The Great River Road, Part 17: Kyle-Laci Engagement, An Oral History

“I choose you and I’ll choose you. Over and over and over without pause, without a doubt, in a heartbeat I’ll keep choosing you.”       – Unknown

September 24, 2015 – Day 26 – Searcy, Arkansas

 We left Petit Jean State Park and traveled east to Harding University in Searcy. I was there just long enough to hook up the RV, hug Kyle’s neck and have lunch. I then departed in the Fit for a quick trip to Tullahoma, TN, to finish up my root canal. Lil Jan stayed behind to visit with Kyle, Laci, and their friends.

September 25, 2015 – Day 27 – Searcy, Arkansas

Lil Jan got to hear Kyle speak in chapel this morning, which is a cool thing for a parent to get to do. Meanwhile, with my troubled tooth fixed, I returned to Searcy that evening and was greeted by Kyle, Laci and twelve of their friends hanging out in our RV! We had cake and ice cream to celebrate Kyle’s 22nd birthday. Both of our sons have made such great Christian friends at Harding. We love being around them. We went to bed that night with great anticipation about tomorrow’s agenda. The plan was for us to go hiking with Kyle and Laci. And now, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story…

September 26, 2015 – Day 28 – Sugarloaf Mountain, Arkansas

On the morning of September 26th, 2015, Steven Kyle Johnson proposed to Hannah Laci Genry atop Sugarloaf Mountain in Arkansas. The events leading up to, during, and after the proposal can best be told by those who were there. Here, then, is the definitive oral history of #kylelaciengagement, precursor of #downtheaislewithkyle.

Setting the Stage 

Mark Adams, former Youth Minister, Old Hickory Church of Christ: I’ll start. It’s my fault. There…I said it. I hired them both as youth interns, and clearly laid out the rules.

Laci:  There were rules?

Mark:  One of those rules was “no dating the other intern”…but I failed to include “no marrying the other intern”. My bad…this whole thing’s on me.

Mark... "Supervisor"
Mark… the “Supervisor”

Kyle: My initial plan was to date every girl in Zeta Rho, alphabetically.

Rachel, Jason’s wife: How shallow.

Options, options, options
Options, options, options

Kyle: I started with A… Abbie Stumne. I had feelings for Abbie going back to 3rd grade. Then she went off and got married. Whatever.

Abbie: Kyle Johnston? I vaguely remember him.

Abbie, or Not Abbie
Abbie, or Not Abbie, That is the Question

Kyle: I moved on to the B’s…Bissell, Olivia. Great potential, but she dumped me and suggested I consider becoming a eunuch in a remote colony off the coast of Greece.  So I did.

Brotherhood of Eunuchs
Brotherhood of Eunuchs

Ken Bissell, Olivia’s Dad: I insisted Olivia break up with Kyle. Before anyone else, I knew that he would end up with Olivia’s best friend, Laci. It was pre-destined, and I wasn’t going to let my own daughter get in the way of destiny.

Over to you...
Over to you…

Olivia: Kyle was cute and all, but the long neck was a showstopper. His kids will look like E.T., and I wanted no part of that. I felt bad, but I had to cut him loose.

Laci: I’d like to say something here…

Kyle: Next up was C…Chelese. The attraction there was real, and I thought it was mutual. But she wanted to keep it platonic. Letter by letter, girl by girl, the pattern of rejection continued.

Decisions, Decisions
Decisions, Decisions

Kyle: Rejection after rejection, I worked my way through the Zeta Rho alphabet.  Time seemed to be running out.  Then I got a break.  While hanging out at the Caf, I developed a bit of a crush on Mrs. Norma. She was always so kind and nurturing to me. Between her and the smell of vegetables, I felt at home in the Caf.

Mrs. Norma, Harding Caf: Kyle was like a son to me. More like a distant stepson from a 3rd marriage who you never really got close to…but a son nonetheless.

Kyle:  My desperation continued.  I was determined to find love somewhere.

Awkward Times
Awkward I
Awkward II
Awkward II

Jason:  We worried about Kyle’s downward spiral.  It seemed only a matter of time that he would hit rock bottom…

Awkward Times II
Rock Bottom

Kyle:  I was in a bad place.  Sometimes I’d wake up with no clue where I was…

Homeless2

The Courtship

Mark:  Kyle clearly was in a desperate place, so I brought him on as a youth intern.

Kyle:  Game changer.  I even convinced him to also hire my “friend”, Laci Genry.

Mark: Rules for interns are critical, and I left out an obvious one… “Do not make dance videos together.” That’s where the first sparks occurred. This one’s on me, folks. It happened on my watch. I felt so bad about it I moved to south Texas and went into hiding near the border.

Jim Oliver, elder, Old Hickory Church of Christ: They made dance videos?

Tami, Laci’s mom: Laci didn’t date much in high school. She mainly did sign language and stared at couches. We just assumed she would return home and live with us after college.

Can I just say one thing about couches?
Can I just say one thing about couches?

Dr. Youngblood, Harding faculty: Θέλεις να χορέψεις μαζί μου; (thélis na horépsis mazí mu?)

Laci: What was that?

Caleb, Laci’s brother:  Mom’s right…Laci didn’t date much.  A lot of guys were scared of her.  I’m not sure why.

Nuff Said
Nuff Said

Tim, Laci’s dad: A lot of people thought she was home-schooled. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Kyle: Sure there were feelings for Laci during the intern dance videos. I felt her knee hit my back as she tried to somersault me. Those feelings were real.

Laci: Can I just make one point?

Janet, Kyle’s mom: When Kyle first told us he had feelings for Laci, I asked, “Don’t you mean Abbie?”

Steve, Kyle’s dad: My first thought was, “Who’s Laci?” Then he showed me the dance videos. I wept.

"I really like her, mom"
“I really like her, mom”

Kyle: It seems immature now, but I asked the Harding CAB to sponsor a contest and award a prize for the video with the best pickup lines. I didn’t want the prize…I just wanted to practice my pickup lines on Laci.

Laci: We won the contest. I had no clue Kyle was actually trying to ask me out.

The Ring…

Tim: It all happened so fast. He started coming home with Laci. We considered moving.

Kyle Creepily Stalks the Family
Kyle Creepily Stalks the Family

Tami: When she told me how she felt about Kyle, I immediately reserved the wedding venue, and began crocheting the bridesmaids’ dresses.

Steve: Kyle was reluctant to buy an engagement ring. He said it would cost money. That’s something people don’t think about.

Larry Alexander, Challenge Point Director: I have tried to mentor Kyle by leading him on several wilderness hikes. One night he secretly pooped right on the trail, violating “Leave no Trace” principles and common human decency. I’m not sure a guy who would do that should be getting engaged, much less married.

Janet: I immediately started texting Tami about the rehearsal dinner and what they should name our first grandbaby. These were such exciting times!

Laci: As far as the ring is concerned…

Jason: He called me for ring advice. I suggested a diamond ring. And a good shave.  It felt good to be a part of the process and help my little brother.

Whoa!
Whoa!

Colby, Laci’s brother: I found out this Kyle guy was a Tennessee fan. 4.5 billion men on the planet, and she falls for a Tennessee fan? You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s not how we roll (tide) in this family. Get it?

Tami: When I heard Kyle was shopping for a ring, I was so thankful that I had already purchased the wedding flowers and decorations. I hope the roses keep.

Olivia: When I heard he was shopping for a ring, I sent him a letter, certified mail.  My dad paid the postage. I wrote, “Dear Kyle, You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me…But we are never ever ever getting back together.”

Tim: Kyle called me to get my permission. Again and again. Finally, after dozens of calls, I suggested that together we search the Scriptures for guidance. I took him to 1 Corinthians 7:1, which reads, “It is good for a man not to marry.” As a Bible major, I thought Kyle would understand the passage and take it to heart.

Jason: Things were getting serious between them. I said to myself, “Does she know about his chest?” It’s not even. If he were a woman, he’d wear two different cup sizes. On their wedding night, I didn’t want her to see his chest and say, “Whoa, what’s up with that?”

The Approach to Sugarloaf Mountain

Landon, Laci’s brother: The big day had finally arrived. We were going to climb Sugarloaf Mountain and hide in the trees to watch the proposal. As the most physically gifted member of the engagement party, I put the team on my back and took them all to the top.

Janet: I struggled with what to wear on engagement day. Spandex pants with a t-shirt, or an entire fluorescent unitard. This day was mostly about them, but also about me…I AM the mother of the groom!

Spandex marks the spot
Spandex marks the spot

Landon: I wore spandex to basketball practice one time and it itched horribly. That wasn’t an option for me. Instead I wore a tank top to show off my muscles.

Dr. Youngblood: I’ve never worn spandex.

Jason: Honestly, I wasn’t sure about mom’s spandex pants. They looked spray-painted on. I’m not even sure they are allowed on Sugarloaf.

Kyle: Despite mom’s bright spandex pants, it was a beautiful day to climb a mountain and get engaged. At each level of rock formation, I extended my neck to look for the next foothold.

Laci: Whenever I hike or exercise, I think about the creepy skeleton inside of my body, mimicking my every move. Does that bother anyone else?

Mandy, Steve’s former dog: I wasn’t able to do the hike…for obvious reasons.

