The Ozarks

Dollar General and Jesus. Lakes and guns. Fishing and methadone clinics. Oh my! We just got back from the Ozarks yesterday and I wanted to share some pictures I took while I was there. I’ll let you form your own opinions about where exactly some of these were taken, but I’ll give you a hint: Very near Arkansas. It’s important to keep an open mind about what is beauty up there, but some things you just have to see to believe. Glad to be home. Hope you’re all well, let’s touch base about our mental health tomorrow, today take a gander of some of the wonders of the Ozarks.

M.

Jim Bakker’s home! Is it two “K”s or three in Bakkker?

Heading Home

We’re heading home today. I’d normally say we are heading back to reality at this point in a vacation, but this time reality never really left us. Or maybe it didn’t leave me. I was keenly aware, all day, everyday, of the realities of life. That masks were necessary, and that even in outdoor events, social distancing is key. It wasn’t part of the original plan to leave so soon, but plans change. You get new information, you make educated decisions. Our new information came like this: 1. Jerimiah was suddenly thrust into a large corporate deal (think a bidding contract worth millions) that he needs to be “present” for. “Present” here doesn’t mean in actual person, as of now anyway, but there’s a chance. He does need high-speed internet though, an issue we’ve been battling out here in the country, and he needs a shirt with a tie, and some semblance of an office (he’s currently working with a large, blow-up dartboard behind him). 2. This global pandemic isn’t going anywhere. Not sure if you’ve seen, but uhh, it’s here to stay awhile, and things are changing daily. A week ago, the state we live in (Georgia) was “steady” and the state we are currently in (Missouri) was on the decline. Now, two weeks later, things have changed drastically. Covid-19 is running rampant again, in both states, and the truth of the matter is I need to be at home, socially distancing from others, in the safety of our bubble, with my immune-compromised husband and my asthmatic kid. It’s the only way. The way of life here is too lackadaisical, and that’s okay for some people, but not for us. The risk, in this case, is not worth it.

So goodbye Table Rock Lake. Goodbye family! Thanks to those of you who were able to visit with us. Thanks for self-isolating for a couple of weeks, thanks for taking our safety concerns seriously. Thanks for the late-night talks, the boat rides, the floating and laughing and singing. Thanks for the best version of a summer vacation we could ask for this year, hopefully we will see you all soon, but if not that’s okay. Your safety, our safety, the collective safety is the most important, and besides, one day life might be back to normal, isn’t that neat? Something to look forward to!

M.

Racism in The South

I was born and raised in Kansas. But not the kind of Kansas you’re thinking of. I wasn’t Dorothy, living on a pig farm with my aunt and uncle. I didn’t know any farm hands, I didn’t run to the cellar when the twisters came (we ran to an interior closet, because we could never afford a house with a basement), and I didn’t have any ruby red shoes. Rather I grew up in Leavenworth, a small albeit diverse* town, in the statistical Kansas City-metro area. I was born in one of the two hospitals in town. I attended Leavenworth public schools (mostly Title One schools), and I graduated from Leavenworth High School with a class of about 1200 kids. My best friends in first grade were two little white girls, two little Black girls, and a boy from Pakistan whose dad was an officer in the Indian Army, and was stationed at Fort Leavenworth that year for Combined Army and Services Staff School or CAS-Cubed. So no, it wasn’t Oz or anything like that.

When I was 21, Jerimiah and I moved to Southern Missouri to live at the resort his parents bought on Table Rock Lake. Like really, really Southern Missouri. We lived about four miles from the Arkansas line, and had many run-ins with what I’ve come to know as “Hill People.” We spent five years on Table Rock Lake, where I couldn’t tell you that I ever saw a person of any skin tone other than white (other than our friends we worked with in Branson). We moved into Branson for the first five years of Jackson’s life, where at least it was a little more diverse. Still, we knew it wasn’t the place we wanted to raise our son. Southern Missouri is not reflective of real life, and we never wanted our son to stay there, so we figured we best move somewhere with a little more diversity.

