Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Monday, January 15, 2024

Part-Timers Now, For Sure, But It Hasn't Been Easy

 At Bass Lake Christian Retirement Community, Lindale, Texas...

    I've been reading back over several posts. (I have to do that to make sure I don't repeat myself--a sure sign the buzzards are circling overhead.) By now, you know that we have moved diagonally across Texas to a true part-timers' setup. The official transition was not complete until a few days ago, as we had been living in Phannie under the RV cover until the house was ready for occupancy. (You can see a photo of the place a couple of posts back.)

    After eight years of fulltiming, there were some things about making the transition for which we weren't mentally or physically prepared. Another way of putting it is that we had no clue what it would be like to prepare for living in a house again. Yes, I guess our memory had faded that much.

    We were also slowed by our two-week holiday visit with the kids--which we couldn't miss, of course. Thankfully, we are a couple of hours closer to them now. 

    Almost immediately after returning from the Houston area, Sandy and I became ill. I was the first to fall, with fever and all the lovely side effects of the flu. My immediate visit to the doctor confirmed influenza (even though we had both had flu shots), but instead of prescribing the usual Tamiflu medication, the doctor gave me a prescription for a single tablet (I can't remember the name of it, but I have no trouble remembering that the one pill cost $75.) However, it must be the new best thing, as I began to feel better fairly quickly, as the fever subsided. Sandy's symptoms were not as severe, but the coughing and sniffling have persisted to this day. 

    The problem with going to part time RVing and moving into a house is that we didn't have much of anything to take from Phannie  to the house. Since we'll still be traveling in Phannie, we must leave almost everything inside intact! That left us with the necessity of furnishing the house from scratch! 

    Well, we must admit to some luck here, in that the former owners of the house were moving into an apartment and were unable to take with them any of the kitchen or laundry appliances. They asked if we wanted them for free, and we, of course, said, "Yes!" We also had a sofa and two chairs from the Hondo cabin and a second sofa that we had kept from our previous house so, thankfully, we had a good head start. 

    We still had a good bit of furniture to buy, and it certainly had not gotten cheaper in eight years! I had to buy a new computer, of course, and it is amazing how these things have improved in the last eight years! 

    The big surprises came in the form of the little things. We had no cooking utensils, dinnerware, silverware, plus dozens of other gadgets that are required. Simple things, like clocks, wastebaskets, bathroom and cleaning supplies--even tiny things like envelopes and stamps--all these had to be purchased. Every day, it seemed, we discovered we didn't have some essential thing, and we were faced with the need to borrow it from Phannie, hoping to remember to replace it later. When we start our next trip, we will almost certainly be in the same situation; we'll travel somewhere and discover items missing from Phannie that we stole for the house.

    Then there was the dilemma of making the house feel like our own instead of someone else's. The decor had to reflect our taste, and that was a bit of a challenge, since the buyer of our previous house eight years ago had also bought almost all our furnishings that we had picked out after a lot of thought. 

    Now, in the new house, it took a while to choose just the right things, but one idea that I had turned out superbly: I chose several photographs I had taken at various landmarks on our travels and had them made into large canvas wall-hangings. They turned out spectacularly well, serving a dual purpose as a reminder every day of the places we've been and the sights we've seen on our marvelous eight-year odyssey. We found there were more photos than we could reasonably hang in the small house, but we plan to switch them out from time to time. Here is a sampling of the ones hanging now:

 

Old Mine Near Marble, Colorado

Top: Old Barn With The Grand Tetons in the Background; Bottom: The Grand Canyon

Sunset Near Yuma, Arizona

    Finally, upon completing this post today, we are in the deep freeze here in northeast Texas. We are so glad to have Phannie tucked away from the elements and not sucking down the propane and electricity to keep us warm. 

(I should have pulled Mae under cover, too, but I didn't know it was going to snow. Lesson learned.) 


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.



