And as it happens, I haven't visited this place in a long time. Not since the trip Mama took us on. On that trip, I saw some of my heroes take the stage. Namely: The Oak Ridge Boys.

Branson, Missouri—I’m eating bacon and eggs in the hotel dining room. I’ve been on the road two weeks, and have another week to go.

I’m not visiting Branson, I’m only passing through. I don’t care for this glittery town.

There is a woman next to me. She is frail, early eighties, and she’s from Oklahoma. Her name is Miss Carol and she’s all alone.

“I’m in town for a few days,” says Miss Carol. “I’m celebrating my sixtieth wedding anniversary. Gonna go see the riverboat dinner show.”

Before I can congratulate her on the anniversary I notice she has no husband.

“He died,” she explains. “Two years ago.”

Miss Carol and her husband were going to celebrate their big day here, they’d planned on this for years, but cancer doesn’t care about riverboats.

“We loved Branson,” says Miss Carol. “So much that we woulda moved here.”

Well, I don’t exactly love Branson. This town is what Disney World would look like if Bill and Gloria Gaither called the shots.

But.

I once loved this town when I was a boy. My mother took us here during the months after my father’s funeral to help us forget bad things. Back then, it was our kind of town.

Branson, you’ll note, is not suited for the sophisticated traveler who rolls their “R’s” and wears a turtleneck. Branson is for those who cried when Dale Earnhardt passed.

In this town, anyone who owns a guitar and a can of hairspray has their own show.

You have gospel shows, bluegrass shows, country-pop shows, country-rap shows, country-synchronized-swimming shows, and former Brady Bunch cast member, Barry Williams, singing the complete oratorio works of George Frideric Handel.

Miss Carol goes on: “We took our kids here a lot. Alby loved the riverboat dinner cruise. This was his favorite place.”

And as it happens, I haven’t visited this place in a long time. Not since the trip Mama took us on. On that trip, I saw some of my heroes take the stage. Namely: The Oak Ridge Boys.

Today, the Boys are still touring even though they’re a little long in the tooth. I saw them in Dothan two years ago. They had silver hair and older faces.

When they sang “Elvira” the audience came unglued. The woman sitting next to me—a sweet grandmother from Luverne—threw her bra at William Lee Golden.

Here in Branson, I also saw Mel Tillis, Charlie Pride, John Conlee, Andy Williams, and I met a Dolly Parton impersonator. I remember when Dolly tried to give me a hug. My mother intervened by slapping my head and praying in tongues.

Miss Carol asks what I’m doing in Branson. I tell her my wife and I are only passing through.

“Oh,” she says. “You should do the riverboat. The baked Alaska alone is worth it.”

Yeah. Not really my scene.

I ask Miss Carol what she’s planning to do today.

“Me? Going to Table Rock Lake, maybe gonna eat somewhere. I dunno. Whatever I think Alby woulda wanted.”

And it kills me that’s she’s alone today.

She goes on to tell me her husband was a janitor for a school. He was a tenor in the church choir. He played guitar and liked bluegrass. He wrote songs. He raised a family.

He was somebody who never made the papers, but he was a beautiful man. And he left behind a beautiful wife.

We are interrupted by voices. Lots of them.

People come walking through the hotel lobby, wearing matching blue T-shirts, heading straight for Miss Carol.

She stands. They all embrace. The children call her “Grandma” and give her a blue T-shirt.

“ HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, GRANDMA,” says one child. “ARE YOU READY FOR THE LAKE?”

Miss Carol was born ready.

Before we part ways, Miss Carol says, “Hug your wife and enjoy every moment. Life goes by too fast.”

Her family takes her away, and I’m glad she has them today.

It’s early, still. I’d better hurry if I want to get good seats for the riverboat dinner show.

20 comments

  1. Kirstin Hoff - June 13, 2018 5:48 am

    Lol- this is probably why you haven’t seen my message to you. Safe travels!

    Reply
  2. Ron Coppock - June 13, 2018 9:32 am

    Sean – I have know idea how you came into my life -but man, I am glad you did-
    I don’t know if you know or even have heard if David Housel – ( retired AD at Auburn) but you two would have a field day sitting down sometime and swapping stories
    Ronnie C

    Reply
    • Julia - June 13, 2018 2:59 pm

      I live in Auburn, where David Houses is an icon, a local treasure, and a wonderful storyteller!*

      Reply
  3. Phyllis Hamilton - June 13, 2018 10:49 am

    Wonderful! We should tell our love ones we love them each day..life does go by too quckly.