We ended up in Denver, North Carolina because my brother-in-law said it was nice. And it was, but it was more of the same. White. Middle-class. Lake. Boats. Second homes. Sub-divisions. We lived there for nearly four years before we moved to Charlotte and actually lived the sort of life we wanted for our son. He finally had a diverse set of friends, he was in a Charter School during that time, but it was racially, economically, and academically diverse. We liked our little Charlotte neighborhood, and we were happy. Then we got the news we needed to move again. This time to Atlanta.

We’ve been in the Atlanta-metro area for a year now. We are in a small, diverse town on the edge of the Perimeter, which is the highway that runs around the city. We are twenty minutes from downtown. We can catch a bus, ride the MARTA, or Uber to one of the busiest airports in the world with great ease. We have everything we need here, and we are happy. But there is one little thing: Racists. And I’m not talking about the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery. That is a different kind of racism, and it is my opinion that the man who pulled the trigger should die. The others should serve life. But I am not the judge, nor am I the jury. (Don’t worry I’m not gonna pull some “Jesus is Lord” shit here, I’m saying I am not actually in charge and my opinion doesn’t matter, but I hope the GBI does right by Ahmaud.) The kind of racism I’m talking about here is the kind of racism you find up the road in a town like Cumming, Georgia. It’s covert, not overt.

Cumming has a population of less than 10,000 and no, they are not all racists. I’m sure there are some fine people in Cumming, Ga I don’t know them. I don’t know anyone there because I have never been there, because I refuse to go there because the things I know about the city are not good. I’ve heard about “Sunshine Laws” in Cumming. You might have heard of Cumming from a story that Oprah did on the town in 1987. It’s known for it’s racism around these parts, and even if it is on Lake Lanier I’m just not interested in knowing “that part of Georgia.” The problem is Cumming isn’t a stand-alone, small Georgian town full of racism and unchecked bias. Cumming seems to me, in the year I have spent traveling through the state, to be normal. And it isn’t just Georgia.

We spent six weeks last year in Louisiana. We drove down there on three separate occasions and stayed for two weeks at a time. We drove through places like Birmingham and Biloxi, sure. But we also drove through towns like Newnan, and Opelika, and Chickasaw, and D’Iberville, and Thibodaux and I promise they are all more of the same. Covert, overt, unchecked aggressions and bias, and everything in between. Here read this blog post I wrote about Baton Rouge, or this one, or this one. I tried to share what I was seeing and hearing. The rampant racism that sits just under the surface and is ALWAYS present there is present all over the South. It is present in every, single state in The South, and I’m not saying it isn’t in every state in our country, it’s just so much more pronounced here, that it is hard to look away from.

It is present in my county, DeKalb county, where statistically speaking we are minorities. The Black people in DeKalb County make a lot of money. A lot of it. We are the second richest county in the country with a predominantly Black population. But guess what is here, covert and overt racism, unchecked aggression, and bias. Cause it doesn’t matter if you have money or not. It doesn’t matter if you are educated. It doesn’t matter if you are the kindest person ever. It doesn’t matter if you are small business owner, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in Atlanta, there are people who will hate you if you are Black and there is nothing you can do about it. And some people truly don’t know this. Some privileged white people really think racism is under control here, and they are walking around trying to save face with the rest of the country, but friends there is no face to save.

As I said, I’ve lived in some different places. Some backwards sorta places, where people chase their lost donkeys in the middle of the night, then smoke meth all day, and still the racism here, in Georgia, in The South, is the worst I have seen in any place I have ever lived. And it is sad. And scary. And unfortunately what happened to Ahmaud is not unique down here, and we all know that. And I think everyone needs to know that. We need to know it, discuss it, and deal with it.

Stay safe, y’all.

M.

*I’m not doing that thing white people do when they say “diverse” and just mean “more Black people” I mean truly diverse when I use the word. Ethnically, culturally, spiritually, educationally, and economically, and yes, varying races represented in the community. That’s the ideal place for us, and one similar to where I grew up.

Jackson and the Tornado and the Mayor and the President

In honor of Presidents’ Day, I’m going to take you on a long, sordid stroll down memory lane. When Jackson was four months old President Obama was sworn into office. We felt a great sense of relief that a man like Obama would represent our country, and we just knew he would be the sort of example we wanted for our child. Years later he was still the president when Jackson wrote the White House for advice on how to become the President of the United States one day. But first it started with a tornado, and a trip to the Mayor’s office.