We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

 




Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Southwestern Texas to Northeastern Texas--Another World and Another Lifestyle

 At Bass Lake Christian Retirement RV Community, Lindale, Texas

We have been a bit busy since the last post, having finally made the move from Ranchito Hondo to Bass Lake. Believe me when I tell you that it is like traveling to another world. Whereas the Hondo area is mostly barren, treeless and less than a visual delight, northeast Texas is, well...see for yourself:


    Sandy is standing at an overlook at Lookout Mountain and a beautiful view of heavily wooded east Texas. This area near Jacksonville is sort of like the east Texas version of the famed Texas Hill Country west of Austin. We are only a short distance from Tyler and nearby Lindale, our new residence. 

    I am already thrilled to be back in the land of my ancestors. I remember fondly my days as a young pilot when I would jump in a little two-seater Cessna 140 and fly very low over this hilly and forested landscape; I was in heaven.

    As I take the photo, Phannie is parked behind me, waiting patiently while I go down memory lane and look over both the familiar landscape and through time--my ancestors included soldiers and officers of the Confederate Army, preachers, farmers, tradesmen, and one of them was even mayor of my home town. I feel I can almost see them in the clouds. I'm doing my best to encourage Sandy to feel at home. She grew up in central Texas--more of a flatland farming area without the gorgeous trees--but we all feel at home where home was when we were young, don't we? She claims to be "all-in" for the area, but it is so like her to resort to obeisance if she knows it makes me happy. I try to be the same for her but, raised an only child, I have the misfortune of being accustomed to getting my way. I think she would say that I try hard to match her selflessness, but that's a tall order for me. However, I must have done enough to hold on to her for nearly 47 years, thank God.

    This last trip from Hondo to Lindale was an expensive one and, at least momentarily, hair-raising. As we were driving on a very crowded Loop 410 in San Antonio, a semi truck got a little too close to our lane and our mirrors struck, knocking Phannie's right mirror completely off its arm. Startled as we were, I failed to identify the truck, whose mirror appeared not to be damaged. After perhaps a few miles, I was able to pull off the freeway but, by that time, the truck was long gone. This was the result:


      If you look closely, you can see the loose wires that control from the cockpit the mirror movement and heat. You can also see that Phannie had reached her beautiful RV cover in Lindale in this condition, something I didn't know if I could accomplish from San Antonio because the driver's view of the right side of the bus was nil without that mirror. The potential for an accident was exponentially greater in this situation.

    I was debating what to do when I happened to take a look at the rear video screen on Phannie's dashboard. I noticed that the view of Mae was but a small part of the panorama of the rear camera. I could actually see vehicles in the right lane until they disappeared alongside Phannie, so I figured that if I watched the rear video closely and took less-traveled roads, I would probably be okay, and that's exactly what happened. To make double sure, I always kept Phannie in the far right lane whenever we were on a four-lane stretch of highway. The six-hour drive was a little nerve-wracking, but it worked better than I thought.

    Arriving at our Bass Lake abode, I called Tiffin immediately, with my fingers crossed in hopes they would have one of these older mirrors in stock. Much to my surprise, they did! When they quoted the price ($1,250 plus shipping), I gulped but ordered it anyway, not knowing where else I would find one. I also located a mobile RV technician after trying to install the mirror myself. I couldn't make sense of which of the five wires went where, and this guy got it on the first try. So, there was another $150 that flew out of my wallet. Figuring in the diesel fuel consumed, I probably could have chartered a jet more cheaply for this particular trip. That would hardly have worked, though, because Phannie was piled high with the last vestiges of our belongings and Sandy's clothes that she seems to collect as though someday they would cease to be made. I see I'm on thin ice here, so let's get back to the mirror. This is how Phannie looked with her new $1,400 mirror--yep, exactly the same:


      The one obvious difference here at Bass Lake from Hondo is that the old girl is comfortably tucked into her roomy garage, where she suffers neither rain, hail, snow nor blazing sun. It's so nice to walk from Phannie into the house during a downpour without worrying about getting drowned ourselves. If we're here in the summer, we will definitely have no need to run all three air conditioners as we did on hot days in the scorching Hondo sun. Oh, wait! We'll be in the house, where the air conditioning is almost overdone itself. I don't suppose Phannie will need any air conditioning at all, unless we use her for a guest house.

