By Dave Woods
New media and marketing manager
BRANSON, Mo. —
I don’t spend enough time with my grandparents.
I guess I never have. Now 85, Orville and Reba — Mama and Papa to us and countless other kids around our old Miami Okla. , neighborhood — spent a big part of their lives raising my three younger brothers and me.
Like many kids, I left the safety and support of Mama and Papa’s place and headed off to college and then the military. Soon it had been 15 years since I was home. I missed a lot of birthdays, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings. My bad.
A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to head down to Branson for a working weekend and decided to ask the grandparents to tag along. When I work in Branson the days are long and fast paced. Checking out a couple or three shows in a single day is common. I move fast and talk to a lot of tourists along the way looking for a fun story or an interesting character’s tale to tell.
Mama jumped at the chance for a Branson weekend. My Pop agreed and Darren, my brother, and niece Abby hoped onboard, too.
Made me proud
The grandparents and I arrived on the Branson Landing in time for a Taneycomo cruise on the Lake Queen, a paddlewheel themed tour boat. We grabbed a table on the observation deck and settled in for the cruise. As the tour guide, Capt. Dave, guided us around the lake, he told jokes and related some Taneycomo history to his passengers. The scenery was impressive and the weather was beautiful. Pop looked comfortable and was enjoying the pace of the day. I could tell, however, my Mama had other ideas. She, like me, loves to be on the go. Setting around looking at lakeshore and wildlife wasn’t her idea of a good time. Near the end of the tour, Capt. Dave announced a hula-hoop contest and Mama was in. While her best hula-hooping days may be behind her, that didn’t stop 85-year-old from getting up in front of the crowd and making me proud. A 10-year-old boy from Louisiana won the prize, but Mama won the hearts of the crowd. We grabbed a quick lunch after the cruise and checked into our lodging for the night. After a quick rest we headed off the Showboat Branson Belle. The GPs had never been aboard the floating dinner theater before and it was a nice way to spend the night. The Christmas show entertained and I loved being out on Table Rock Lake at night. The temp had dropped and a little rain was blowing, so Pop and I took a fast tour of the decks and went back inside for the show. Todd Oliver’s talking dogs made us all laugh, Papa thought the dinner was great and the Christmas show was uplifting.
I remember moments from Branson trips early in my life. Me, a brother or three, my Mama, a cooler full of bologna sandwiches, a couple gallons of Kool-Aid and enough Pringles to feed a small army packed into Pop’s Galaxy 500 and off to Branson we went. And, by Branson, I mean Silver Dollar City. That, to me — us, was Branson.
I don’t remember bumper-to-bumper traffic or long lines at rides. I remember “Fire in the Hole.” A Silver Dollar City day trip was often our big summer vacation. We loved it. I still do. It runs in the family. My grandma loves a Branson excursion, just like me. I’m sure it was a hassle for my grandparents, hauling us deep into the Ozarks. For the Woods boys, it was a big, darn deal. Times have changed, we’re all older, but Fire in the Hole still makes us smile. Fiiirrrreeee in the hooooole!
The next morning was cold and wet. My brother and niece arrived overnight and were rearing to get their Branson vacation going.
Silver Dollar City was on the agenda for the day. Pop opted out of a long day being dragged up and down steep hills and camped out at the condo. The playoffs were on and I’m sure he enjoyed some time to himself. The last time my clan made it to SDC for a day of rides and shopping, Mama decided she wasn’t going to let her young great granddaughter have all of the fun. She drew a lot of attention from the crowd standing in line at Powder Keg, the park’s twisting and turning roller coaster, when she buckled herself into the ride as casually as if she was strapping on her seat belt and driving to bingo. After the octogenarian’s thrill ride several 30-something women ran over and gave her a big hug of admiration. No roller coasters at SDC for Mama this time, but Sunday held a surprise for all of us.
It is always fun to see my Mama and my niece interact. They both are full of energy and I’m not sure which one is more difficult to keep up with. As I watched the pair of Woods girls — one 85 and the other 12 — scour the shops and run the park it became clear to me: Your never to old or young for Silver Dollar City .
After an 8-hour day, a holiday buffet and the parks grand tree lighting ceremony, it was time to grab some barbecue takeout and settle in for the night.
Sunday morning was sunny and warm, so we headed over to Shepherd of the Hills and. I picked up some tickets for the new Vigilante Ziprider. I asked Pop if he wanted to take the half-mile ride from atop Inspiration Tower strapped into a canvas seat. “Hell no,” was his quick answer. It’s been more than 57 years since he leapt out of an U.S. Army aircraft into the Battle of the Bulge and survived. I suspect that satisfied his appetite for thrill seeking. Mama took a few seconds to consider her decision, but my niece and brother were in.
“I’ll do it,” Mama said, unsure what she was getting into. We hopped in the elevator and ascended 170 feet to the Ziprider’s staging area, where they weighed in and waited for their turn. As Pop and me watched three generations of woods slide down the cable to the landing pad below, we both laughed. After the crew returned to the parking area below Inspiration Tower I asked mama what she thought of the ride. “It was OK,” she said. My niece — on the other hand — couldn’t stop talking about the ride. I suppose after raising four grandsons it takes a little more than a 170 foot drop at 45 miles an hours to get you too excited.
Dave Woods is new media manager for The Joplin Globe