Happy Thanksgiving to all this week; a very special uniquely American holiday to celebrate, however you choose to do so, this atypical year.
As our child threesome were growing up in Our Town in the 1980s and 90s, my bride, Lady Debbie and I, frequently took our offspring out of school. We took many various trips all over our wonderful U.S. of A, and outside our country’s borders, too. My late father, Col. C.H. Breedlove, always thought the best education was gained not necessarily in an interior school setting, but better in the many outdoor classrooms of the world! Yes, that mission was accomplished for me many times as a youth growing up in Our Town. My father took me on many "educational" trips to a vast array of various locations throughout North America.
High on my family (5 of us) priority of locations to visit was the southwest Missouri Ozarks area, and, more specifically, the quaint then rural town of Branson. When we first began driving that approximate 250-mile adventure from Our Town in the late 1980’s, Branson only had a permanent population of about 2,000, and was a relatively "sleepy", but rising travel destination. Legendary US Highway 76, running through the heart of the small town, was gaining businesses each time we visited. I would estimate we made 10 earlier-day visits to magical Branson. My bride and I even thought, fleetingly, that possibly we would purchase some vacant land along 76 for an investment? As fate would have it, however, we didn’t follow through with our lofty ideas, and never made an offer.
Onward in time to our recent autumn visit to Branson during these challenging Covid-19 times.
Our four-day vacation party consisted of eight adults, traveling from Our Town, McAlester, Dallas, and Eau Claire, WI. All four couples drove to the vacation destination; the only party that took two driving days was the Badger State folks from Wisconsin. Our youngest child, Robbie, 37, took the initiative to rent four of us a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owners) home, a few miles west of downtown Branson. It was a huge place, about 3,700 square feet, and had an outstanding view of beautiful Table Rock Lake, out our east-facing windows. Since it had been almost 20 years since my bride and I had been to the area, we were curious to see what effect prolonged time and a pandemic had done to this incredibly alive/vibrant town we had last enjoyed around the turn of the century.
Our first full day, we briefly visited the western portion of Highway 76, and noticed the afternoon traffic was light. We also noted several of the highway businesses were closed, either seasonally or permanently. Because the early fall weather was beautiful and the calendar showed Halloween not far off, we thought that area of Branson certainly could have been busier that particular Saturday afternoon..
The next day, we had our earlier findings reinforced when we visited historic Silver Dollar City theme park, a "must do" activity for this vacation destination. The iconic park, always a favorite of ours, was extremely clean, well-maintained, and decorated with colorful pumpkins throughout. Nowadays the park contains many new attractions, along with several daring, high-speed rides. Our group was able to enjoy any activity we desired, without having to wait in many long lines. Everyone wore masks, and social distancing was not an issue, either, with obvious decreased attendance. And, yes, we enjoyed consuming several park concession foods/drinks, too, without having to wait, due to he excellent service and fewer guests.
The following day, we shopped in the old downtown area of town, after having a late breakfast in the tasty Branson Cafe. We spent some extended time, visiting iconic Dick’s 5 & 10 variety store, a vendor that claims it has 75,000 items inside for sale to the public! We also shopped several other antique/flea market type stores, always searching for hidden treasures for bargain prices. That evening, the entire group gathered at Bass Pro Shop’s Big Cedar Lodge area, about 10 miles south of Branson. We had a wonderful mountain top supper at "The Top of the Rock" restaurant as the sun set, an old cannon, operated by soldiers dress in period clothing, was ceremoniously fired, followed by beautiful bagpiper music. The human companionship, food, and surroundings were truly memorable.
The final day, we checked out of our accommodations, and turned our vehicles toward our scattered homes. Each person now has many special memories planted in our minds’ eyes. Priceless.
Robert Breedlove is an Oklahoma State University news-editorial journalism graduate, and a former newspaper (including News Press) reporter. He resides in Stillwater, and has for most of his life.
He has been a contributing writer to various media over the United States for years. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.