Dr. McLarty, Harding President: I wasn’t on the hike either. But I’d like to add that of all the SA Presidents we’ve had at Harding, Kyle is the most recent.

Steve: I’m not big on heights, but I focused on two things: the summit, and the glowing spandex that called out to me like a beacon in the night.

Summiting Sugarloaf

Cody Sabando, Steve’s former student: I was the first to summit. I had no idea what was going on. I’m just a freshman at Harding.

Steve: Cody, you’re not part of the engagement party. Why are you on this blog?

Cody: The first thing I noticed was a group of mostly older looking people crawling out from the highest rock. They were breathing heavily. They looked like the zombies from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

Steve: Cody, get out of this oral history.

 Jason: We were all so excited to summit and get to our hiding places behind the grassy knoll. Once there, I noticed Miss Tami sat down on a rock and began working on what appeared to be wedding invitations. Strangest thing.

Colby: As the designated cameraman, I zoomed my lens on the final rock near the summit, hoping to get a shot of Kyle and Laci emerging. Instead, I saw a woman who appeared to be dragging a parachute.

Rachel: It was Janet in her spandex. I told Colby to look away.

Laci: As we summited the mountain, I had my suspicions that today might be the day. Kyle had more back sweat than usual. Do they make deodorant for the back?

Kyle: I went through my final mental checklist. Get her off to the side with the pretty view. Pull out the Bible with “Laci Johnson” engraved on it. Pull out the ring. Say the right things. Have her sign the pre-nup. Be ready with a rebuttal in case she says “No”.

Tim: I had secretly highlighted in the Bible some passages for Kyle to consider. One was Proverbs 21:9, which reads, “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” Yes, this was my version of a hail-Mary pass.

Colby: Summiting was so exhilarating! I celebrated with a freestanding backflip and went straight into a split. My little sister’s life was about to change!

The Proposal

Kyle: I took her hand and looked deep into her eyes. This was the woman of my dreams…the woman I love. I want to spend the rest of my life with her and make dance videos and children.

Laci: As he took my hand and looked into my eyes, I noticed his face was red and puffy…kind of like an Oompa Loompa.

Kevin Fields, Kyle’s host dad, near St Louis: I wasn’t invited to this event…apparently because a host dad is “not family”. Whatever. I have nothing to add.

Jason: I was concerned that Kyle might vomit. He vomits under stress. He has vomited after several 5K races, including all of the Fishhawk Turkey Trots. Race organizers even considered changing the name to the Turkey Vomits.

Looking Out for His Brother Since the Early 90s
Looking Out for His Brother Since the Early 90s

Kyle: I was nervous, all right, but I said all the things I wanted to say. Most of it I got from Hallmark cards. I read some Scripture and told her I was ready for our stories to merge. I told her she didn’t have to give up being a Crimson Tide fan…God’s grace would cover that.

Jason: Kyle vomited when Tony Romo got injured and when Olivia dumped him. Whether Laci says, “Yes” or “No”, there’s a decent chance he’s going to vomit on Sugarloaf. Zoom in, Colby.

Laci:   Honestly, I don’t remember what he said. It all happened so fast. He looked sweet, and sincere, and puffy. I thought he was going to pass out.

Janet: I missed most of it. My spandex got caught on a live oak and by the time I realized it, I had catapulted like a slingshot across the summit.

Tami: I missed most of it too. I was writing a 7-page text to Jenny Diamond to get her suggestions on wedding music.

Tim: I saw the whole thing. As Kyle took a knee, I began throwing little pebbles at them, hoping to throw him off his game. There’s nothing I could do to stop this. I blame Mark Adams. In fact, we all do.

On the Summit
On the Summit

Colby: I got some great shots, although Kyle’s neck is extended on some of them and he appears to be eating leaves from a tree.

Kyle: I asked her to be my wife. I’m all in on this girl.

Laci: I hesitated. Do I really want to do this? His parents live in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Carolina Adams, Mark’s wife:  They’re gypsies, I tell ya.

Kyle: She hesitated. I asked again, with all the emotion an ENTJ can muster. She could sense the desperation in my voice. There was a no-return policy on the ring.

Laci: I felt bad for him. I said yes. The ring is beautiful. A new sectional sofa can’t be far behind.

Landon: I’m not just losing a sister; I’m gaining a 3rd brother. I need a hug.

Colby: She appeared to say, “Yes”. It was so touching. Tears ran down my leg.

The Aftermath

Caleb: The descent was easier than we expected. We were able to stretch out one of Miss Janet’s pant legs and rappel down the mountain.

They love their sister!
They love their sister!

Kyle: I still can’t believe she said, “Yes”. I’m the luckiest man on the face of the planet.

Laci: I still can’t believe I said, “Yes”. He’s the luckiest guy on the face of the planet.

Olivia & Ken, in unison, with feeling:  “Never ever ever ever getting back together.”

The Moment of Truth
The Moment of Truth

Tim: She said, “Yes”? Seriously? Can we check the audio on that?

Chelese: He was interested in me? I so would have gone for that. Call me, Kyle.

Kyle: Once the word got out that we were engaged, the advice started coming in…

Dr. Cox, Harding faculty: In Daur, China, there is a tradition that requires engaged couples to dissect a chicken and examine its liver. If the liver is healthy, the couple can set a date. If not, they can’t plan their nuptials until they find one that is. Kyle and Laci set a date without dissecting a chicken. This is problematic.

Brett Taylor, Kyle’s friend: I’m so happy for them. I only hope that some day they can be half as close as Kyle and I are.

Ocean Bromance
Ocean Bromance

Sue Davenport, giraffe exhibit curator, Memphis Zoo: Kyle visits here often. He and Laci will always have a home here at the exhibit.

Tami: I went ahead and scheduled a bridal tea, with crumpets.

Mrs. Norma, Harding Caf: I’m happy for them, but even happier to know he loved me first. Truth be told, I think he liked the smell of canned green beans as he approached the Caf. He likes them “greased and highly flavored.”

Alex Traughber, Kyle’s friend: So then, Chelese is still on the market? Hmmm.

Landon: Going down the mountain, I glanced down at my ripped, sweaty biceps. We all did.

The Descent
The Descent

Jason: I can’t believe Kyle didn’t vomit. After she said, “Yes”, we decided to celebrate at a Mexican restaurant. I was certain he would vomit there.

La gran fiesta
La gran fiesta

Tami: This will be the most emotional wedding ever. Even the cake will be in tiers.

Caleb: Good one, mom.

Dr. McLarty: I’m not even sure this engagement is legit. We have a strict “3 swings and a ring” policy at Harding. I’m told Kyle and Laci had one swing at most. My guys are checking the campus video archives.

Ken Bissell: I called it first! Are we all in agreement that I should be best man?

Mark Adams: God brought them together. I was just the facilitator. Do I expect most of the credit? Sure. Should they name their first child after me? Absolutely.

Janet and Tami (in unison): Bring on some grandbabies!

So there you have it…the definitive account of Laci and Kyle’s Sugarloaf Mountain engagement from those who were there.

I Like Their Chances
I Like Their Chances

All kidding aside, Lil Jan and I are absolutely thrilled that God brought these two young people together. Laci is an amazing young Christian lady and will make a great addition to the Johnson family. And we love how the Genry’s have opened a spot for Kyle in their family. We are looking forward to seeing Kyle and Laci grow together, serve together, and perhaps even make an occasional dance video together.

Big Steve

It Has a Ring to It
It Does Have a Ring to It
Ring Ceremony Celebration
Ring Ceremony Celebration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Campground Review: Petit Jean SP, AR

Dates: September 22-24, 2015

Campsite: 46 (Area B)

Overall Score: 3.96 (out of 5)

View from the Lodge
View from the Lodge

Summary: This beautiful wooded park in central Arkansas features great hiking, spacious campsites, incredible rock formations, and rustic stone and log structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. 

Canyon Falls
Cedar Creek Canyon Falls

History: Petit Jean, according to legend, was a young 18th century French woman. When she learned that her fiancé planned to explore the Louisiana Territory, she cut her hair, disguised herself as a boy, and found a position as a cabin boy. When the expedition reached this area, Petit Jean (or “Little John” as she was known on ship), became seriously ill. On her deathbed, she revealed herself to her fiancé who, channeling his inner Usher, said, “Lil Jon!” (I added that to the legend.) She died and was buried on the mountain under the name “Little John”, as she had been known by on the ship.

IMG_2377
Name the State

Recreation/Amenities: 4.6

The park features a variety of lodging options for its visitors:

  • RV or tent camping at 127 campsites;
  • The 24-room historic Mather Lodge on the edge of a bluff of a deep, forested canyon;
  • 32 rustic cabins, some with fireplaces and some lakeside

IMG_1743

The park offers great hiking options, including the somewhat challenging Cedar Creek Canyon hike that leads to a 95-foot waterfall. Due to the lack of rain, the waterfall was more of a trickle, but still beautiful. Rock climbers and geology lovers should check out Bear Cave, Rock House Cave, the Grotto, Turtle Rocks, Carpet Rocks, and Natural Bridge.

