Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

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 The vacuum has been replaced by a huge development for kids.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


  1. Mike, the same thing seems to be happening to the music scene in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. While we were visiting around Christmas last year, we attended an oldies show; the turnout was so small it was almost embarrassing. It's sad to lose so many of our legendary performers and the fans who revered them.

    1. I know, Mary. I don't remember getting old. I don't feel old. What convinces me is the disappearance of the stars, the icons of our era, and I suddenly feel a bit out of place. How could they go away and leave me and the good times behind? We have traded "solid gold" for chicken droppings. And no, I'm not bitter (I think).

  2. Another excellent post Mike. All of what you said is true. Here in San Antonio, we listen to 680AM and 104.9FM. They play oldies and it is pretty good however even their oldies are slowly drifting to more recent “oldies”, but is very tolerable! Bat diesel fixed my dash a/c in December, did wheel alignment and put on new front tires. Safe travels when you get done. We love downtown RV park. Take care!

    1. I hope Shirleen is doing better, Hank. We want to see you guys before too much time passes, my friend.

  3. Safe travels my friends, another wonderful post. You make me want to return to Red Bay sooner than later... You already know my thoughts on Branson. Our entourage has completed Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park and headed for Deadwood on Monday. Perhaps we can meet in Colorado.

    1. Well, you guys are seeing a lot and aren’t you glad you’re not in Texas! It would be great to see you in Colorado, so we’ll be sure and keep up with your journey!

  4. Thank you for a very good post, as usual! So good to hear about the patriot people in these small towns. At least we are not losing our country in these places. It lifts our hearts.

  5. We're going to Branson, 7th of Aug. I thought the same as you after looking at the Show schedules. Time marches on!
    Norm Sullivan

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