    I looked back a few posts, and I don't think I showed you my very cool pole mount for our Starlink antenna when we're away on a trip for a while:


    Carrying Starlink along is neat anyway, but being able to get the antenna extended beyond obstructions adds to how I attempt to justify the cost of the subscription. (Maybe that's a reach, but 24/7 lightning-fast Internet with no limits is not too shabby.) It's very easy to place the pole in its mounts, which Walt installed for me. Thanks, Walt.

    Perhaps the worst thing about moving is leaving the friends we've come to know in Hondo. However, we have RV friends scattered all over the country, and we stay in touch via social media and, when we're lucky, meet them on the road now and then.

    The painters finished repainting the interior of the Bass Lake house today, so we will finally be able to start unboxing things. We won't be sleeping in the house for a while, however; our bedroom furniture doesn't arrive for a few days yet.

    Thusly, we enter yet another phase of the RV life--eventually required, I suppose, by every one of us. I'm very satisfied with the way we've done it--slowly transitioning from the long trips requiring the stamina of younger years, then to semi-part time, where we had a cabin but still lived in the bus, and finally back to true part-timers, where we live in a small house--just what we wanted--and take a relatively modest trip now and then.

    The Lord has been good to us--more than 100,000 miles in Phannie (plus the previous tens of thousands of miles pulling our fifth wheels). We've seen just about all of the country we ever wanted to see, filling our bucket list along the way. Amazingly, Phannie still seems ready to go, having carried us safely all those miles over a dozen years, without a single hiccup from her dependable drive train. I think I love the Caterpillar diesel engine; I'm certain this one has another 400,000 miles in it, because of its meticulous maintenance. (And, I take no small amount of pride in the fact that we've never bought a drop of DEF.)

    As we mentioned in the last post, Phannie will take us to Conroe for Christmas through New Year's and to Branson in the spring. We'll figure out the rest later.

    You might notice that the pageview counter is getting close to a million. It actually should show quite a bit more than that, however, as the counter only began counting in 2010; by that time, we had been posting for five years. Nevertheless, it will be exciting to see it turn over a million, and we cannot thank you readers enough for traveling along with us. We love that and, hopefully, our adventures have been entertaining, inspiring or at least helpful in some way. I can tell you we feel incredibly blessed to have had this experience. Not everyone can truly say they've had no regrets in the travels we've had, the wonderful friends we've made and the lives we've lived. I'm not sure what we'll do when Phannie and Mae passes the million pageview number, but it'll have to be something significant. We'll have to think about that.

    

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.



We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood



Friday, October 20, 2023

A Roundabout Journey to Hondo--and Something Unexpected

At Lone Star Corral Escapees Park, Hondo, Texas...

Coming back to Ranchito Hondo certainly had some enjoyable detours and something entirely unexpected that will turn out to be the surprise I mentioned in the previous post.

As we left the last of the mountains into New Mexico, I couldn't help but take a photo of this rock that reminded me a bit of the Sphinx in Egypt. It was a little sad that the beauty surrounding us all summer was coming to an end.


Our first overnight after leaving Colorado was the RV park at Cline's Corners, a well-known travel center on I-40, southeast of Santa Fe. They have opened a new RV park, and it is quite nice and reasonably priced for an overnight. They don't take reservations, but there's usually plenty of sites available.

From there, we overnighted at Bubba and LouAnn's home in Lockney, Texas (near Plainview). We moochdocked in their driveway, but not without a minor mishap when Bubba, who was directing my backing into his driveway, became distracted and failed to stop me before Phannie backed into his roof overhang. This bent Phannie's ladder and damaged some shingles on his roof. Naturally, he felt bad about it, and so did I, but stuff happens. The ladder has been replaced, and all is okay now. As usual, we enjoyed getting to spend a little more time with them and their family and the generosity of offering us overnight accommodations.