When Jackson was in preschool he asked his first political questions. They came from a mind geared toward safety, like most things that consumed him at that time (and still do). We lived in Branson, Missouri at the time and at the start of 2012 a tornado hit “The Strip” in Branson, causing destruction to several attractions and theaters. It even destroyed Jerimiah’s office. We lived about five miles off “The Strip” and ended up sleeping through the whole thing, but abruptly at 6:00 am Jerimiah’s boss called to tell him not to come to work that day since their building was on the verge of collapse. Of course he did go to work, to help with the clean-up, and we went with him. This one event had a lasting impact on pre-k Jackson, who just a year before, had watched on the television as his PawPaw’s house was destroyed in the Joplin, Missouri Tornado of 2011. In short, he had some concerns.

All of this stewed in his mind for about a year before one day he walked downstairs and told me that he needed to talk to the Mayor of Branson about tornado safety. Of course I did what any mom would do to appease my four-year-old, I tweeted the Mayor. I told her about my son’s worry over the city’s storm readiness and asked if she would meet with him to discuss our severe weather plan. It was a shot in the dark, but it worked. She tweeted back moments later to say let’s meet up. For real. And two weeks later we were special guests in the Mayor’s office on a casual Friday. Here are the pics from the day we met Branson’s mayor Raeanne Presley.

This visit planted a seed in him, and he decided right then and there he would one day run for public office. We figured he would run for local office, as did the Mayor, so when she asked if he would like to be a mayor one day we were all surprised when he said, “Nah,” in his very adorable preschool voice. “I think I’ll be the president.”

The president, he explained, had much bigger problems to solve than severe weather readiness, on a much larger platform. And he knew he was better prepared for that road ahead. That’s when Jackson really dug his feet in, and for the next four years or so when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up it was either a police officer or the president. Nothing in between.

Fast forward to first grade. We’re sitting at our table in North Carolina one balmy November day eating chili. Jackson asked me if I thought President Obama liked chili. Because Jackson liked chili and he really wanted to be like President Obama. (Side note: Remember when we had a president our kids could look up to? Those were the days…) Anywho, I said I didn’t know, but suggested Jackson write him a letter and ask. (I really just wanted him to work on his handwriting and this seemed like a great excuse. I never thought anything would come of it.)

So we sat at the kitchen table, eating our chili, and I helped him sound out the words he was writing. He asked about chili, about the president’s dogs, about his kids, and advice on becoming a president like him. Then we stamped it, stuck it in the mailbox, and forgot all about it. Until months later when this arrived.

Jackson was less excited than I thought he would be, but later I realized it was because he always assumed the president would write back. I, on the other hand, figured it got lost in White House mail and that was that. So he was very casual as he opened the envelope, while Jerimiah and I stood behind him in excitement and anticipation. This was inside:

Now the letter is standard boiler plate, a-kid-sent-a-letter-stuff, but wow was he happy to hold it in his hands. He felt very proud and very important, which he has always felt, but I mean come on, a letter from the sitting president and President Obama no the less, our favorite, most awesome president ever! This was amazing. We celebrated. He shared with his class. People said to frame it. It was a big deal in our house.

The letter lit a fire under him like we’d never seen and he was suddenly very interested in the election process and the campaigning, and how it all worked. That was until 2016, when his world, and all of ours really, came crashing down.

As the results came in that night, and as we navigated the painful and pitiful months that followed, Jackson could be found crying at night because his friend Angel from Mexico might get “sent back.” Back to where, we didn’t know, since Angel was born in North Carolina, but his parents were not. It was sad and it was disheartening. Particularly when Jackson declared he no longer wanted to be the president. Suddenly the president he idolized was gone and in came this monster of a man who scared him. Gave him nightmares. Gave us all nightmares.