Lil Jan, Big Rock
Lil Jan, Big Rock

Other recreation options include a lodge swimming pool, canoeing and fishing on the 100-acre Lake Bailey, picnicking, bike trails, tennis and basketball courts, and playgrounds. There is also a restaurant at the lodge, a visitor’s center, and a gift shop.

Poor Technique
Poor Technique

Hookups & Connectivity: 3.5 – electric and water, with dump station.  No sewer or Wi-Fi at site.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 3

The Museum of Automobiles is less than a mile away.

Cleanliness: 4.3 – Solid. No major issues.

Cedar Creek Canyon Lookout
Cedar Creek Canyon Lookout

Intangibles: 4.4

Pros – The campsites are some of the best we’ve seen, with lots of mature trees and good spacing. For those not able to hike down into the canyon to see the waterfall, there is a handicap-accessible observation tower on the bluff. A giant stick insect was hanging out on our RV when we returned from hiking.

Stick Bug Looking for an Outlet
Had He Plugged Into the Outlet…Civilization Would’ve Been Doomed

Cons – Two bees in Cedar Creek Canyon stung me. Be careful out there. Also, the park is named after a French transgender cabin boy, the thought of which may be upsetting to younger campers.

Big Steve

We named it "Cairn Larsen"
We named it “Cairn Larsen”
Name the Indian Artifact
Name the Indian Artifact

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The Great River Road, Part 16: Memphis, TN to Petit Jean SP, AR

Up in Memphis the music’s like a heat wave

White lightening, bound to drive you wild

Mama’s baby’s in the heart of every schoolgirl

“Love me tender” leaves ‘em cryin’ in the aisle

The way he moved, it was a sin, so sweet and true

Always wanting more, he’d leave you longing for…

– Alannah Myles, Black Velvet

September 20, 2015 – Day 22 – Memphis, TN

We awoke this Lord’s Day and headed to worship services at White Station church of Christ in east Memphis. While we typically don’t know anyone at the congregations we visit along the Great River Road, that was not the case this morning. Church members we know at White Station include Dwayne and Sheila Pettie, their son Hunter, and Larry Sisson. Hunter was our son Jason’s college roommate and remains a close friend, and we have been fortunate to cross paths with Dwayne and Sheila on several occasions. Larry was in the same social club (fraternity) with me at Lipscomb University. We enjoyed visiting with these friends and getting caught up on their lives. We had lunch with the Petties and Hunter’s girlfriend, and they invited us to dinner the following night. After lunch, we declared it a day of rest and returned to the RV to chill, play some cards, and rest up for our final day in Memphis.

September 21, 2015 – Day 23 – Memphis, TN

Not Sure This is What the Egyptians Had in Mind
Not Sure This is What the Egyptians Had in Mind

I can’t think of a more interesting store to walk through than a Bass Pro Shop. The one in Memphis is especially interesting, as it’s housed in a 535,000 square foot giant pyramid along the Mississippi River and features a cypress swamp with live alligators, a bowling alley, observation deck, restaurant, taxidermy museum, and a hotel. So our day began there, and we strolled by the fishponds, aquariums, shooting gallery, stuffed bears, and row after row of hunting, fishing, and camping gear. As a guy, it’s difficult to describe how much more enjoyable this store is than an IKEA. Ladies, if you’re looking for an idea for a Christmas present for your man, forego the tie and get him a gift certificate to Bass Pro Shop. Drop him off at the store in the morning when it opens, and pick him up just after it closes. He’ll thank me later. Although we typically do a lot more browsing than buying, we found a good deal there and are now the proud owners of a collapsible propane RV grill!

AT Thru-Hike Preview?
AT Thru-Hike Preview?

We then headed to ground zero in Memphis…Beale Street! The place oozes with culture and history, and with each step we encountered competing sounds and smells. It seems Memphis loves Elvis almost as much as Hannibal loves Twain. If you’re looking for a specific Elvis souvenir, you’ll find it on Beale Street.

Among many good options, we sat down for some catfish at the Blues City Café which features a large eating area and a separate bar and stage. We sat at a table surrounded by three tables with foreign customers. I asked the couple to my left where they were from and they said, “Ecuador”. Amazingly, from the recesses of my mind, I came up with “Quito?” and they smiled and nodded. Geography skills matter. To my right were two German couples. Sadly, despite living in Germany for a total of five years, the only German I remember is Stau (traffic jam), Auf Wiedersehen (goodbye) and wie treu sind deine Blätter (how lovely are your branches)…from the song, Oh Tannenbaum (Oh Christmas Tree). Behind us was a French couple. I didn’t talk to them, but did walk past them on my way to go oui-oui. (Sorry.)

We had a very sweet African-American waitress who informed us that the soda machine was broken, so all they had was water or tea. We then listened to her try to explain that to her non-English speaking customers from Ecuador, Germany, and France. Despite multiple attempts, they didn’t understand what the poor waitress was saying. One of the short German guys got irritated with her and responded, “Coca Cola? Coca Cola!” She explained, in words he could not understand, that the soda machine was down and he could have tea or water. Again, he raised his voice and demanded “Coca Cola! Coca Cola!” She was flustered and the situation was tense. I got his attention and, with my best German accent, leaned over and told him in German that he had lovely branches. He quieted down. Foreign language skills matter…and being 6′ 2″.

After eating, we walked around the restaurant and learned of the many famous performers who have graced its stage, including BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams Jr., and Kid Rock. Famous patrons who have enjoyed their grub include President Clinton, Robert Plant, Tom Cruise, Roberts Duvall and DeNiro, Woody Harrelson, James Earl Jones, Bill Murray, Jerry Seinfeld, and Samuel L. Jackson.   We left the restaurant and headed down Beale Street passed several bars, each blaring jazz or rhythm & blues. We ducked into A. Schwab dry goods store, the only remaining original business on Beale Street. Their motto is “If you can’t find it at A. Schwab, you’re probably better off without it!” That motto seemed true until I lost Lil Jan somewhere in the store.

While she continued shopping, I stepped outside by the street and contemplated the beautiful weather, music, food smells, shops, and tourists. I thought to myself, “Memphis sometimes gets a bad rap, but it’s actually a pretty cool place.” Just then, an older man standing on the opposite side of the trashcan on which I leaned, started peeing onto the street. Had we been in a restroom, he would have been two urinals over. But we weren’t in a restroom…we were on Beale Street in the middle of the day. I felt relief knowing Lil Jan was inside, but not near the relief felt by the guy standing next to me.

Bison Herd, Shelby Farms
Bison Herd, Shelby Farms

We returned to our car with 3 minutes left on the parking meter (Yes!) and headed for some afternoon exercise at Shelby Farms in east Memphis, one of the twenty largest urban parks in the United States. More than five times the area of New York City’s Central Park, it features lakes with paddleboats, natural forests, wetlands, 10+ miles of hiking/biking trails, a BMX racetrack, an 18-hole disc golf course, horseback riding, a massive playground, and a bison herd! We arrived during a high school cross-country meet, and hiked as runners ran across nearby fields. Had I been in charge, I would have called their meet The Stampede, and would have designed the course to go through the bison herd. A great place to spend the day with family, Shelby Farms has clearly earned its ranking of #8 of 132 Things to Do in Memphis by Trip Advisor.

Feasting in Memphis
Feasting in Memphis

Our final stop of the day was…drum roll…dinner with the Pettie family! Wow! What a feast! Jason, our son, had eaten there before and told us we were in for something special. Boy, was he right. As we talked about our busy day in Memphis, Sheila kept bringing out food, including the best peanut butter dip on the planet. It was great catching up with them and we greatly appreciate their friendship and hospitality.

September 22, 2015 – Day 24 – Petit Jean State Park, AR

We broke camp and headed west across the Mississippi River and into Arkansas. Before heading to Harding University to visit Kyle and Laci and attend the Harding Lectureships, we decided to spend a couple of days at Petit Jean State Park in central Arkansas. We’ll review that campground and park in a separate blog.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Memphis, the 3rd of 4 big cities we’d visit along the Mississippi River. Great history, tasty food, legendary music, exciting attractions, and some really cool friends. As Elvis would say, “Thank you, thank you very much.”

Big Steve

If Only She'd Do This at Home
If Only She’d Do This at Home

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Campground Review: Navy Lake Rec Area, Millington TN

Campground: Navy Lake Recreation Area, Millington, TN

Dates: September 18-22, 2015

Campsite: next to men’s bathroom

Overall Score: 3.78 (out of 5)

Summary: Although somewhat lacking in amenities, recreation, and nearby attractions, this quiet, clean, safe, and affordable military campground is a good base camp from which to explore the Memphis area.

Recreation/Amenities: 3 out of 5 – The campground has a couple of small lakes for fishing and paddleboats. That’s about it.

Hookups & Connectivity: 4.2 out of 5 – electric, water, and (finally) sewer! No need to dump the tanks on our way out. No Wi-Fi or cable TV.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 3 out of 5 – Not much to do in Millington, aside from shopping and restaurants. A short drive away, military/government employees can access the golf course, gymnasium, and other recreational activities on the Mid-South Naval Support Activity, Millington. A 30 to 45 minute takes you to downtown Memphis and all that it has to offer.

Cleanliness: 4.5 out of 5 – No issues. In our experience, military campgrounds tend to be cleaner than state parks.