Our next stop was The Vineyards RV Park in Grapevine, Texas, where we took some time for an annual medical checkup and a visit with a close high school friend whom I hadn't seen in 50 years or so:


Danny, also a musician, roamed around with me a great deal in our high school years, and it was such a treat finally to see him and his lovely wife again.

After the doctor visits, which went fine, we motored down to my hometown, Nacogdoches, Texas, where we spent a few days visiting friends John and Pat and the publisher of my newspaper column, high school chum David. (You can see the nonsense I write monthly in http://aroundthetown.us, but you'll have to wade through a bunch of advertising to get to it. My column is usually between pages 18 and 32. There are quite a few columns, as I have been writing for the paper for over a year now.)

We hadn't been in Nacogdoches long until I received a call from the president of the Board of Directors at Bass Lake Christian RV Community near Tyler, Texas--a larger town not far from Nacogdoches. She told me a resident was selling, and that I might be interested in his place. We had been looking at this park for a number of years, but didn't find exactly what we wanted, so we jumped in the car and drove to Tyler, where we bought the new place on the spot!


The previous owners were very nice and left for us all the appliances and a substantial amount of other indoor and outdoor things at no additional cost!  So, for the moment, we find ourselves owning sites at Hondo and at Lindale--near Tyler, Texas. We will eventually sell Ranchito Hondo, of course, but this is the natural progression for us, we think, as we wind down the long trips in Phannie. The main attractions of this place in Lindale involve the large RV/Vehicle cover and the small house--about 1000 sq. ft.--that accompanies it. And so, the fulltiming to part timing cycle takes another turn. With this purchase, we will no longer be living fulltime in Phannie, but in the house. The great news is that Phannie will finally be under a cover again when unused--something we desperately missed because of the effects of the elements which, thankfully, appear to have been minimal. I've often written about what a marvelous motorhome that Tiffin built in the early 2000s, and I am more convinced of it than ever. To think she has come through eight years of fulltiming virtually unscathed, looking good and running perfectly--she is a wonderful lady. 

Even so, I think the long trips are over, as we are getting on up there in years. Besides, we have seen just about everything on our bucket list, all of which--thank God--we have recorded in this rag for the last 18 years. Of all the things we did, my beginning this blog on our first day of RV ownership was perhaps that for which we're most grateful. Our memories will fade, but there are about two million words and countless photos in this blog that will remind us of the adventures of a lifetime. We have also met some of our most cherished friends along the road--and they will remain so for the rest of our lifetimes. 

So, the new (to us) place in Lindale is the little surprise we teased you about in the last post; we will probably be moving in in November. This doesn't mean that RV travel is over for us, however. Our next RV trip will be to the Houston area, where we will spend Thanksgiving with our family. Phannie is perfect for trips like that now that we're older.

After purchasing our new digs at Bass Lake, we drove to visit RV friends Steve and Jackie, who have just finished building a magnificent RV barndominium northwest of Austin, Texas. The contrast between our modest little place and this palace couldn't be more stark. Take a look:


Built on two acres of land near the Texas Hill Country, the 2,000 sq. ft. beauty has everything. Notice the two large garage doors--one for their motorhome and the other for their two vehicles. Also notice they have added an RV pad with hookups for visiting RV friends. We were so honored to be the first! I wish I had taken photos inside, but we'll do that next time. With accommodations like this, who wouldn't want to visit? Here is a peek inside the garage, where you can see their motorhome, Jackie's car and Steve's pickup:


We loved this place and the quiet surroundings, and the weather was perfect for us to sit out on the porch and visit:


Look at the beautiful landscaping. There's a bubbling fountain in the center of the photo:

Not only did we enjoy a visit with Steve and Jackie (and pup Jill, of course), we finally got to meet and have dinner in San Antonio with Alan and Mary. I got hooked on Mary's blog, Reflections Around the Campfire (reflectionsaroundthecampfire.blogspot.com) years ago because it was so interesting and well written. As somewhat of a stickler for what I hope is good storytelling and especially accuracy in the mechanics of writing, I was impressed. I began to joke with Mary in my comments when I would find a very rare error in grammar, punctuation and the like. This was something I could never do with most bloggers or anyone else, for that matter, as they would be offended at my pointing out what is usually a plethora of errors. (Yes, it is an OCD thing of mine, but I try to control it in order to retain friends.) Mary was a good sport, however, and gave back as good as she got. However, such a dry revelry has a relatively short lifespan, so we now just enjoy each other's blogs without the good-natured harassment--well, most of the time

We met at the Fish City Grill, where we enjoyed a wonderful seafood dinner and much conversation and laughing. It's funny how it's really not so surprising to meet a longtime cyber friend; we felt as though we already knew each other!


Well, that's quite a lot to chew for one blog post, so I'll run along and admit that we will be quite busy for a while with the move from Hondo to Lindale. 

What do we have in the planning stage? Well, there will be Thanksgiving and Christmas with the kids, of course, then Branson in the spring, where we will be meeting up with more RVing friends. We're not sure about next summer but, in the fall, we will probably be doing the leaf-peeping thing in New England and up to Maine. That's the one place in the country we haven't really spent much time, but we'll fly there instead of driving Phannie.

So there you have it. As our friend Ed always says, "Life is Good."  


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.



We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood




Sunday, September 3, 2023

Time to Head Towards Texas

 At The Views RV Park, Dolores, Colorado...

    After all the unexpected delays getting Phannie's annual service in Red Bay, our stay in Colorado this year was much shorter than we wished. We had actually planned to stay through September, but some exciting things await us in Texas. We are not looking forward to our departure to Texas next week, as the temperature there is still in triple digits after the worst heat wave on record.

    We have had a wonderful time here, especially with dear friends who have joined us from time to time. We feel for those who have suffered the heat back home but thankful we missed most of it. 

    While longtime friends Bubba and LouAnn were already here when we arrived, we were soon joined by Arkansas friends Carolyn and Larry, who rode the Durango-Silverton train and had time for us to give them a whirlwind tour of nearby Mesa Verde National Park and Durango, where we had lunch in the old saloon of the historic 19th-century Strater Hotel:


    No, Larry is not tipsy in the photo. Remember, I told you he's from Arkansas.  

    The old saloon as been restored, and they kept the original bar and even a piano player, whom you can see in the background. I wanted to play a duet with him, but the place was just too crowded.

    Our next entertainment venue was the Bar D Chuckwagon in Durango, where we were served barbeque and treated to a live western band. (They were quite good.)


    Our next visitors were BreAnn, daughter of Bubba and LouAnn, and longtime friends Mary Lou and Harvey. We all had a great time, and we have some photos, of course. Here's a lovely scene with BreAnn standing in front of Trout Lake, near Telluride, Colorado:


    Here's a photo of our last gathering around the campfire on the Animas river. In this photo are Jerry and Lori, some of LouAnn's relatives. BreAnn is standing next to Sandy. Notice we all have on our jackets (sorry, Texas friends):


    We had one final lunch at Serious Texas Barbeque (really good), as a goodbye gesture to Harvey and Mary Lou (far left):


    If you notice Harvey's impish grin, there's a reason. He is a cutup without equal, but Bubba and I pretty well hold our own. Much fun and laughter was had with all our visitors, and it was sad to see them go.

    And so, here we are, counting down the last few days before we head southward, knowing that September in Texas is not much different from August. It has been a fun time, but more excitement awaits us, and we will fill you in as we go.


   Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.



We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood




    

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Cool Colorado--Finally!

 At The Views RV Resort, Dolores, Colorado...