Jackson saw President Obama as an example, he knew he had what it takes to lead our country if he held his head high and was a class act like President Obama. If he cared. If he was honest and nice. If he went to a good school, maybe got a law degree, worked his way up in small steps. But when he saw how President Trump was elected. How people talked about him. How he treated people from different cultures and countries. How he scared people. How he talked about women. (We always told him the truth about Trump, and didn’t shield him from the sort of man he is.) How Trump used words like “retard” a word that has the worst sort of connotation in our house considering Jackson’s baby sister never made it full-term because of a brain “retardation.” Well, Jackson was done dreaming of becoming the president.

Jackson told me one day in third grade, “maybe politics isn’t what I thought it was…” and I had to agree with him. Because at that moment, and in the years that have followed, American politics has collapsed before our very eyes. There is not truth, no integrity, no bi-partisanship. There’s just anger, and fear, and hate. And it doesn’t suit a kid like mine.

So there you have it. The story of Jackson and the tornado and the Mayor and the President. I still hold out hope (like when we visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library last year and Jackson commented on what a “nice guy” he was) that Jackson might change his mind one day. And I still have faith that his generation will turn this sinking ship around, if we fail to do so. Maybe that’s the optimist in me. Or maybe I just have all the faith in my sweet, honest, hard-working, critical-thinking kid. Either way, I know he will do great things for his family, his community, his country, and his world. Even if it isn’t in the Oval Office. Because like President Obama said in his letter, “If you remember to give back to your community and chase your dreams with passion, I have confidence you will do big things…”

Thanks President Obama, we tend to agree.

M.

How ‘bout Them Chiefs?!

I didn’t sleep a wink last night. I tossed and turned. Got caught up in reading some comment sections about the half-time performance (y’all some haters, JLo and Shakira literally ROCKED our socks off! Don’t be jealous, or racist.) And as far as I’m concerned, I’m now a lifetime fan of both ladies because y’all, THE CHIEFS WON THE SUPER BOWL! I couldn’t sleep because I was so amped up on chicken wings, fudge brownies, and sexual thoughts about Patrick Mahomes, or was it Shakira? Maybe it was Andy Reid? Doesn’t matter. At two am, I was like, it’s cool, who needs sleep?! Then I started searching for pictures of the times I made my son, who has no desire to watch football, and who isn’t allowed to play football (because some brains are worth saving) dress in Chiefs gear since he was a baby. I found some. Then I finally fell asleep. That is to say that this post is really just a post of pictures. A post of disappointment over the years, rooting for one of our favorite teams (Jerimiah is a Packers fan) and then getting our hearts broken repeatedly.

In fact, it wasn’t until the Royals won the World Series a few years back that we even knew what winning felt like, and you guys, it feels damn good. Some of us have been waiting on this win for longer than others of us in the Goodnight household. But the win is for us all.

It’s for Kansas City, it’s for Kansas and Missouri (even though our dumbass President doesn’t know which state the Chiefs play in). Shit, maybe I should clarify that real quick for some of you. Arrowhead is in Kansas City, Missouri. But Kansas City is split in half. Half in Kansas and half in Missouri. (But trust, you don’t want to be on the Kansas side of the city by yourself at night). But honestly, honestly, the Chiefs are one of those teams that belong to a lot of people, not just in two states. They belong to the Midwest. To all the men and women in little towns with tattered Chiefs flags hanging from their front porches. They belong to our families in Oklahoma and Arkansas. To our crew down in Southern Missouri who hosted parties every time the Chiefs made it into the bracket, then lost. To our friends out in western Kansas, with Chiefs banners stung across old barns on wheat fields. To our friends in the Flint Hills, in Jeff City, in St. Louis, cause I mean, St. Louis needs a win. The Chiefs belong to Nebraska, because college ball is only good for so long. They belong to the people who hate the Broncs and the Raiders. And yes, they belong to Kansas City, first and foremost.

Last night’s win is for our friends and family members, the ones in their sixties and seventies who have been waiting, relentlessly waiting, for this day. It’s for my mom and my mother-in-law, who have sat screaming at television screens for too long. It’s for our friends and family members who aren’t with us anymore. Who didn’t get to see the win here on Earth with us. Today, especially for me, it’s for my Uncle Arthur, and my nephew Little Scottie. Sending love and hugs to wherever you are. The Chiefs did it!