    Reply
  4. Sherry - June 13, 2018 11:49 am

    Now that was worth reading…Enjoy the show!

    Reply
  5. Bobby - June 13, 2018 12:15 pm

    Sweet, I bet the show was great, but your performance in Ozark was my favorite of all time. And we lived in Vegas for three years!😊

    Reply
  6. Sandra Smith - June 13, 2018 12:17 pm

    Thought you’d enjoy this new version.
    https://youtu.be/Wgm9gZs1hYw

    Reply
  7. Glenda H - June 13, 2018 12:20 pm

    Yesterday a stranger at the post office smiled and invited me to church, she grew up in Florence AL and I just had to tell about you! Sean, you the only real red head in my family. Y’all have fun, ya hear?

    Reply
  8. Sue Cronkite - June 13, 2018 1:08 pm

    Have fun in Branson!

    Reply
  9. elderjane95 - June 13, 2018 1:30 pm

    And you didn’t ride the Ferris Wheel.? You know…we bought it from that big sinful city up north called Chicago. It is blessed to be here in Branson! Anyway…have a good trip. Too bad you didn’t drive through our town to the east just 60 miles or so over that curvy, “throw-up” road called 160. We are glad for that awful road. It keeps the the riff-raff out. (And you know I am being silly saying this.) I am happy my town is small and compact. 700 some souls and a few cats and dogs. The biggest town in Ozark County. The county seat. And the only blinking stoplight for miles around. I live on a beautiful hilltop just east of town….moved here 5 years ago. Been here 41 years. Moved from a place east of here called the Irish Wilderness…but that story will have to wait. Enjoy you day.

    Reply
  10. lissahamblen - June 13, 2018 2:29 pm

    Wish you could swing 28 miles north to Springfield. Would love to meet you! I’m Assistant News Director at KOLR10 and we have a Branson studio with two staffers who have to find content every day in Branson. No easy task! Try to look beyond the glitter and appreciate the Ozarks’ rolling hills and sweet people. lol.Love your daily dose of charm.

    Reply
  11. Suze - June 13, 2018 3:15 pm

    Haven’t been there for maybe 20-25 yrs. Remember it kindly. My hubby lost his left eye dt an injury. At several venues without being asked, they noticed and seated us where he would have best sight line for the show. Have never had that experience anywhere else.

    Reply
  12. Cecilia Robbins - June 13, 2018 3:32 pm

    Beautiful! Happy that Miss Carol’s kids/grandkids realized what an important day it was to her and were there for her! I agree w/you. Branson isn’t anything like it was. I loved it when the kids were young. They always had a great time at SDC! We would vacation there every summer after school was out. We would fish on the lake, have a cook out of fresh fish in the evening and think we were in heaven. I didn’t even recognize the place the last time I was there and that’s been a while. I haven’t been back since then. It was a wonderful town…now just a long alley of tourist trap shops and attractions. Now it reminds me of Pigeon Forge and Gattlinburg with the bumper to bumper traffic and tourists.

    Reply
  13. Jack Quanstrum - June 13, 2018 3:44 pm

    🙂

    Reply
  14. Jacque White Kochak - June 13, 2018 4:08 pm

    This brought a tear to my eye for the strangest reason – when you mentioned your mother taking you there after your father died. After something bad in my life, my mother took me to nearby Silver Dollar City, also in the Ozarks. I’m from Kansas and now live in the Deep South (Alabama), like you.

    Reply
  15. Lynn - June 13, 2018 6:10 pm

    Made me smile 😊

    Reply
  16. Edna B. - June 13, 2018 8:23 pm

    Wonderful story. It was so refreshing to hear of the younger folks caring for and tending to the older folks. I made a couple trips to Nashville in my younger days, but never made it over to Branson. The older country music is my kind of music. You have a great day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  17. Ann - June 13, 2018 8:53 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful story. My friend Dennis send me your posts often. being from Houston, I love Branson. I even bought a timeshare there and it is a great place for me to get away too. I love the mountains and so many places to go to be entertained. I really enjoy sight and sound, the river boat and Silverdollar city. Have safe travels

    Reply
  18. Beth - June 14, 2018 12:33 am

    👍

    Reply
  19. bullrem - June 14, 2018 3:31 am

    I am happy to hear someone else does not like Branson. All the music you listed – I do not like. You can get dirty looks around here saying that. I hope you do not catch too much flack. I always do. Helen in Ark.

    Reply

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