This has certainly been a circuitous and expensive journey, compared to our usual fairly direct escape northward from the Texas heat for the summer. Our trip to Red Bay, then Branson, then back to Red Bay and finally to Colorado required the better part of 3,000 miles but, luckily, we had our friends, the Turleys and their family, who helped us pass the time. This was Phannie's lengthiest maintenance experience, but her long and faithful travels with us had reached a point where multiple preventive services needed to be done, in order to ensure she stays in top condition. When we reached Colorado, she got a terrific wash and wax job, so Sandy declared that Phannie has had her well-woman check and a spa day! She should feel pretty good about herself! 

Ain't she purty, all shined up in the photo below? For those of you who worry about buying an aging motorhome, you need to have a good knowledge of the care it has received. Properly maintained, they will run dependably for a very long time. We have every single record of any maintenance or service ever done. When the day comes that Phannie will have to find a new family--and who knows when that will be?--we may have to do interviews with potential buyers. She will not be able to cope--nor will we--with a new owner who doesn't treat her as family.


She now has new shocks, belts, coolant hoses, sway bar bushings, A/C drier, touched-up paint, and a new rubber slide gasket, not to mention her usual annual service on the engine and generator. No, it wasn't cheap, but mere pennies compared to the more than $400,000 for a new one that could join a host of other new ones that are already accumulating lots of problems and complaints. Properly maintained, Phannie should serve us faithfully as long as we are on the road. 

Since we were past the point in the dreadful summer heat where we would take our time and check out places along our daunting 1400-mile trip from Red Bay to Colorado, I tried to figure out how to make the trip as quickly as possible, especially since we would be crossing Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, parts of Texas, and New Mexico--all of which were cauldrons of the hellish July heat. Most legs were about 300 miles, with a 600-mile trek on one day from Oklahoma City to Albuquerque. That was the longest leg we've ever done in Phannie, but it was worth it to make good time across the superheated plains and desert.

We also found out something else: the roads in New Mexico are a mess! We will definitely avoid that state at all costs when we leave here. Added to all the cost of the service performed, diesel fuel ran us about $1500, but it was still worth it finally to reach the mountains and a climate manageable for humans. Here at The Views, it has been a little warm this week, with high temps in the 80s and nights in the 50s. We can't help but look at the 100-plus degrees daily back in Texas and be thankful we can escape.

Speaking of The Views, here is our view from the pavilion here in the park:

 


And here's a view of McPhee Reservoir, across the highway:



An evening walk or just sitting outside are so pleasant, and before long, you need to put on a jacket.

We had the great good fortune of meeting up with Dean and Ronda Dutton, fellow Lone Star Corral neighbors, so we enjoyed spending time with them in these terrific surroundings. Here we are at a local Dolores, Colorado restaurant, where it's actually very pleasant--almost coolish--to eat out on the patio:


We also had dinner with longtime friends, Bubba and LouAnn, who are camped at a park about 25 miles east of Dolores. Notice everyone is wearing a jacket:


At the Dolores farmer's market, we scored some ridiculously fresh veggies, including Olathe sweet corn (famous in these parts). So good!


Naturally, we had to do some sightseeing, so we took a drive to  nearby Telluride, where we toured this interesting residential neighborhood up at the 10,000-foot elevation. 


The scenery was spectacular, but there were few homes yet built, probably for a couple of reasons: There was nothing for sale up there under $5,000,000 and, at this elevation, the houses are probably a bit difficult to locate in the snowpack, so we're guessing these are the owners' summer homes. The area also had a view of the beautiful Dolores River to cross as you began your journey up the mountain:


So, if any of you are looking for a gorgeous summer home in the Colorado mountains, be sure and let me know; I know where to find it.

One of the good places to eat we've found up here is Bubba's, a cafe about four miles from our RV park. My friend Bubba especially likes it, because it bears his nickname:


We are so delighted that we are going to be joined by more friends in the weeks to come, and we will, of course, be posting about their visits. It is a wonderful summer in a delightful place, and we wish all our friends could enjoy it with us.


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.