We celebrated bigly last night in the Goodnight house! Jerimiah, a true Kansas boy, let me scream and yell and run around, while he just smiled and laughed, “I can’t believe they pulled it off.” Jackson, who was born in Southern Missouri, high-fived me, more excited that he got to stay up past bedtime than watch that fourth quarter unfold like it did! And then there was me, just a 38-year-old Chiefs fan who was so used to saying, “We’ll get ‘em next year” that I pulled out all the stops to try to indeed “Get ‘em this year,” including making a prayer candle in honor of the ghost of Derrick Thomas. I have my beliefs, about who helped us this year, and my lucky things, but I gotta say none of that really matters. Those guys played a hell of a game, both teams did, and I congratulate the 49ers and their fans. They showed up. It’s just that the better team won. Wow, that’s crazy to say.

Hoping to get some sleep tonight, but until then, have a look at some Chiefs fans over the years! And HOW ‘BOUT THEM CHIEFS?!

M.

His first Chiefs jammies!
Game day with mama, 2010
Tracksuits and toddler Chiefs pride!
Indoctrination at its finest! Bentley was a HUGE Chiefs fan!
Rock climbing Chiefs fan!
Gearing up for a pre-season game against the Panthers!
My favorite jersey of all time!
A gift from Uncle Josh in our first year in North Carolina!
Watching the Chiefs play the Patriots in Washington DC with friends in 2019.
We were #10 for awhile in preschool.
The only Chiefs’ fan doing a prowl!
Chiefs were served a crummy loss at Arrowhead this day.
Super Bowl prepping
He knew what I needed for game day
They ordered me wings, and donned their brightest red
We won! Finally!

I Would Drive 15,000 Miles…

And I would drive 15,000 more, because I have driven 15,000 miles this year and this isn’t how the song goes. But you did try to sing it to the Proclaimers for a minute, right?! Sure you did. And also, this is no joke. My husband, son, and I have driven 15,000 miles this year, and as you know, the year is not yet over. Look it, we are Midwesterners, so if I’m being honest 15,000 isn’t that much for us. You learn young in the Midwest, that if you want to see the “cool” shit, visit the “neat” places, you have to travel. And no one has money to be hopping on airplanes all the damn time, so you drive. Wanna go to a beach, one on an ocean? You be driving. Wanna go to a cool theme park? That’s a drive. Wanna see some historical shit? Some real, salt-of-the-Earth, Mother Nature, God’s Country type shit? You be driving. Want some culture? Driving. Damn, you just want to see a mountain and maybe snap a pic of an elk or something cool like that? That’s at minimum eight hours in the car. So, yeah, 15,000 miles ain’t no thing, but we aren’t stopping there. Jerimiah just booked our hotels for our New Years Eve vacay, which we will be adding another, ohhh, roughly 3,000 more miles to our total for the year. Don’t worry, I’m SURE I will have stuff to tell y’all about when I get back from Canada, Upstate New York, and New England in the dead of winter… (Note: All the red below are links to what I wrote while I was on these many trips, or just something that happened in that place, if you want to go back and reminisce with me!)

So where have we been this year to be racking up those kinda miles? Well, we started off the year with a road trip to Washington, DC where we participated in the Women’s March with friends. That was some wonderful, scary, sad, frustrating, empowering stuff. It was the week of the government shutdown, so there wasn’t much to do around town, but we did make it to the Holocaust Museum with the kids. Then there were two trips “home” and home here means the Midwest. We went to Kansas in May and then back to Missouri and Oklahoma in June. Then there were the four or five trips we made to Atlanta from Charlotte to find a house, enroll Jackson in school, etc. Then there was the actual move from Charlotte to Atlanta. And there were the subsequent trips back this year to see friends in Charlotte.

Then there was the trip to Texas.

Then there were all the trips back and forth to and from Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Coastal Louisiana all summer long. AHHHHH!

These miles do not count all the miles that we flew, and there were several thousands of those too. Mainly Jerimiah and his crazy work schedule this year, but also a trip I took out to Arizona to see one of my best friends.

At one point, six months into living in our new house in DeKalb County, Georgia (pronounced Dee Cab, not Dee Cobb for you Midwesterners) we counted up the actual number of nights that the three of us had been home together and the findings were not good. Not good at all. Meanwhile, we have earned so many airline and hotel points that our next vacation to anywhere, is actually free. That’s a lot of miles and points, y’all. Too many, really.

We aren’t normally this busy. In fact, we are homebodies, I know that is hard to believe, but we prefer to be at home. We prefer our own beds. Jesus, it took me months to pick out my bed and I LOVE it. And I like my own bathroom and well, just my own shit, you know? But, if you always stay where you are, you will never get anywhere. So we go. We travel, we move when we need to in order to better ourselves. We linger in new places for a few days, we see new sights, meet new people. We are travelers. Lucky to be able to do it, excited about what is around the next corner. But coming home is always nice too.

So there you have it, 15,000 miles worth of traveling so far this year, hoping to make it to 18,000, and hoping to add to our experiences, our fun, our love for our country, our friends, our family, and the world. Thanks for sharing in our adventures!

M.

Widening Scope

My mom sent me this picture the other day and I was totally surprised, for the first time in a while (not really I’ve been watching Downton Abbey) because I hadn’t seen this picture in a very long time, probably since it was taken. And I remembered very little about it. In fact, the only thing I remember about myself in this picture is that I found that purse (Baby’s first Coach) at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Branson, Missouri for $79 and I thought that was a steal! Therefore two things must be true: 1. I was still young and naive enough to think that spending $80 on a Coach purse made you an adult woman, nay, a cool adult woman and 2. I was definitely in my early 20s.

The more I looked at the picture though, the more the scope widened. Funny how pictures that take us by surprise on Thursday afternoons can do that, isn’t it? The more the scope widened, the more I resented the person that was in this photo. She was a total wanker. I mean, who wears a damn denim skirt? And what is that shirt even? I looks like it’s some type of half-hoodie? But I did have make-up on. A feat that is very, very difficult for me to accomplish now, on the backside of thirty. Then I realized, like we all do sometimes, I was focusing on the wrong things. I was selfishly focusing on me, and not the man standing next to me, and the moment that is, to my utter displeasure, captured in time.

You see, I was in my early twenties here. I can’t pinpoint exactly the year, but I can say, with certainty, that it was somewhere between 2004 and 2006, and come to think of it, maybe “early” twenties wasn’t right. Maybe I was exactly 25. Maybe he was too, and maybe this was our actual first step into real adulthood.

A year or so earlier we had fought about something in particular. The fact that I wanted Jerimiah to go back to school. I wanted him, in the least, to finish his associates degree, which we had both been working on at Kansas City Kansas Community College when we started dating. That date I am more clear on, St. Patrick’s Day, 2002. That wasn’t our first date, our first date had come a couple months prior, but we hadn’t really thought anything past the tip of our noses back then, so while we were standing on the corner of 42nd and Broadway, in Old Westport, we looked at each other and smiled the kind of smile that you know you will be giving that other person for a very long time. And so months later, we decided on that day as our “anniversary,” and it stuck.

Anyway, a couple years later we were living at his parent’s place, a resort they bought on Table Rock Lake down in Southern Missouri. He was working for them, and I was serving and bartending in Branson, and I looked at him one night and thought, “He’s wasting his damn time.” What’s funny is that it never occurred to me that I was doing the same thing. Here we were, frighteningly close to the end of our early twenties, not a college degree between the two of us, and although it was fun, sure, yeah, we were having fun, we were definitely stalled. So I suggested he apply at Ozark Technical Community College and finish up there. Maybe, maybe, then he could transfer to a four-year college. And oh hey, Missouri State was just up the road in Springfield.

He fought me at first. He was helping his parents out, after all, and he didn’t really know if college was for him. I had to remind him how smart he was. I had to remind him that WE had bigger dreams. Bigger than Southern Missouri, bigger than him working for his parents, bigger, I would suppose then living in wedlock and partying with friends on the weekends. So he applied. And a year later he was the Vice President of the student body. And a year after that, I think, this picture was taken.

This was, of course, the beginning of both of us committing to higher education. Which in a sense, has been us committing to ourselves, to each other, and to our child. To our futures. A year after he started at Ozark Technical Community College, I went back. Then he graduated, we got married, got pregnant, then he started at Missouri State University, and I, six months pregnant, transferred to Missouri State to once again follow this man, whom I knew was finally on the right path.

