned, prepubescent boys screeching at each other, babies crying, grandpa’s sagging, and one pretty girl about my age (who accidentally flashed grandpa and was cheered for it). As I lay there, thinking my thoughts, staring at the view of a car repair shop, I suddenly feel small, hard, hot objects being placed in the small of my back. I look up and see a 2 year old girl with dripping blonde ringlets and a ruffled blue suit carefully placing rocks on top of me. Her mother comes and takes her away, apologizing, but a few minutes later she comes back. The pattern repeats. Finally, I look up at her and say, “What’s your name?” “Me!” she responds. “No, what is your name?” “ME.” “OK, Me, go play with Mommy.” “No.” She plops down on the broken chair, wedgied fanny right by my face. I close my eyes and go back to sunning, as she eventually gets up. The last time I saw “Me,” she was getting spanked for taking off her suit and running ‘round the deck naked. That’s my girl.
Tuesday morning, I had to drive back for 4th of July festivities. But I decided to make one more momentous stop – The Antique Toy Museum. It was both creepy and fun. I walked in the door and the man behind the counter (who was wearing a flashing American flag pin) pointed to the sign that said, “you’ll love this museum or your admission back!” I took the gamble and went on the walk through aisle after aisle of old toy trains, trucks, dolls, you name it. Not much from my era, but still lots of fun. On the way out, I stopped to talk to the man and his wife again, listen to them brag about their kids and their travels across the country (they used to take the show on the road in a giant tractor trailer). As a parting farewell, I asked if I could take their picture, which they granted me, “but only if it’s under the sign!” So here you go.
And a couple more…
And, finishing with lovely Indianapolis on the 4th. True, there’s no place like home… but Missouri took good care of me.