We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood





Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Waiting for Phannie's Makeover; Some Notes on Branson and Small Town Living

 At Downtown RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama...

As mentioned in the previous post, we completed our side trip to Branson, visited with the Turley family and had a great time. 

Since we have already posted in this blog about our many trips to Branson, I have elected to refrain from including photographs from this trip. The blog is replete with photos from other trips; if you don't believe me, just enter "Branson" in the search box.

Branson has changed over the 20 years or so we've been visiting here. The change has been both good and bad, influenced mainly by the passing of time. The inexorable passage of the years meant the entertainers of our generation whom we loved to see slowly passed from the scene. Most have either passed away or are too old to perform. Andy Williams passed away, Bobby Vinton (from whom Sandy got a kiss) is 88, Mickey Gilley died in 2022, The Osmonds have retired, Roy Clark died in 2018, and Charley Pride, Boxcar Willie and the Sons of the Pioneers have crossed to the other side. Sandy and I were probably some of the last folks who saw the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. All of these were in Branson, as were many more, and now they're gone. To us, these were the greats; they were singing and playing our songs and now, the Branson scene is not as we knew it, and I suppose it was inevitable. 

We feel suddenly out of place, as we don't understand or even like what now passes for music. What we have now is noise, lights and people jumping around. It is impossible to find anything resembling a melody, unless some group tosses in an old ballad for the sake of the old folks. The new country music is nothing more than a saga of some kind backed up by indecipherable guitar chords and drums. The old stars of the Grand Ole Opry must be spinning in their graves.

Fortunately, the town still has a lot going for it. The "new" music shows don't draw nearly the crowds that the great old stars enjoyed, so there are no new theaters being built. The vacuum has been replaced by a huge development for kids. Besides the major theme park, Silver Dollar City, there are innumerable go-karts, coasters, zip lines, a giant ferris wheel, and even a replica of the Titanic. There are spooky houses and an aquarium--all designed for kids. If their parents are lucky, they might even find an entertainer they themselves like--for reasons we don't fully understand.

We saw four shows in Branson, two of which we left early (not the oldies, of course), and the fourth was "Esther," in the Sight and Sound Theater, an enormous edifice featuring plays with unbelievably high-tech sets and costumes based on Biblical characters. The experience is like nothing we've ever seen, and the house is always packed, even though a single show may play for years. For us, this theater alone is worth the trip.

Fortunately, there are still a couple of shows featuring songs of the 50s, 60s and 70s, so we always catch one of those, for nostalgia's sake. Unsettlingly, the audiences for these oldies are slowly dwindling, as the boomers meet their inevitable fate. I'm not sure how long these will remain.

The good that you can always count upon is that the entertainment is clean, family-friendly and always honor our country and our veterans.

I see that I have taken up a good deal of space with Branson, but why not? We have time to kill like never before, given the backup at Bay Diesel, but there are few other diesel service shops that we trust like this one. Fortunately, they are also an air conditioner repair shop, and it appears our dash air is going to need a little work, too.

I knew the day would come when Phannie would have a need for major investment in the mechanical things that, over time, wear out for all coaches. It has been well-proven, I think that my fanatical attention to Phannie's recommended service needs has not been in vain; I think that is what has allowed her 17 years of almost perfect operation, never having stranded us anywhere or presented any problem that needed immediate attention. I even figured up the monthly average expense of maintaining Phannie over all the years we've owned her. That figure, including two new sets of six tires (between three and four grand per set) has been $298 per month, quite remarkable for such a complex heavy diesel motorhome. That also includes $5,000 for replacement hydraulic leveling jacks and $3,500 trying to fix the old electric jacks that was a regrettable manufacturing mistake for Tiffin to make in the mid-2000s.

During our visits to Bay Diesel this time, we will have replaced the shocks, the air bags, the engine belts and hoses and several other smaller items besides the regular annual oil change and generator service. I think she's going to be ready for another 125,000 miles!