Intangibles: 4.2 out of 5 –

Pros – Level sites, on concrete. Just $21/night.

Cons – Sites are lined up one right after the other. Not much privacy and not much of a view.

This no-frills military campground is good for a safe, quiet getaway or as a staging area to tour Memphis.

Big Steve

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The Great River Road, Part 15: Ste. Genevieve, MO to Memphis, TN

Put on my blue suede shoes and

I boarded the plane

Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues

In the middle of the pouring rain…

            – Marc Cohn, Walking in Memphis

September 18, 2015 – Day 21 – Ste. Genevieve, MO

We said farewell to Swansea and drove to Scott AFB to pick up our RV. We were both sad and relieved to learn that it had not sold for our exorbitant asking price of $1 million. We loaded up, powered up, and headed west, crossing over the Mississippi River south of St Louis. We then headed south along the Great River Road in Missouri, and decided to spend a couple of hours in Ste. Genevieve.

Ste. Genevieve was the first organized European settlement west of the Mississippi River and is the oldest permanent European settlement in Missouri. Founded in 1735 by French Canadian colonists and settlers from east of the river, today it is best known for its “French Creole colonial” buildings. Notable structures include the 1792 Louis Bolduc House and the 1818 Felix Valle House State Historic Site. However, our favorite old building on Main Street is home to the adorable Stella and Me café, where Lil Jan had “the best potato soup” she’s ever eaten. While Lil Jan did some antique store browsing, I ducked into a pet store to watch the owner hang and groom a dog. I had no idea that’s how grooming is done…at least in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

Shear Magic!
Shear Magic!

We continued south along the Mississippi River until we reached our next stop, the Navy Lake Recreation Area in Millington, TN. This military campground, which we’ll review in a separate blog, would serve as our base camp for the next few days as we explored the Memphis area. We ended the day with some Bar-B-Q at the Pig-N-Whistle restaurant near the campground. According to the restaurant’s menu, “Long ago in Merrie Olde England, the symbol of a pig and whistle was a tavern sign derived from ‘Piggen wassail’. The pig and whistle was used as a tavern sign because many people were unable to read. The pig represented meat or food in general, and also, a drinking cup. Whistle is referred to in early Anglo-Saxon as the mouth or throat. Hence the expression ‘Wet your Whistle’ and today the meaning of the words ‘Pig-N-Whistle’ is good BBQ and beverages served in comfortable surroundings.” So now you know.

September 19, 2015 – Day 21 – Memphis, TN

Then I’m walking in Memphis

Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale

Walking in Memphis

But do I really feel the way I feel…

– Marc Cohn, Walking in Memphis

National Civil Rights Museum
National Civil Rights Museum

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Today was the first of three days we would do some “walkin’ in Memphis”. Our first stop was the National Civil Rights Museum which is located in and around the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. We began by looking up at the motel balcony where King stood and breathed his final breath. We then entered the museum which is extremely well done. It’s a self-guided tour, but they queue groups of visitors into the first exhibit to avoid over-crowding the rest of the way. The first main exhibit goes all the way back to the time of slavery and the Triangular Trade Route. We learned that as the Civil War was about to begin in 1860, our nation had nearly 4 million slaves, worth more than $3 billion ($10 trillion in today’s dollars). The practice was so foundational to our agricultural economy that many Americans never considered, or quickly dismissed, any question of its morality. That mindset was undergirded by the belief that black people are inferior to whites, and thus subject to be owned, traded, and even mistreated.

Rosa Parks...Game Changer
Rosa Parks…Game Changer
Dr. King's Motel Room
Dr. King’s Motel Room

The subsequent exhibits and videos traced the history of the civil rights movement in general, and of Dr. King’s life in particular. We sat on a Montgomery bus with the courageous Rosa Parks. Our hearts sank as we watched videos of marchers being sprayed with fire hoses and beaten with clubs. We were inspired again as we heard Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and especially his call for people to be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” And then, towards the end of the tour, we looked into his motel room, still arranged as it was 45 years ago when he stayed there. We looked outside on the balcony where he was killed, and remembered the man who paid the ultimate price for a worthy cause. We then crossed the street to a wing of the museum dealing with King’s killer, which included a stop at the bathroom window where he pulled the trigger. Every American should visit the National Civil Rights Museum. It does a first-class job paying tribute to the man and the movement. The only thing I didn’t like was the “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt on sale at the gift shop. In my opinion, that message misses the point. All lives matter, regardless of skin color. All people should be judged based on the way they live and the content of their character. T-Shirts, banners, and slogans that single out blacks, whites, police officers, or any other group and designate them for special attention, at the exclusion of others, really miss the point of what Dr. King (and Jesus) were all about.

Remembering Dr. King
Remembering Dr. King

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The Assassin's Perch
The Assassin’s Perch
The Assassin's Perspective
The Assassin’s Perspective

Having honored the man and the movement, we headed across the street to Central BBQ for some fabulous Memphis cuisine. There is some debate as to the best style of BBQ (wet or dry), best sauce, and overall best BBQ restaurant in town. I’ve had the dry variety at Rendezvous downtown and the wet variety at Central BBQ. I love them both, and so I’m declaring a tie. Like Little League, everyone gets a trophy.

Central BBQ, wet w/ mustard sauce
Central BBQ, wet w/ mustard sauce

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

– Elvis Presley

This was Memphis and it was time to get our Elvis fix. We headed to rock pioneer Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio for one of the highest rated tours in Memphis. An extremely energetic and knowledgeable tour guide told us the history of the studio and highlighted several artifacts in the display cases. Some call the studio the birthplace of rock & roll, as Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats recorded the first rock & roll single (Rocket 88) there in 1951 (with song composer Ike Turner on keyboards).   Since then, artists including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, U2, Def Leppard, Bonnie Raitt, Ringo Starr, and Brian Setzer (of Stray Cats fame) have all recorded hits at Sun Studio.

Sun Studio
Where Stars Are Born

But our focus this day was on Elvis Aaron Presley, who received a C in music in eighth grade and was told by his music teacher he had “no aptitude for singing”. There’s a lesson there for students and teachers alike. In August 1952, Elvis walked into the offices of Sun Studio in order to pay for some studio time to record the song, My Happiness. Owner Sam Phillips was out that day, but receptionist Marion Keisker assisted him in the studio and asked him what kind of singer he was and who he sounded like. He answered, “I sing all kinds” and “I don’t sound like nobody.” Mrs. Keisker listened to the tape and passed it to Mr. Phillips with the note, “Good ballad singer. Hold.” Phillips was less impressed, despite Elvis frequently visiting the studio and making additional recordings. Later, Elvis failed an audition with a local quartet because, “They told me I couldn’t sing.” Even later, a professional band rejected him as a vocalist and told him to stick to truck driving “because you’re never going to make it as a singer.” Fortunately for us, Elvis had a V8 engine of ambition and a ton of talent.

Recording Studio
Recording Studio
Jerry Lee Lewis Leaves His Mark
Jerry Lee Lewis Leaves His Mark

Meanwhile, Phillips was looking for someone who could bring to a broader audience the sound of black musicians. Phillips is quoted as saying, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Phillips came across a ballad, Without You, that he thought might suit the young teenage singer, Elvis Presley. Presley came by the studio, but his performance of the song didn’t impress. He then sang a few other numbers, and was good enough that Phillips decided to invite two local musicians, a guitarist and an upright bass player, to come in and record with Elvis. That session, held the evening of July 5, 1954, also didn’t go well until late in the evening. As the trio was about to give up and go home, Elvis launched into That’s All Right, a 1946 blues number. Guitarist Scotty Moore recalled, “All of a sudden, Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool, and I started playing with them. Sam, I think, had the door to the control booth open…he stuck his head out and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ ‘Well back up,’ he said, ‘try to find a place to start, and do it again.’” Phillips quickly began taping and realized this was the sound he had been looking for…the sound that would launch a legendary career. Before our tour ended, we stood on the same floor where Elvis and others recorded many of their hits, and Lil Jan even posed with the original recording microphone used by Elvis and others. We also got a good look at the piano on which Jerry Lee Lewis felt comfortable enough to snuff out a cigar during a recording session.

Peabody Duck March
Peabody Duck March

Our next stop was The Peabody, a luxurious Memphis hotel featuring the legendary duck march. In 1933, the General Manager of The Peabody and his friend returned from a hunting trip, and had sipped on a little too much Jack Daniel’s whiskey. They thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys into the hotel’s fancy fountain. The ducks were enthusiastically received, and were later replaced with five Mallard ducks. In 1940, a former circus animal trainer offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day from the rooftop in a ritual now called the Peabody Duck March. Each day, ducks visit the lobby fountain at 11 a.m. and return to the roof at 5 p.m. The Duck March is a Memphis tradition and is rated a 5-star attraction by Trip Advisor, the #12 of 133 things to do in Memphis. Wanting to catch this fabulous show, we ran down the street and arrived at the hotel at 4:57 p.m.   The entire lobby was packed with eager tourists, hotel patrons, and duck-loving schoolchildren waiting for the ducks to do their thing. I got caught up in the fervor of the moment, looked over at a young boy and hollered, “Aflac!”  He whispered something to his mother and looked away. At exactly 5:00 p.m., the Grand Marshall made a rather lengthy pronouncement of the history and significance of the event, the march music began, and a young boy from the crowd led the ducks to the lobby elevator. The elevator door closed, and they were gone. It was over in an instant. I don’t want to offend any duck lovers, Memphis residents, or people named Peabody, but it was quite lame…a real downer…borderline foul, in fact. I hated myself for making us run down the street to get to the lobby in time. I promised myself never to shop at Gander Mountain again, or visit the town of Gander in east Newfoundland. In fact, as I exited the lobby, I felt a strong urge to go to a nearby restaurant and order duck, with a side of duck. I may even take up duck hunting, or at least buy ammo for those who do. While so many stops along the Great River Road have met or even exceeded our expectations, this particular one gives new meaning to the term, “lame duck”.

