My plane touched down in Missouri. The air was cool and sharp. The horizon was broomstick flat. It looked like rain.
In a few moments I was in a cheap rental car that smelled like an armpit. I cruised along the featureless byways of the “Show-Me State.” The state where I was born. The state where my father ended his own life.
I entered Parkville. The town where our lives went to perdition. And I remembered things.
My father used to tell a story about why Missouri is called the Show-Me State. When I was a kid, we’d ride in his rusted Ford F-100. Daddy would be eating licorice or sunflower seeds or spitting into a Coke bottle.
He said Missouri was called the Show-Me State because a politician used to go around telling other politicians to put their money where their mouths were. “Show me!” the politician would say.
Daddy used to do an imitation of a politician by growling “SHOW ME, SIR!” and waving his hands around like a televangelist undergoing a brain
I never forgot it.
The truth about the state nickname, I later discovered, is more complicated.
For starters, there are many theories on why it’s called the Show-Me State. Not just one. My father’s explanation wasn’t wrong, but it wasn’t conclusive.
I did some Googling. The politician Daddy was referring to was Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, from Cape Girardeau County. The year was 1896. The congressman was a dead ringer for Missouri’s other poster boy, Samuel Clemens. He had a voice like a hammer and the personality of a heart attack.
Vandiver once shouted from the campaign platform:
“I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me! I am from Missouri! You have got to show me!”
But historians think the Show-Me nickname started earlier. One story originates in the mining…