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Boba and Jango Fett

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.

There is much to be thankful for

I'm baking today and Chris is brining the turkey. Liam is obsessed with who killed the turkey.

"Who shot it? Did Grandpa shoot it? Did you shoot it?"

"No, we got it at the store!" Chris said, exasperated.

The boys stood by the sink gagging and laughing at all the turkey innards.

"I'll eat everything but that heart," Ewan said, eyeing the giblet bag.

I have two tables set up in my dining room and the first pie cooling on the counter. Tonight we're going to see our friend's band play their annual night before Thanksgiving show and tomorrow the kids will watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade while I set the tables. It's a far cry from the Thanksgivings we used to have at my grandparents' little house in the Ozarks. All were invited. My grandpa's pet chicken, Dumpling, would run around in the front yard while every mature woman in the family would be packed into the small galley kitchen preparing food. They'd have to holler a prayer twice because there were too many people to hear it good once. TBS would air their "A Christmas Story" marathon which Grandma left on until all the leftovers were distributed or refrigerated and then the menfolk would watch the football game. Afterwards, half of the family would primp to go to the next-town-over's big Turkey Bowl basketball tourney and half would gather in Grandma ad Grandpa's dining room and play dominoes.

I'm sitting at my empty dining room table as the morning light fills the room, looking at how I try to overcompensate with white table linens, linen napkins, and candles just to foster what came naturally to Grandma and Grandpa's Thanksgivings: effortless togetherness.

I think the magic that lives in our youth comes from not knowing how hard the adults worked to create it.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year. I'm thankful for my family, faith, and true friends; memories; our health; the work that sustains us financially; the opportunities that come our way; free speech, beef jerky, "Celebrity Rehab," and the vast amounts of patience I require daily.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  

Our idea of foreplay

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I became both fascinated with and terrified of the macabre back at my family's creaky old lodge in the Ozark wilderness. My villainous older cousins showed me the game Bloody Mary there once during our family's Christmas party. The lodge was an imposing character by itself. It sat a couple of miles off the highway down a narrow, nondescript gravel lane which opened up to a quaint clearing in the middle of the woods. It was Bavarian in appearance and unsettling anachronistic: a three-story tall gingerbread constructed of wood and stone with a giant stone fireplace running up both floors. There was a pond with a waterfall on the property; a half-mile up the lane was a small dam where a foot-wide, fifteen-foot tall slab of concrete held back the dark, still waters of a small lake. My cousins and I used to walk across that slab all the time, unbeknownst to our parents. Falling one way meant certain death on the rocks below. Falling another way seemed worse as we had no idea what lied in that mini Sargasso. Even further up the ridge and deep into the woods was a large, hidden lake. It was pristine and beautiful but we were too afraid to hike down to it because coyotes and pumas were common in the area.

Inside the lodge's interior décor was dated and neglected. The lamps were amber glass; the furniture was gold, olive, and 70s. The atmosphere had that same sepia hue visible in all photos from this era. My aunt and uncle were the property's caretakers; the lodge's owners were a group of rich doctor friends who would stay there a few times throughout the year. Otherwise, we had the run of it.

The lodge was a horror film setting waiting to happen. You have to understand this to understand my horror film neurosis. 

We had our holiday parties at this lodge and while our parents drank, played pool, ate, and visited downstairs, my cousins and I would climb the dark, narrow back stairs and play in the maze of bedrooms on the second floor. During one Christmas party the girls dared the boys to go into the bathroom and say "bloody Mary" three times with one of our folks' stolen cigarette lighters. We were all too chicken except for one cousin who did it, only if we all went into the bathroom together. After the third "bloody Mary" we were spooked and convinced that all hell was after us. It didn't help that the lodge was built like the Winchester house with secret storage areas and multiple staircases. It was the perfect environment for fear to fester. My entire youth is a series of odd vignettes like this, another reason I assume why I'm drawn to kookiness.

Also why I am simultaneously a fan of, and a total pansy about, horror stories and films. (One time in elementary school, after a kid told me a story about murderous teddy bears, I went home and blindfolded and tied the wrists of all the stuffed animals in my room. Then I was afraid to untie them because WHAT IF? They didn't have a motive before but THEY SURE DID NOW. I really wish I was joking.)

Fast-forward to last night. We had just finished watching a ridiculously stupid, yet still pretty freaky horror movie called "Dead Mary" and headed to bed. Chris kept teasing me: like when I was brushing my teeth he'd flick off the lights, poke his head in and whisper "BLOODY MARY." He thought it hysterical. When we climbed into bed, I rolled over, turned off the glass lamp, rolled back towards Chris, and felt a lump in the bed between us. Every synapse in my body simultaneously screamed "FREAK OUT FREAK OUT EVERYBODY FREAK OUT!!" I flipped over, turned on the light, and when I rolled over towards the lump I saw this looking at me:

And because Chris was exploiting my neurosis as a joke and holding it up, I ended up accidentally socking him in the face. Luckily my aim was off because I was half-blind; otherwise I might've broken his nose. He made a big dramatic deal out of it, saying Ohmygawd, it was only Elmo and I was all ohmygawd EXACTLY why, WHY do you do this to me?? Even after the drama died down and the lights were off he giggled into his sheets about it for a half-an-hour. He thought I was asleep ... but really I was just plotting my payback.

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Dana asks: "Thanksgiving Traditions: Yours or Your Mother's?"