Greetings from Branson, MO (Written 11/25/05 at 10:30 or so in the morning)

We didn't leave home at 6:00 AM on Tuesday, but we were on the road (as in, finished with the Starbucks run) by 6:45, so we were happy. I slept, for the most part, until we hit the Oklahoma state line, at which point I had to laugh. As I told Fuzzy, “I don't know if the phrase 'praise God and pass the ammunition' was invented in Oklahoma or not, but if it wasn't it should have been'.” Why? Because apparently the catch-phrase, at least on businesses off 75, is “Y'all want ammo with that?”

Seriously, every business we passed (with the possible exception of McDonald's) was offering ammunition. We passed roadstands labelled, “Fruit & Ammo,” “Used Cadillacs & Ammo,” “Antiques & Ammo” & (my favorite) “Christian Books & Ammo.” It was at once entertaining, and a bit disturbing, and was not at all aided by the atmosphere of economic depression that seemed to loom – the front page of the local paper read “Sun Sets on GM Plant.”

Crossing into Arkansas the ambience changed, as did the landscape. Suddenly we were driving through lush greenery, and then climbing into the mountains. While the Ozarks are nothing like the Rockies or Sierras (the ranges I consider 'home' ), they are beautiful, especially when adorned in fall colors. I'd love to spend a weekend in a quiet B&B in these mountains.

Branson itself is not my cup of tea. It really is a Christian version of the Borscht Belt, and commercialized religion really bothers me. It is in no way a sincere mission when shows are making money singing praise music, just a way of making money. On the one hand, I appreciate the marketing, but mostly, I find myself wanting to flee as quickly as possible to someplace free of kitsch and smarm.

And yet, we're managing to have fun. My mother-in-law's gift to the entire family was a day at Silver Dollar City, which is sort of like Concentrated Branson, with a Dickens Faire flair. We saw a musical version of A Christmas Carol that was reasonably well done, and the sing-along train ride through the lights was pleasant, as were the tree-lighting and light show in the main square, and the food stands actually offered some really delicious skillet/stir-fry concoctions of red and sweet potatoes, green beans, onions, and yes, okra (well, it IS the Ozarks).

Yesterday was devoted entirely to family – Fuzzy's aunt had organized an incredible amount of food (turkey, ham, and several casseroles, fruit salads and regular salads, pecan-crusted yams, and more desserts than anyone really needs to know about) – these midwestern women really know how to host a buffet. The afternoon was spent in game-playing and picture viewing, and then at five pm we switched into Christmas mode, with all the kids getting stockings, and the adults engaging in a gift swap that was hilarious. (A pizza cutter and a quilted apron were the hot items, while Flavia, my sister-in-law's foreign exchange student has become addicted to one of those maze-games where the ball bearings release a money sleeve.) We scored a copy of Dead Poet's Society and a Christmas table-runner and matching placemats in exchange for a lavender bath kit and two pounds of Ghirardelli chocolate squares.

After the gift exchange, Fuzzy's immediate family congregated in their cabin and we spent a few hours just talking and catching up, while the kids watched endless episodes of “That's So Raven.” Today, I'm writing this from Panera, the only place in town with free wifi, or any wifi, with Fuzzy and his brother Bill also fulfilling their geek quotient (everyone else is off shopping). This afternoon, we're seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and tonight there's the Trail of Lights. Tomorrow, everyone leaves, and Fuzzy and I are debating staying through til Sunday morning, or leaving tomorrow also, and taking a leisurely drive through Arkansas before heading home.