Graceland
Graceland

Our final stop of the day was Graceland, the home of Elvis himself. We decided to just stop at the front gate and take a few photos. It was late in the day, we had just experienced duck march trauma, and quite frankly, we thought the $77/person tickets were a little on the high side.

Tributes to Elvis, Graceland's Front Wall
Tributes to Elvis, Graceland’s Front Wall

Our first day in Memphis was a great success, and we looked forward to spending two more days there. I’ll close with a quote from Sun Studio’s Sam Phillips: “Eventually we all turn into stories. Be sure yours is worth telling!”

Big Steve

The Dream Lives On
The Dream Lives On

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The Great River Road, Part 14: Springfield to Swansea, IL

“It is for us the living…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced…to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”         

– A. Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

 September 16, 2015 – Day 19 – Springfield, Illinois

We said farewell to my dad, his schnauzer (Goomba), and his Bichon Frise (Little Bit, aka Pita) and headed north towards Springfield, Illinois. As we travel the country, we try to take in a least one meal that is popular in a given area. Around Springfield, horseshoes are all the rage, so we headed to D’Arcy’s Pint. Lil Jan ordered the chili cheese horseshoe while I went after the buffalo chicken variety. Calorie concerns aside, these things were amazing! It’s a wonder Abe Lincoln was so skinny.

Death by Horseshoe
Death by Horseshoe

September 17, 2015 – Day 20 – Springfield, Illinois

Today might as well have been Abe Lincoln’s birthday, because we were about to celebrate him big time. I even considered purchasing a top hat and beard, because Johnson men’s beards are mangy at best, featuring white prickly weeds and bald patches. Our first stop was Union Station, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It began service as a passenger terminal in 1896 but is now part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. In addition to its impressive Romanesque architecture, it now houses furniture, sets, and props from the blockbuster Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln.

Colonel Johnson Didn't Get Memo on White House Dress Code
Colonel Johnson Didn’t Get Memo on White House Dress Code

We then crossed the street to the main Lincoln museum building. Wow! We had never been to a Presidential museum before so have nothing to compare this one to, but it was remarkably well done. This 50,000 square foot museum, the largest of the presidential museums, employs 21st century technology to bring 19th century history to life. Our first stop was a spellbinding “Ghosts of Lincoln” presentation featuring holograms, dazzling special effects, and surround sound. I’m still not sure if the main actor in the presentation was a live actor or hologram. This presentation alone is worth the price of admission. Our next stop was another 3D movie with special effects, including vibrating seats and mist. We then walked through a series of life-sized, historically accurate dioramas of Lincoln’s boyhood home, areas of the White House, the presidential box at Ford’s Theater, and other key scenes from Lincoln’s life. The wax figures were the best we’ve seen. The animation, story telling, and use of lights and colors were superb. As Mrs. Lincoln sat at the bed of her dying child, we felt like we were right there with her. As the Lincoln’s happily sat together in Ford’s Theater moments before his assassination, we felt like we were in the box with them. Museum artifacts included an original, hand-written copy of the Gettysburg Address, the evening gloves in Lincoln’s pocket the night he was assassinated, the quill pen used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, his glasses and shaving mirror, and Mary Todd Lincoln’s music box, White House china, and wedding dress.

Lil Jan & Mrs. Lincoln
Lil Jan & Mrs. Lincoln

Speaking of the Lincolns at Ford’s Theater, we learned that Lincoln was relaxed that night and smiling freely for the first time in years, as a result of Robert E. Lee’s surrender. His wife, Mary, was just as content and held his hand. A few minutes before 10pm, she hugged him and said, “What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you, so?” Lincoln turned to her and softly replied, “She won’t think anything about it.” Those were the last words President Lincoln ever spoke. At about 10:15pm, John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box and shot the president at point-blank range behind his left ear. Lincoln slumped forward, mortally wounded, as Mary screamed and Booth leapt to the stage and made his escape. Lil Jan commented on the importance of words, and that we’ll never know which words will be the last ones we’ll speak to our spouse or other loved ones. I suppose you can never say, “I love you” too many times to the special people in your life.

Their Final Moments Together
Their Final Moments Together

One exhibit, the Campaign of 1860, featured modern-style television updates on the campaign’s progress from the late Tim Russert, anchor for Meet the Press. Another display, The Civil War in Four Minutes, featured a large animated map that displays the changing battle lines of the Civil War and casualty count in four minutes. We also appreciated the side-by-side photos showing how Lincoln aged during his four years in office.  We can’t say enough good things about this museum. Trip Advisor reviewers rightfully scored it a 5 out of 5, with 88% of 2400+ respondents rating it “Excellent” and another 9% rating it “Very Good”. If you haven’t been there, put it on your bucket list. Well done, Springfield!

The Aging of a President
The Aging of a President

Our next stop was the adjoining Presidential Library, a research library which houses books, papers, and artifacts related to Lincoln’s life, the American Civil War, and the State of Illinois. We walked in and looked around. It quickly became apparent that we were not researchers and this was a library…so we promptly exited.

Representatives Hall (Location of "House Divided" Speech)
Representatives Hall (Location of “House Divided” Speech)

Next up was the Old Courthouse, a Greek Revival building where Abraham Lincoln spent a lot of time trying cases before the Illinois Supreme Court. We walked into Representatives Hall where, in 1958, Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech. The location of his seat is marked with a top hat.  Years later, Lincoln’s body would lay in the same room, as a crowd of 75,000 mourners filed past to pay their last respects. The second-floor reception room is where Lincoln, as a Presidential candidate and celebrity, would receive huge crowds of well-wishers and office-seekers because his law office was too small.

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A few yards from the Lincoln-Herndon Law offices where Lincoln practiced law, we ate lunch at Robbie’s Restaurant. In 1852 Clark M. Smith opened a dry goods store at this location. He was married to Anna Maria Todd, Mary Todd Lincoln’s younger sister, and Mrs. Lincoln traded at the store. According to a menu at Robbie’s, “Early in 1861, when Lincoln was attempting to write his first inaugural address the well-wishers who came to him at his office made work impossible. His brother in law offered the use of a back room on the 3rd floor above his store.” So, I can now check “Eat sirloin beef tips in a Stroganoff sauce over rice in a former Abraham Lincoln hide-out” off my bucket list.

Earliest photo of Lincoln at his home
Earliest photo of Lincoln at his home
Lincoln Home, 2015
Lincoln Home, 2015

All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.      – A. Lincoln

Abe Lincoln was quite the family man. His mom clearly had a profound influence on his life, and he was very close to his family. To gain insights into that family, we decided to take the guided tour of the Lincoln family home. The tour guide did a superb job telling us about their family life and how each room was used. Three rooms stood out to me. The first was the family room where Lincoln would play with his sons in the evening. He would often sit or lie on the floor and play with them, because none of the chairs were particularly comfortable for his height. I also was intrigued by his bedroom, located on the second floor to the far left as you look at the house. It was said that the light in that bedroom window was often on late into the evening, as he wrote speeches and did other work at the desk in his bedroom corner. His desk still sits in the corner. My third favorite room was the family outhouse, which contained three commodes side by side. I imagined Abe doing his business on the center commode, with two of his sons doing likewise on either side. In fact, it may have been where Lincoln was quoted as saying, “Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” Or perhaps not. Still, the 3-seat outhouse design was impressive, and reminded me of the old saying about what families must do together in order to stay together.

Lincoln's Desk, Corner Bedroom
Lincoln’s Desk, Corner Bedroom
Presidents Go Too
“Are you through with the sports section, Tad?”

“I have never wanted to be finished. I have never wanted to feel that what I have done was the best I could do…I have to be careful of that because that is poison to the creative spirit.”   – Frank Lloyd Wright

Not everything in Springfield has to do with Mr. Lincoln, so we headed to the Dana-Thomas House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mr. Wright designed the house in 1902 for wealthy socialite Susan Lawrence Dana. The tour does not allow photographs; so take our word that the home contains the largest collection of original Wright art glass and furniture. He was given a “blank check” by Miss Dana, and masterfully designed and filled 35 rooms and 12,000 square feet of living space across 3 main levels and 16 varying levels. Miss Dana went from a wealthy hostess and leader of Springfield’s social scene to a reclusive, financially troubled, dementia-suffering, believer in the occult. Mr. Charles C. Thomas, a successful medical publisher, bought the house at auction in 1943 for $17,500 and turned it into the headquarters for his publishing company. After his death, his family sold the home and its furnishings in 1981 to the state of Illinois for $1 million. It’s safe to say the state of Illinois got a great deal, because in 2002, one of two lamps from the home went for almost $2 million at a Christie’s auction. I believe our tour guide said the home and its furnishings are valued at approximately $200 million today. Of all the cool features and impressive architecture throughout the home, my favorite thing was the bowling alley in the basement.