We've already talked about our quick trip to Corinth in a previous post, so I'll give you a little more local flavor of the area, even though there's no shortage within these pages because of our many trips here to Red Bay. This little town of 3,500 souls has little to entertain a visitor during the day and none at night. Fortunately, Tupelo is less than an hour away, with much more to do, see and eat. But Red Bay lies just east of the Mississippi/Alabama state line, and as soon as you leave the Red Bay city limit heading westbound, you're in Mississippi. A few miles down the road is Belmont, Mississippi, where Tiffin Motorhomes, Phannie's manufacturer, has big paint facility. Belmont is also a tiny little town, filled with characters that, well, you just don't see any more except in small towns in the South. Both Red Bay and Belmont are places to which you can time-travel backward about 50 years. 

There are cotton fields everywhere, green and plush now because of a generous rainy season:

 There are a good many farmers, therefore, and other citizens around, all of whom seem to know each other. And then there is Sparks Cafe, at which they often congregate, including a special group that meets every morning for coffee or breakfast:


Notice the American flag out front; these people are no-nonsense lovers of their country.

 Attending these breakfast confabs are menfolk from the town representing all kinds of professions, but most appear to identify as farmers. Nothing about their profession or status seems to matter; They sit at a special table in front that seats about a dozen. In fact, the table is reserved for them with a sign that reads as follows:


Perhaps this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it is undoubtedly due to the sometimes raucous dissemination of wisdom among the participants that purportedly would solve problems all the way from international crises to potholes in the streets. Notice the huge bottle of ketchup that graces every table. Apparently, Belmont folks are fond of ketchup--as they are grits. The breakfast buffet always serves grits here; their omission would probably cause a riot.

One of the "smart" group--as it was named on the sign--was a lawman with a large firearm on his hip. The rest weren't uniformed peace officers, but there's a good chance his wasn't the only pistol at the table. I couldn't help but think to myself, could this be any more removed from the mayhem that we see on TV every day? I tried to imagine a couple of Antifa members entering the cafe, and there's a good chance the conversation at the smart table would take a different tone. Also, I'm not sure there is an ambulance in town, but it's highly likely that one would be needed, in such a case.

Sparks is a place where it is very common to hear grace being said at a table before eating. This is, after all, the Bible belt, and there are Bible verses displayed on the walls.

Speaking of walls, let's not miss the John Deere Memorial Wall, where proudly is displayed photos of all sorts of John Deere farming equipment:


I couldn't help but notice the photo of a couple of combines in the center, the frame lovingly surrounded by an incomplete wreath of cotton bolls. I don't know why I'm intrigued by this...perhaps because I've never seen anything like it before.

Getting back to my chicken and dumplings, which I had almost finished, I decided to see what was being offered on the dessert menu. I picked something called Elvis cake. I don't know what was in it, but it was so delicious, it made me want to sing:


Everything is served in Styrofoam dishes, of course, which would be a no-no for environmental crusaders who, for some reason, you don't ever see here. I suppose they don't to want to pick this hill to die on.

I love the Sparks Cafe because, every time I'm here, it is 1955 again, when the world was a sane, peaceful place where children received a real education and were taught right from wrong, daring not to refer to a grownup as "sir" or "ma'am" and had no confusion about which bathroom to use.

Back in Red Bay at our RV park downtown, we are close to the police station where two patrol cars sit unmoved for a week. Being a policeman here would probably be the cushiest job anywhere if one could stand the boredom. The RV park had a planting of huge sunflowers and, on a late-afternoon walk, I couldn't help but get a photo of one being plundered by a very busy bee:


As is common among RVers, we are privileged by our common status to meet new friends and gather to chat, solving many of the world's problems in the process:


So, what's next? Well, almost two weeks of not doing much until our appointment at Bay Diesel for the balance of the work. After that, we'll be beginning our journey west along I-40, as we make our way, finally, to Colorado. Phannie will clearly be ready for the challenge after her makeover.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it as I should every day.



We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood