The Ozarks Experience

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Last week we packed up the boys, packed up the van, and drove south, far south, to visit family for the holidays. The area to where we drove is an area where the gas stations look less like luxury marts and more like straight-up filling stations with a bait shop attached to the side. It's a place where motels are a straight line of small rooms with big picture windows, the sorts of motels that inspire horror movies. The roads are narrow, the shoulders even more so, but the coffee is black and the radio stations are quirky and good.

View from the car

We came across one such peculiar little station that played nothing but old Hank Williams, Sr., and only the good covers of his songs. I would take that station out for a date if it was possible. Sit back and let this tune play in a separate window while enjoying the drive down south with us.

One of my favorite things about driving down south is the difference in the scenery - more specifically, the idiosyncrasies or other things which underscore the differences between your environment and the one in which you're entering. I sometimes poke fun my experiences from spending weekends and entire summers down south, but really, I adore them. I love the more primitive, no BS stick-and-barbed-wire fence above.
Baptist church

The further south in Missouri you go, the more Baptist and Pentecost churches you come across. If you're anything other than those two denominations, you're SOL. The town in which most of my family lives is tiny but boasts more churches per square mile than any other town I've seen. Sometimes I laugh because it seems like they all compete for parishioners with their roadside Vegas-y light-up signs, all of them trying to out-motto each other. Many of these churches don't have a baptistery per say; all of my aunts and a couple cousins were dunked in the big creek at the other end of town. The fire-and-brimstone preacher from my youth redeemed himself to me somewhat by holding my grandmother's hand and praying for her on the morning she passed away.
Aged barn

This photo was of poor quality so I Photoshopped the tar out of it. The barn pictured was a few miles before the lone super Wal-Mart, which sits on a hill overlooking the highway and empty plains surrounding it. A few miles on down the road is a white, pitched-roof building with a handmade sign marking it as simply "Gregory's." Chris was all "Gregory's WHAT?" The proprietor, my aunt told us, is a large man called Tiny Gregory who worked on stock cars or something and his place used to be a garage. When he shut the garage down he took part of the sign with it, leaving "Gregory's." Chris wants a sign on our house that says "Chris's." Sadly, I couldn't get a decent photo of it because of the torrential downpour.
Empty house

Another aunt of mine lived in a house just like this in the middle of town behind the railroad tracks. My cousins and I used to sit on her porch swing with sticky Fourth-of-July pops and motion for the conductor to pull the whistle for us. The last time I saw her alive I'd taken Liam (who was a toddler at the time) out to walk on the tracks and throw pebbles while the others kept a vigil inside. That was his first glimpse of death. She passed away several years ago and I haven't seen the house since. I'll never forget her homemade red velvet cake.

Driving south

I have a large family, but we're scattered and segregated due to the storms brought on by some after my grandparents passed away. I've written about it here before; it's in my extensive archives, spanning five years, which I still plan to restore at some point. Because of this, southern Missouri doesn't look the same to me. That united, happy family still lives in my memories, though my celebrations with them are limited to the time loops of earlier livin'.
Long drive into the wood

The sister to whom my mother is the closest, my favorite aunt and uncle, live down a long gravel road. I have no idea what would draw someone to build a house so far from the town lights, away from any and everything, but then again, there are times when I'm so fed up with people that I'm moved to march through the wood as far as I can and scratch out a home in the hills. It's romantic to think that on some days the only conversation you'd get is that of the wind whispering between the branches.

Cabin by the river

The view from my aunt's front porch. During past visits my uncle paraded the kids down to the river's banks and they skipped stones; this visit it poured nearly the entire time (which is why most of the photos are taken from the car) and they would sink up to their knees in mud, so they didn't go. I love the way the branches are gnarled and curled every which way. It's my favorite part of the photo.

This was one of the best visits to date. It's good to tend to your roots. (Even better when your aunt sends you home with a tin of homemade chocolate truffles, cookies, and bon-bons.)
Click any photo above for an extended or different description.



What a wonderful post! It took me back to my own childhood trips to my grandparents' in Southern Illinois. I'm glad your boys are going to have some wonderful, rural memories of their own.


When I'm in the Ozarks (or just to annoy my Long Island husband), I always have to listen to Chicken Train by the Daredevils.

Nice story and trip down memory lane.

I love the color in the photos, too!

Those pictures remind me of the trip to my Grandmother's in Mountain View, MO. They could have been taken on the drive from her house to my Great Aunt Maybelle's place. Brings back SO many memories. Thank you for sharing them.

Thanks for sharing this trip down memory lane with us. I have rural relatives too and it made me miss them.
Happy New Year to you and yours.

Photos from the window are one of my favorite things. I recently did a whole post of them from all the touring I did. These are gorgeous and so well done. even the ones that you "photoshopped the tar" out of :)

Glad I found your blog.

What a lovely post! I have to ask- how do you get your pictures to look so...soft, I guess. I got a great camera over a year ago and still don't really know how to use it. It's a Olympus E-510...would love my pics to look like yours.

Thank you for this. It brought back solid, wonderful memories of my childhood when we visited family.

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