$2 million lamp
$2 million lamp (not my photo!)

The last stop on our Springfield agenda was a visit to Lincoln’s Tomb. We arrived 5 minutes after it closed, but still got some photos and a description of the inside by some fellow tourists. Like everything else related to Lincoln, Springfield did a first-class job on his tomb. We left Springfield with an even better understanding and appreciation of an incredible human being who was, in my estimation, our greatest president.

Lincoln's Tomb
Lincoln’s Tomb

We drove from Springfield to Swansea, where we had dinner at Papa Vito’s and spent the night with our good friends, Steve and Suzanne Stumne. My friendship with Suzanne goes way back to 1980 where we were in the same church youth group and went to the same high school. In the late 90s, we were stationed at nearby Scott AFB and our children got to know each other quite well. At one point our youngest, Kyle, even said he “had feelings” for their daughter Abbie, a comment I have never let him live down. I’m glad that Suzanne and I have stayed in touch over the past 35 years and that our families have been able to vacation together on several occasions. Their kids are awesome and Steve is one of the coolest, funniest guys I’ve ever met. It’s always good to meet up and catch up with long-time friends like that. It’s even better to see that their marriage is intact and their faith in God is still strong.

Hangin' with the Stumnes
Hangin’ with the Stumnes

Perhaps it’s fitting to close this blog with some final words of advice from President Lincoln: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

Big Steve

The Gold Standard
He, too, gave his “Last Full Measure of Devotion”

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The Great River Road, Part 13: St Louis to New Madrid, MO

Rivers run through our history and folklore, and link us as a people. They nourish and refresh us and provide a home for dazzling varieties of fish and wildlife and trees and plants of every sort. We are a nation rich in rivers. – Charles Kuralt

 September 7, 2015 – Day 17 – Cape Girardeau, MO

 Every good journey needs a detour or two; a chance to get off the prescribed path and explore new side trails. Lil Jan’s detour was a good thing, an invitation to speak at the Ladies Day at Old Hickory Church of Christ in Nashville. My detour was not nearly as exciting, an invitation to have a root canal in Tullahoma. So we devised a plan to take care of these two commitments and knock out a few more cool stops along the way.

Job 1 was to store our RV along the Great River Road for about 10 days. I had hoped to store it in the RV storage lot at our old stomping grounds, Scott AFB. However, the gentlemen in charge of such things informed me that the lot was full. Sensing my disappointment, he said, “Well, there is another option. You could put your RV up for sale and that would allow you to park it in the used car lot.” Brilliant! Only problem was the RV is our home and we didn’t want to sell it. So, we listed it for $1 million, more then ten times its value. Problem solved. We then closed it up, piled into our spacious Honda Fit, and headed south to a hotel in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Downtown Metropolis
Downtown Metropolis

Not far from Cape Girardeau is the town of Metropolis, Illinois, home of Superman. Earlier this summer we had visited Metropolis with my dad on our trip to St Louis to visit Kyle. We ate lunch at Fat Edd’s Roadhouse and feasted on a chicken kabob and corn nuggets. And, of course, we toured the Superman museum and posed for photos with the Man of Steel himself.

September 8, 2015 – Day 18 – New Madrid, Missouri

 Our first stop today was New Madrid, Missouri. If you are ever going to be sucked into a gaping hole in the earth’s crust due to an earthquake, it will probably happen in or near New Madrid. The town is on the New Madrid Seismic Zone, and was the site for a series of over 1,000 earthquakes in 1811 and 1812. One of those quakes was a magnitude 8, the most powerful “non-subduction zone” earthquake ever recorded in the United States. (Don’t even ask about seduction zone quakes.) As we entered the Madrid Seismic Zone and town of New Madrid, I started to get my quake on, and began singing, “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brains…” Just then, Lil Jan suggested we tour the historic Hunter-Dawson House. {Queue the soft, quaint historical music.}

Earthquake Alley
Earthquake Alley

The Hunter-Dawson House is a 15-room, 9-fireplace home built in 1860 by local storeowners William and Amanda Hunter. What sets this State Historic Site apart is that most of the original furnishings purchased by Amanda Hunter are still in the house. Our excellent tour guide explained the family’s history and provided insight on the various antiques inside. As she explained the age and function of the antique chamber pot chair, I just wanted to try it out. However, I showed restraint after being told that would not be “socially acceptable” and might even be illegal. We learned that Amanda Hunter’s husband died before construction on the house was finished and Amanda took over the project right as the Civil War began. She raised 7 children alone in this house and never remarried. As Lil Jan asked questions and soaked in all the history of the place, I paced nervously, wondering when the next earthquake would strike.

Hunter-Dawson House
Hunter-Dawson House

We headed downtown and stopped at the New Madrid Historical Museum. The museum contains Indian and Civil War artifacts, many of them donated by local residents with family connections to the pieces. Best of all, the museum documents the great earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. The earthquakes began on December 16, 1811, and continued for over a year. Among them was one of the greatest earthquakes in recorded history because of its severity and length. In fact, some of the shocks were felt 1100 miles away. Fortunately there was little loss of life due to the region being thinly settled. A museum map shows the location of recorded earthquakes along the Madrid fault, and a nearby seismograph eerily shows the continuing activity on the Madrid fault. I just wanted to stick my head out the museum door and scream, “People of New Madrid…get out now! You’re geographically hosed! Save yourselves!”

Antique Potty
Antique Potty

I composed myself and we walked a short distance from the museum and on to a platform overlooking the Mississippi River. In 1862 Union forces captured New Madrid and gained control of the river by means of a “canal” sawed through a submerged forest to a bayou. The most famous skirmish in the area was the Battle of Island Number 10 that took place not far from where we were standing. The Union victory marked the first time the Confederate Army lost a position on the Mississippi River in battle.

Visiting with The Family
Visiting with The Family

We escaped New Madrid without serious incident, earthquake or otherwise. It was now time to put our Great River Road journey on hold and head east. Our first stop was in Denmark, Tennessee (near Jackson) to visit our niece and her husband (Maegan and Daniel), their adorable new baby (Abby), and Janet’s sister (Cathy). One of the true blessings of full-time RVing is being able to visit with family and friends around the country more regularly than when we’re primarily anchored to one spot and several job responsibilities. We’re thankful for that, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to hold sweet little Abby.

Team Diamond + Luke
Team Diamond + Luke

The “family and friends” theme would continue over the next several days. We spent some time on the sprawling and gorgeous Diamond family farm near Dickson, Tennessee. I helped my good buddy Brad Diamond repair a barbed wire fence, and was rewarded with a massive BBQ dinner, some 4-wheeling around the property, and acquiring poison ivy. Those who know the Diamond girls know that this time was also spent listening and watching them sing, make a video, do yoga, dance, practice massage techniques, and do whatever their free spirits led them to do. Meanwhile, Lil Jan did an outstanding job (I’m told) as the keynote speaker for the Ladies Day at Old Hickory Church of Christ. Since I am not a lady I could not attend this Ladies Day. However, Lil Jan did receive a lot of moral support from her two dear friends, Jenny Diamond and Tami Genry. They stayed in a hotel in Nashville on Friday night and just chatted the night away I’m sure. Lil Jan worked tirelessly on her presentation and I’m so glad it went well. Over the years, it has been neat to see her progression from a reluctant Bible class teacher to a confident Ladies Bible class teacher to a Ladies Day keynote speaker in front of a large crowd. Each time, she goes a little more outside her comfort zone and each time, she grows a little more in her faith. Well done, Lil Jan…and a big thanks to Lisa Chambers for providing this opportunity.

Old Hickory Ladies Day
Old Hickory Ladies Day

After her presentation and a final night at the Diamond farm, we worshipped at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ with the Diamonds and Luke Beggs, a family friend and one of my former students and youth group leaders. We took Luke to Cracker Barrel for lunch and learned he is adjusting well as a freshman at our alma mater, Lipscomb University. Next we visited the Brentwood REI store to pick up a few needed items for my upcoming AT thru-hike. We then headed for Tullahoma to visit my dad for a few days and get my root canal.

Lil Jan Doin' Her Thing
Lil Jan Doin’ Her Thing

With our detours complete, and having visited with lots of family and friends, it was time to head back to Scott AFB, Illinois, to pick up our RV. But we decided on one more little detour…a chance to learn more about and pay tribute to my all-time favorite President. Yes, we were headed to Springfield, Illinois. More on that next time…Honestly…if I’m Able.

Big Steve

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Campground Review: Pere Marquette SP, IL

Dates: September 5-7, 2015

Campsite: 12

Overall Score: 4.22 (out of 5)

Summary: Pere Marquette State Park is Illinois’ largest park, covering more than 8000 acres. A nature lover’s paradise, it offers a wide variety of activities in and around the park.

