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Please pass the cheese

037

One of the downsides of being a writer is that it is an isolated job that encourages solitude. For a natural introvert — as many writers are — being a full-time writer sometimes leads to hermit-like behavior, living in a made-up world with imaginary companions. Especially since my children are grown and my chauffeuring services are no longer required, I’ve been known not to leave my house for days — once on a particularly tight deadline race, I didn’t leave the house for almost three weeks. My husband has taken on the job of making sure I get out sometimes, especially when he can see tension or frustration mounting. He told me one time, “There are no ideas left within these walls.” We went out that weekend, and he was right — I found several new ideas on our excursions. Since then, I’ve tried to make it a point to take off weekends (well, at least parts of weekends) and go out to do new things and see new sights to refill the creative well.

Sometimes, though, I prefer to revisit a place filled with memories rather than trying something new. At least once a year, I am drawn to Branson, Missouri. Only a three-hour drive away, it has been a vacation spot for my family since the 1960s, when my three younger brothers and I were small. Branson was still a rustic, picturesque little town with a smallish amusement park and a few country music shows back then. When I married and had children of my own, we took them there often, buying season tickets to the rapidly expanding Silver Dollar City for the occasional weekend getaway with the kids.

As my children grew, so did the area. Branson is a completely different place now, crowded with hotels and theaters and shopping centers and go-cart tracks and resort condos and souvenir shops and tattoo parlors. It revels in “tacky” — nearly every shop sells frantically bedazzled clothes and flashy faux jewelry and hillbilly souvenirs made in China. A huge building shaped like a sinking Titanic is a prominent feature of car-jammed Highway 76. The popular attraction bills itself as a museum; a huge billboard on the way into town features a broadly smiling woman in a maid’s uniform beckoning toward the building as though welcoming visitors to the sinking ship. I can’t bring myself to visit that particular attraction.

I’ve seen most of the other shows and attractions, though. Some are spectacular, others low-key. Silver Dollar City is still a great place to visit, with rides and shows and crafts — long lines, high prices, over-priced food, but still fun, especially with children. We no longer purchase season passes, though I still love to go at Christmas time to see the millions of lights and the Christmas-themed shows. They make the best hot chocolate anywhere on earth.

The shows in the many Branson theaters have been called cheesy and corny — and they are. Nearly every show includes a syrupy tribute to the veterans in the audience, a segment with gospel music sung by attractive young performers in white robes and with a cross displayed on a screen behind them, and a huge flag unfurling at the end accompanied by a rousingly patriotic song. Pure, processed American cheese. I don’t care.  I love the shows — and I’ve been known to get teary-eyed right on cue as that flag waves. I expect schmaltz when I go to Branson — and I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get it.

It’s been a busy year for me, with one deadline stacked on top of another and several other projects on my agenda. The rest of the year is going to be a real challenge, with two books due and an upcoming writers’ conference to attend. Though I did get to visit New England in June when we helped our daughter and her husband move, we had only a couple of days to sight-see and I had to get back quickly to finish a book. There’s been no time for a real vacation, but my husband and I wanted to spend a few days somewhere with our son, who just finished a summer research job and starts college again on August 20.

I opted for Branson. It had been more than a year since we’d been, and I figured that was the perfect place for us to relax and just enjoy being together. We left Wednesday morning and returned Friday evening. We did some back-to-school shopping in the outlet malls (I grabbed a few bargains for myself), had a couple of very good meals (I didn’t wreck my diet too badly), played some miniature golf (the guys stomped me), and enjoyed dinner and a show on the Showboat Branson Belle. A friend’s lovely and talented daughter performs on the huge paddle-boat that cruises Lake Taneycomo during the show, and we thoroughly enjoyed the Broadway musical numbers, the requisite patriotic finale, and a ventriloquist/comedian who had all three of us laughing hysterically.

Mostly, I enjoyed revisiting the memories. We’ve made the drive through the beautiful Ozarks so many times that every landmark holds a memory. In and around the town are the places I visited with my parents and brothers, and later with my husband and children. I saw lots of grandparents there this time with their grandchildren — maybe I’ll have that pleasure someday. My mother particularly loved Branson. I smiled when I saw her favorite diner, her favorite theater, the place where she used to stay when she and her three sisters made their annual “sister trip” there. Our laughter-filled excursion on the showboat was on the second anniversary of my beloved mother’s death, another reason I needed the diversion. I know she would have approved our way of honoring her memory.

I got a couple of new ideas during my mini-vacation (and a few nice photos, which will probably pop up in this blog in the next few weeks). I’ve returned home refreshed and ready to get back to work. I hope you find time to recharge in your own way as summer winds down toward another school year and busy holiday season.

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Award-winning, best-selling author of women's romance fiction.

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