This time...instead of begrudging the trip though....I decided to try to find the positives or at the very least, make the trip more interesting.....if only in my own head. As I took off heading north on the turnpike....I was doing a mental comparison of Kansas vs. Missouri. Of course there is no comparison because it is like comparing apples and oranges. While they are both states....that is about where the comparison ends. Kansas is endless plains (except for the hilly areas in the Flint Hills) and if not for hedgerows and trees....it seems that in certain places you might possibly be able to see forever. In the spring Kansas scenery is made up of fields of blooming purple clover, wild violets and trees no longer sparse and naked but slowly sprouting their tiny green leaf buds. There are miles that you can travel without seeing towns and rarely a house. If not for the highways...it might very well look similar to how it looked a century ago. Missouri on the other hand....the first thing you notice is that it has better roads and taking I-70 your first view of the state is bustling city as you trade Kansas City, KS for Kansas City, MO. Once out of the city though, the terrain is much rockier and much more hilly. Instead of a smooth horizon much of the road has high rocky ledges and in the distance...vastly rolling hills. In some ways I noticed that Missouri was much greener than Kansas. I am not sure if that is just the difference in the two states or maybe the current temperature and weather differences. They've had a weird spring too. Once I crossed the state line though.....I couldn't help but drift back to my first Missouri experience.
I loved Missouri long before I ever stepped foot in the state. As a young child maybe 8 or 9, I had read the most amazing book by author Harold Bell Wright. It was about a minister who leaves the big city for mental as well as physical health reasons and finds himself in the hills of Missouri. He becomes friends with the locals and he learns about the simple ways of their lives, a few hidden secrets and most of all.....he finds himself closer to God than he ever dreamed possible. I seldom read books more than once, but this book....The Shepherd of the Hills, I have read dozens of times over the years. As a kid I lost myself in the story of Aunt Molly, Old Matt, Sammy Lane, Young Matt and Pete. I longed to walk barefoot through the Missouri hills with Sammy or smell one of Aunt Molly's suppers coming from their little cabin. It all seemed so magical and I so wanted to see this amazing place that Wright chose as the backdrop for this beautiful story.
When I was about 12 my wish came true and my mom and aunt took my brother and I on the first vacation I had ever been on. We went to Branson, MO. Back then.....Branson was little more than a tiny town set back in the hills not far from Springfield. It's big draw at the time was Silver Dollar City, a small town opened from spring to fall and run by locals. It was full of stores selling local crafts as well as some of the areas finest glass and stone. It also was an amusement park of sorts. As much fun as it all was....just outside Branson was what I was longing to see, for not far down the winding road was Shepherd of the Hills. The book was based to some degree on a real story and the Matts, Molly and Sammy were real people who had lived, worked and died in these hills. Old Matt and Aunt Molly's cabin still stands and there is a now a museum and a theater where they have nightly re-enactments of the Shepherd of the Hills story. A tram ride takes you through the property and lets you see what life might have been like for these people at the turn of the century when a tired old man came to find himself and his faith. Although we didn't get to stay for the play.....everything else was amazing and I was at once in love with this place. It was everything that I had imagined it to be.....and more.
Over the years I have returned to Branson twice more and each time the small town has grown to the point of now being a huge tourist attraction year round. Silver Dollar City too has grown, become more commercial and it seems like much bigger. Shepherd of the Hills though, hasn't changed much. They did put a huge tower there that you can go up into and see far into Arkansas, but other than that.....Old Matt could come back today and I think he might still recognize the place.
My next foray into Missouri was the first time I came to meet my husbands family. This trip took me farther East to about 75 or 80 miles South of St. Louis. Since my husband Tim grew up in Missouri.....the roads didn't phase him and we drove almost a straight line East from Wichita to his home town of Bismarck. Many of the roads were two lane and far off the beaten path and the closer you got to Bismarck, the more curvy and for me, unsettling the roads got. The scenery along the way was beautiful but about thirty miles from his hometown.....the car sickness outweighed even the prettiest scenery. Luckily it didn't last long. I loved his home town, not because it was particularly beautiful. In fact it was very small, maybe no more than a thousand or so people and the downtown area was all but vacant. There is something about this though that I found intriguing. Buildings with a history.....empty and discarded and yet still a part of the town. The house Tim grew up in though, was always beautiful. It sits on 3 acres and from the lawn to the gardens.....it is always picture perfect. It is the epitome of comfort and home.
After Tim died....it took me a while to make that trip back to Bismarck, partly because of the memories and partly because of the drive. The trip on those lonely two lane highways and through those curvy roads was not very appealing for me with three kids. Eventually it dawned on me that I didn't have to take those roads. There were other routes in which that trip could be made. Thank God for Google Maps. It was at this time I realized that I could take 35 North to I-70. This also scared me a bit because I had never driven in Kansas City, but after a stay at Children's Mercy in Kansas City....I knew I could do it. After all....when you get lost in a city, have to ask a complete stranger for directions and then miraculously find your way back to your destination.....you pretty much own that city. At least that is what I tell myself every time I drive through it. Another plus for going the 35 to 70 route is that once on 70 going East....you run right into to Columbia which is where we can stay with my aunt and uncle over night and cut the driving time in a little over half. I also had the route marked out to where I could sort of outskirt St. Louis and head South to Bismarck without hitting major traffic....unless of course you make a wrong turn and get lost in the city. Yeah.....I pretty much own St. Louis too!
Since we started going to Shriners though....I have again fine tuned the trip so that we don't have to put everyone out every time we go to Shriners. Lets face it.....we are not a quiet or easy bunch when we invade a space, so we make the Shriners appointment early and drive straight to Shriners from Columbia. It is about a 2 hour trip with little or no traffic. After the appointment we just take off and drive straight through to home. It works well for everyone.
Making this trip has been an accomplishment of sorts in my life. I proved to myself that I could do it. Now though....because the trips have been so frequent over the last year, it really doesn't hold much for me except the knowledge that it is an important benefit to Davids life. I seldom pay attention to the scenery as I am focused on time, mileage and exit signs. The thought of being in the same state as the one Wright wrote about rarely enters my mind. The trip has just become mundane and necessary.
So as I said.....as we were leaving this time it dawned on me that this trip would be a part of our lives for possibly years to come. Ever so often there would be at least 30 hours where our life consisted of travel, Kansas vs. Missouri scenery and a lot of car time riding together. Rather than dread this time or lose 30 hours to nothing more than sign reading and wishing that we were all doing something else....I decided to make the time count. Remembering how I used to feel about Missouri helped and knowing that I was competent and getting fairly comfortable with the drive was also a plus. I also watched the scenery and noticed the houses which seemed to be precariously close to I-70 and wondered why someone would choose a place like that to live. I saw the fields of cattle and watched as billboards became more frequent with pro-life messages....but not to be out done by the billboards telling us that there were XXX stores at the next exit. It was a strange mix. Then there are those huge steel bridges which cross the Missouri river and cause my heart to head for my throat each time I must drive over them. High places and vehicles mixed.....give me huge anxiety.
Just outside of Columbia there is a sign with Betty Boop advertising a Nostalgia Store just down the road. There are also flashing road signs telling us every few miles that 163 people have died on MO roads this year and that 53% of those drivers were not wearing seat belts. MODOT cares! While I find this a bit unnerving....I do double check at least twice to make sure Z and David both have their seat belts securely around them. Mom cares too!
Through all of this Z had his cell phone plugged into the car speakers via a wired cassette that goes into the cassette player. We spent hours listening to music through Spotify. When it was my turn to choose a genre.....as usual I chose musicals. Z typed in Memphis (the musical) to give Spotify a place to search. It was musical pay dirt as I found new songs and new musicals which I had never heard before but now think I must see. Z kept me apprised of the new alternative music as well as humoring me with some country and 80's rock. We listened, we sang and we discussed the music, the road signs and we even delved into a little bit about what was going on in our lives. David meanwhile stayed in the back seat watching the cars pass by and letting out a "yee haw" whenever a song came on that he liked. Periodically I could see him bopping his head or boogying to a techno beat or a great country song. The drummer in him came out as he beat the back of my seat in time to Bon Jovi and Motley Crue. The time just seemed to get lost in the scenery, the music and the conversation.
As I pulled off the turnpike....about ten miles from home, Z turned down the radio and said, "You know, I dreaded this trip but..... it really wasn't too bad. In fact....it was kind of fun." I couldn't help but smile. Yeah....I too had dreaded this trip. I wanted nothing more than for it to be behind me. Now that it was though, I actually felt a little sad. In those 30 hours.....I didn't just travel to a destination and back. In those 30 hours, I laughed...a lot. I saw things along the way that I had never paid attention to before. I sang....which I know was fun for me, but not so much for those captive in the car with me. I talked to my son and learned a little more about the young man who will be graduating in a year and who is developing a life and a future of his own. My boys and I jammed together going down the road and most important of all.....we enjoyed our time together as a family. It was the best 30 hours I had spent in a long time.
Now we are home armed with new knowledge about David and a plan for the short term. And what started out as a dreaded trip, turned into an unexpected good time....and that makes the thought of the next trip....a little more palatable. All in all I would have to say that as a family....we got much more out of this trip than medical advice. We got memories for a life time....and let's not forget.....I found a new musical. I guess what we all learned is that when you are having fun with family.... 30 hours really ain't no big thang! ;)