Site 12, Pere Marquette Campground
Site 12, Pere Marquette Campground

Recreation/Amenities: 4.7

There are 10 hiking trails covering a total of 12 miles. They range from easy to difficult and some have scenic bluff views of the Illinois River.   For the less ambitious, there is a scenic drive through the park. For the more ambitious, there is rock climbing on the bluffs. There are several cabins, a lodge (with indoor swimming pool and weight room), and a restaurant (get the fried chicken) all built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Visitor Center has a 3-D map of the park along with displays and exhibits concerning the Illinois River, wildlife habitat, local history and geology. There are 2 rustic cabins that can be rented in the campground and there’s a boat ramp for Illinois River access.

Saddle Up!
Saddle Up!

Hookups & Connectivity: 3 – electric only, with dump station. Water source is located in the camping area, but not at individual campsites. No Wi-Fi. There is supposed to be Wi-Fi at the lodge, but we couldn’t pick up a signal.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 4.9 

Where to begin? Let’s see…you can go to the Illinois and/or Mississippi Rivers to go boating, fishing, cruising, parasailing, or take a ferry ride. Nearby you’ll find some of the best bald eagle watching anywhere along the Great River (during the winter). There’s also hunting on 5,000 acres of public land and a 20-mile bike trail to Alton. There’s also horseback riding, a mystery dinner, Eckert’s apple orchard, golfing, and the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site and Conveyance Tower. You can head to Grafton for shopping, wineries, and riverfront dining. On top of all that, there’s zip lining nearby and the Raging Rivers Water Park. And, of course, you can take a very scenic 40-minute drive to St Louis for all that it has to offer.

Cleanliness: 4.3 – average cleanliness. Not pristine, but no major issues.

Nesting Intincts
Nesting Instincts Kick In

Intangibles: 4.2

Pros – Campground has shade trees and most sites are level. Lil Jan and her nesting instinct were immediately drawn to the eagle’s nest at the Visitors Center.

Cons – Campground sites have adequate spacing, but minimal natural barriers between them. No cell phone service in the park. $32.50/night was a tad higher than the average state park we’ve visited. A person familiar with the lodge rooms and cabins said they were “starting to show their age” although we didn’t get a look inside them.

Bottom-line: this is a large, beautiful park with a ton of things to do both in the park and in the vicinity.

Big Steve

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The Great River Road, Part 12: Hannibal, MO to Pere Marquette SP, IL

“I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”                             – Meriwether Lewis

 September 5, 2015 – Day 15 – Alton, Illinois

Our parting gift in Hannibal was a phone call from Jason, our eldest, telling us he and Rachel were alive and well and that he had built his first artificial leg. How cool is that! It’s always good to hear from progeny, even when he calls while riding the Dallas Area Rapid Transit and every 30 seconds a woman interrupts screaming things like, “Next stop, Lake Highlands!”

We said farewell to all things Mark Twain, crossed the Great River, and headed south toward Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton, Illinois. This beautiful state park, which we’ll review in a separate blog, would serve as our base camp for the next few days. While heading down the Great River Road toward Grafton at cruising speed, Lil Jan snapped a great picture of two John Deere tractors having lunch in the shade of a tree by a cornfield. There are two things we’ve seen a lot of on our trip: bugs taking on our big windshield and losing…and corn. Lots and lots and lots of corn. There were days when an hour would go by and the only thing visible on either side of the road was corn. The United States produces as much corn as the next three countries (China, Brazil, and the European Union) combined. Illinois is actually forth in U.S. corn production, behind Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska. With all this corn, it’s a wonder how anyone goes hungry.

Bluffs & River north of Alton
Bluffs & River north of Alton

As the Great River Road approached Alton, we enjoyed the high bluffs on one side of the road, and the Mississippi River right next to us on the other. There were sections where you could just about jump into the river from the road. Our first stop was the Village of Elsah, which was established in 1853 and is on the National Historic Register. As we pulled in, Lil Jan commented that she had been here before but couldn’t recall under what circumstances. It finally came to her that she had done a getaway weekend here with two girlfriends (Lynne Gentry and Michelle McDougald) back in the late 90s while we were stationed at Scott AFB, IL. I asked for details, but she informed me that what goes on at girls’ getaways at the Green Tree Inn in the quaint historic town of Elsah stays there. Well, all right, then.

Confluence Tower
Confluence Tower

We continued south because it was time to pay tribute to one of my heroes, Meriwether Lewis, and one of my favorite all time adventures, the Lewis & Clark Expedition. I studied this expedition in grade school, but really got into it later in life after reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. I was fascinated with all the planning and preparation that went into the trip, with the correspondence between Lewis and President Jefferson, and by the many obstacles the team had to overcome to reach their destination. I seriously think it brought out a bit of my adventurous nature, which has manifested in things like this crazy RV adventure and one day hiking the Appalachian Trail. So we stopped at the 180-foot Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower, which sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. It was near this spot that the Corps of Discovery, on May 14, 1804, departed from Camp River Dubois and began their voyage to the Pacific Coast.

Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center

A little further down the road we came to the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site, which includes a 14,000 square-foot interpretive center and an outdoor replica of Camp River Dubois. The interpretive center contains multiple exhibits and displays, a theater, and a 55-foot full-scale cutaway keelboat like the one used by Lewis’ team. We inadvertently timed our visit with some sort of music festival and encountered a group of rather good musicians in period costumes playing folk music. Camp River Dubois came to life through an informative tour guide who knew his Lewis & Clark history.

Melvin Price Dam
Melvin Price Dam
Aerial View of Locks and Dam
Aerial View of Locks and Dam

Our next stop was the National Great Rivers Museum next to the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Alton. The highlight of the museum for Lil Jan was discovering what she called “The Steve Fish”. I informed her that it’s actually known as the Weakfish (or Croaker or Grunt) …Cynoscion regalis…of the drum family Sciaenidae. She said, “No, it’s the Steve fish…just listen to it.” She then played the audio of the fish (link attached) and I had no choice but to agree with her assessment. So we renamed it The Steve Fish, of the drum family Big Croaker. Next to the museum stands the towering Melvin Price Locks and Dam, a true engineering marvel that took fifteen years to complete. It’s part of a system of 29 locks and dams on the upper Mississippi River that create a “stairway of water” so that pleasure craft, towboats, and barges can travel the river. We finished off the night with some tasty fried chicken at Castelli’s, an Alton restaurant opened in 1937 and now managed by the 4th generation of the Castelli family.

Hiking Babler Park near St Louis
Hiking Babler Park near St Louis

September 6, 2015 – Day 16 – Saint Louis, Missouri

 We began this Sunday by worshipping with a friendly group of folks at the East Alton Church of Christ. We then changed clothes and headed for the popular Saint Louis Zoo, which consistently ranks among the top five zoos in the United States. It’s technically free, although you’ll pay to park, eat, drink, and for some of the exhibits, like the children’s zoo. Our challenge was not the cost, but the heat index, which was over 103 degrees that afternoon. In fact, the first three exhibits appeared empty, as the animals were smart enough to hide under or behind any object they could find. Things started picking up, though, and the animals slowly but surely started to come out. We especially liked the polar bear and the various apes and monkeys. The butterfly cage/exhibit was amazing, and provided the awkward moment of the day. I didn’t realize one of the butterflies had landed on my shoulder and I exited the exhibit with him riding the Big Steve Train to freedom. I thought about just letting him go, but instead decided to re-enter the exit door and return him to a life of bondage.

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Go Cards!
Go Cards!

We would have done more things in Saint Louis had we not already visited the city earlier in the summer. We went there, twice actually, to hear Kyle preach. He spent the summer interning with the Lafayette Church of Christ and lived with the very hospitable Kevin & Cindy Fields family. During that visit, we hiked the Babler Memorial State Park, visited the Arch, went to a Cardinals game, and dined at Gian-Tony’s on the Hill with Kyle and several members of my family. An even better meal came courtesy of Kevin, Kyle’s host dad.  He did a shrimp boil that was out of this world. He had the cooking process down to a science with a boiler, stopwatch, and just the right combination of seasonings. He brought out bucket after bucket of shrimp, potatoes, onions, corn on the cob, and Andouille sausage, and dumped them on the table in front of us. Well done, Kevin! It could only have been better if I hadn’t been on day two of an abscessed tooth, which would quickly result in a root canal. Ugh! We appreciate the Fields for keeping Kyle over the summer, for letting us stay with them on two consecutive weekends, and for the amazing shrimp boil.

Our First Shrimp Boil
Our First Shrimp Boil
Thank you, Fields Family!
Thank you, Fields Family!

September 7, 2015 – Day 17 – Pere Marquette Riding Stables

Lil Jan loves horseback riding. It’s one of her love languages, along with Christian fiction and grits. I promised her we’d go horseback riding at some point during our Great River Road travels, and today was the day. I love and appreciate horses, but riding them is not one of my love languages. In fact, it’s not even a “kind of like” language for me. The first reason is because several years ago I saw a woman (the previously mentioned Mrs. McDougald) thrown from a horse, and I had to pull off my shirt and apply direct pressure to her head to stop the bleeding. Thankfully she lived, although she never fully recovered from seeing me with my shirt off.

Her Love Language
Her Love Language
Canter Daddy
Me…Not So Much

The second incident happened about five years ago on an anniversary weekend at a beach near Jacksonville, Florida. I was trying to fulfill one of Lil Jan’s bucket list items to ride a horse on a beach. So we mounted up, and all was well as we set off with our guide and horses down the beach. With the sun setting and the wind blowing through my hair, it reminded me of a Patrick Swayze Saturday Night Live skit. Our guide then had to go and ruin everything by asking, “Do you want to canter?” to which Lil Jan replied, “Yes!” while I replied, “What’s a canter?” Next thing you know our horses took off down the beach and it became immediately apparent to me that something was wrong. Without being too graphic, let me just say a part of my body was not fully strapped in and began slamming against the saddle, causing my eyes to well with tears. These weren’t “oh, Lil Jan is fulfilling a life-long dream” tears. Rather, they were “it feels like someone is hitting me with a sledge-hammer” tears. The pain intensified, and with each bounce I started chanting things like “Oh—this—too—shall—pass” and “Throw—me—in—the—ocean—so—I—can—drown”. Both ladies were laughing and talking, unaware that I was suffering immensely behind them, certain my life was about to end, and asking God to either kill the horse or miraculously deliver a strip of duct tape. To this day, I don’t know what canter means but I’m pretty sure it’s the French word for “to sterilize.” Anyway, back to 2015, our ride through Pere Marquette State Park wasn’t nearly as bad, as I have learned to keep one hand on the reins and one hand cupping myself. This may have looked odd to the Cowboy tour guide riding next to me, but I told him it helped me focus; and besides, I had already been cantered.

Big Steve

Steve Fish video link…

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The Fam Throwin' Down Some Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
The Fam Throwin’ Down Some Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St Louis

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The Great River Road, Part 11: Hannibal, MO

A man’s experiences of life are a book. There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy.

– Mark Twain’s notebook and “The Refuge of the Derelicts”

 September 4, 2015 – Day 14 – Hannibal, MO

Trying to write about Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens) in Hannibal, Missouri, is like trying to play basketball on Lebron James’ home court. Twain was a master storyteller and Hannibal was his boyhood home and inspiration for much of his writing. The town made an impression on him, and he made an impression on it and the rest of the world through his writing. In Hannibal, it’s possible to drive down Mark Twain Avenue and pass by the Mark Twain Brewery and Becky’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor on the way to your home at the…drum roll…Mark Twain Apartments. Or, you could grab lunch at the Mark Twain Dinette, play some ball at Clemens Field, and then drive by the Mark Twain Lighthouse on your way to the Mark Twain Cave. You get the idea. This place is proud of their hometown hero…and for good reason.

Twain's Boyhood Home & Museum
Twain’s Boyhood Home & Museum

 

Twain reflects on his younger ornery self
Twain reflects on his younger ornery self

The face of the river, in time, became a wonderful book…which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it had uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.                              – Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

We seem to also have a new story to tell ever day based upon our journey along the same great river that inspired Mr. Twain. Today’s story fittingly began at Twain’s boyhood home, which has been turned into a museum. Through videos, displays, statues, and memorabilia, the museum vividly illustrates Twain’s life and writings. It even features several original Norman Rockwell paintings. We followed the map on our self-guided tour outside and down a path to the modest replica home of Tom Blankenship, Twain’s childhood friend and inspiration for the popular character, Huckleberry Finn. We then traveled back down the path to enter Twain’s boyhood home. His life-sized figure greeted us in each room, behind a viewing glass, along with popular quotes attributed to him.

Doin' work...or is it play?
Doin’ work…or is it play?

“Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it.   Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”   – Tom Sawyer

That’s right, we exited the home and headed for Tom Sawyer’s fence and posed for the obligatory photo of us painting it. As you may recall, Tom was a bit of a trickster and actor and understood human behavior. To get the fence painted, Tom just needed to convince his friend Ben that the opportunity to paint it was “play” (something, according to Tom, that the body is not obliged to do)…and not “work” (something the body is obliged to do). While that may seem a little deceptive on Tom’s part, it’s a leadership technique that’s been frequently used on me and that I have used on others. An Air Force boss once enthusiastically told our squadron, “Today we get to pick up trash around the base prior to the inspection team arriving.” I, in turn, have often convinced my students that picking up trash on campus (or assembling playground equipment or putting down mulch) is not just a way to get out of class, but also a high honor and among the most important things that would be done on campus that day. The fact that I actually believed that made my pitch all the more convincing. In reality, one’s attitude can make otherwise difficult or boring tasks seem fun…and worthy of being done correctly. That seems to be what Solomon had in mind in Ecclesiastes 9:10 when he wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…”

The Sweetheart Across the Street
The Sweetheart Across the Street

“As he was passing by the house where Jeff Thatcher lived, he saw a new girl in the garden—a lovely little blue-eyed creature with yellow hair plaited into two long tails, white summer frock, and embroidered pantalettes. The fresh crowned hero fell without firing a shot… He worshipped this new angel with furtive eye till he saw that she had discovered him; then he pretended he did not know she was present, and began to “show off” in all sorts of absurd boyish ways, in order to win her admiration.”                        – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876

Young Samuel Clemens had a major crush on Laura Hawkins, the lovely girl across the street. Laura was a few years younger than Sam, and they became friends, classmates, playmates, and even sweethearts. Laura was the inspiration for Tom Sawyer’s sweetheart, Becky Thatcher. In real-life, their childhood attraction to each other eventually fizzled as youthful crushes often do. Laura married a doctor, had two sons and later became the matron of a Hannibal home for orphans and indigents. Samuel and Laura did keep in touch, however, including visits with each other in Hannibal in 1902 and again in Connecticut in 1908. In 1915, five years after his death, Laura honored him on what would have been his 80th birthday by having tea in his boyhood home. In 1926 Laura, at the age of 89 and two years before her death, would honor him a final time by attending the dedication ceremony for the Tom & Huck Statue in downtown Hannibal.

Goofballs
Goofballs

So my lovely sweetheart, Lil Jan, and I crossed the street to tour Becky Thatcher’s home, which was the real-life home of Laura Hawkins. I meandered slowly, reflecting on Samuel’s crush on the pretty young girl across the street. Lil Jan went on ahead and entered the house, apparently lured by the gift shop inside. As I approached the door, the romantic trance I was in came to a crashing halt as Lil Jan pointed to a sign and mouthed, “They’ve got poo here!” (Which, by the way, when mouthed through a glass door, looks very similar to the words, “I just poo’d myself.”) Yes, the gift shop contained odorless products made from the recycled poo of horses, donkeys, sheep and perhaps even Mark Twain himself. I stopped and pondered who was the very first person to look at a pile of donkey excrement and decide to make dinner napkins out of it. Or an even better question, “Why?”

Seriously?
Seriously?

Our next stop was the Hannibal History Museum a few blocks down the street. It was on the second floor of this building that Samuel Clemens began working as a typesetter and writer for the local paper. He found an article about Joan of Arc (Noah’s wife?) beneath one of the windows that caused him to write her story. In addition to more Twain history, we learned about another Hannibal resident, the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. On April 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m. Margaret “Molly” Brown was thrown from her bed when the Titanic hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage. She got dressed (to include seven pairs of wool socks), went out on the deck, and immediately began helping other women and children into lifeboats. Disregarding her own safety, she protested when one of the crew demanded that she board a lifeboat. Still, two men grabbed her and tossed her into a lifeboat as it was being lowered into the sea. As the Titanic sank, she insisted that the lifeboat return to rescue those in the water, but the quartermaster refused, fearing the boat would capsize from those trying to climb aboard. As her lifeboat waited for help to arrive, Margaret shared the seven pairs of wool socks she was wearing to help others stay warm. Once on the rescue ship, the RMS Carpathia, Margaret realized that many of the women and children survivors were poor immigrants who had lost everything, including their bread-winning fathers and husbands. She asked the First Class survivors to contribute toward a fund to help the newly widowed women and orphaned children. She raised more than $10,000 ($233,000 in today’s dollars) before the rescue shipped reached the New York harbor. In a time of crisis, Molly’s character was revealed. Well done, Molly…well done.

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Mark Twain Riverboat

As afternoon turned into evening, we had one final agenda item…a dinner cruise on the (you guessed it) Mark Twain Riverboat! We had a magnificent time cruising up and down the Great River, walking around the boat, listening to live music, and chowing down on the buffet. The extremely friendly and cute cruise director, Julie, reminded me of a celebrity crush from my youth…another cruise director, also named Julie, who kept passengers happy each week on the Love Boat. The meal was delicious and filling and the guy on guitar was the real deal. Before placing the dinner napkin on my lap, I cautiously sniffed it to determine if it derived from recycled sheep poo. (That would have been baaaa’d.)

Downtown Hannibal
Downtown Hannibal

After dinner, we met and chatted with Linda and Karen, two sweet ladies from the Chicago area. They told us about their lives and travels and we returned the favor. Of all the great things about traveling around the country, our favorite is the people we meet along the way and the things we learn about them and from them. Most we’ll never see again, but it’s encouraging to cross paths, hear their stories and hopefully encourage a few by our story. You see, Mark Twain was right…every life is inherently interesting, made up of some drama, tragedy, and hopefully plenty of comedy.

Big Steve

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