The next few years were a blur. In fact, having a baby your second year of college isn’t ideal, regardless of how old you are (I was 27). It’s just tough. But, it makes you a hell of a lot tougher, that much I know. We ran into a few snags along the way, we both took longer than we intended, him working full-time and going to school full-time. Me working part-time, having a baby, and going to school full-time. But we managed, and eventually we both graduated with honors from Missouri State. Jerimiah with a degree in finance and and me with a degree in English.

Years later, when Jackson started kindergarten and I was looking for a purpose in this here life, I applied to grad school and was accepted. I began that transition from “Jackson’s Mommy” to the woman I am now, whoever that is. That forced Jerimiah’s hand once again. Here I was, killin’ it in grad school (in my head), working again, and being a kick-ass Mommy. So he decided to go to grad school too, and wouldn’t you know that he graduates in one month with his terminal degree, an MBA. I don’t have my terminal degree, I only have an MA, so you know, I’m scouting schools now. Because that’s what we do, Jerimiah and I. We push each other to do better. We always have.

So, yeah, I don’t remember a lot about this particular picture. But the widening of the scope brings me back to memories I had stored away. I do remember those two kiddos. And believe me, we were kiddos in every sense of that non-sensical word. We were just two kids, crazy for each other, so much in fact that we pushed and we pushed, making the other one do more than they thought possible. And that’s the code we live by now. The force we have created in our relationship. We are heading into year 18 now, with brighter eyes than we’ve ever had. And more opportunity, more possibility, more love, more admiration, than this denim-skirt wearing, naive little girl ever thought. And for that I am thankful.

Cheers to you, my darling. To this day, to the first time you graduated, to the second time you graduated, and cheers to the next month, though it will be hard, it will be worth it. Onward and upward we row.

M.

Branson, Missouri

If you’re like me, you’re tired as shit of visiting Branson, Missouri. But if you’re like me, that means you also lived there for five years and you did all the things. Like, ALL THE THINGS. So you’re sorta worn out with that nonsense. If you are also like me, you have a child who, while born in the local Branson hospital, still doesn’t really remember his time there. So whenever he visits he wants to do ALL THE THINGS again. Le sigh. Loooong story short, we spent a few days in Branson a couple of weeks ago and took Jackson to the Toy Museum, which he had actually never visited, though we had. And then he talked us into the Celebrity Car Museum which we have all been to SEVERAL times. Then of course there was Silver Dollar City, which I don’t mind too much since it has roller coasters and the little Wilderness Church. You see, my husband and I got married in that little Wilderness Church on an unusually warm December day in 2007. So it is always sorta fun to have our picture made in front of it.

So, ahem, what follows are a bunch of pics from our few days in Branson, including a timeline of sorts in front of our little church.

Enjoy.

M.

PS… If you don’t know what Silver Dollar City is, or you have never heard of Branson, Missouri before, good on you! But just know that you will never experience a woman dressed in 19th century garb slinging Dippin Dots anywhere else! Link here: https://www.silverdollarcity.com/theme-park

Jim Bakker and the Hot Tea Prophecy

Televangelist Jim Bakker said Monday that were it not for the legality of abortion in the United States, two scientists would have been born who had the ability to cure cancer.

How does he know? God himself said so.

I lived in Branson, Missouri for ten years. During that time many important things happened in my life. I married my best friend. I graduated college, I had my children, I met many wonderful people through Missouri State and through the job I had for six years at a casual dining establishment in Branson proper. Along with the lifelong friends I met there, I also had the privilege to meet people from other countries who were there on work visas. I learned not just of their countries (Russia, Jamaica, Honduras) but also about their many cultures and religions.

I met tourists from all over the country and occasionally the world. I met celebrities. I met country singers, Chinese acrobats. I met “Branson Famous” people, like Yakov and Shoji. And one day,  I met Jim and Lori Bakker. 

The Bakkers were regulars at our store. They came in every couple of weeks and sat at the same table, table 110, in the front of the store, behind the large glass windows looking out onto Highway 76, Music City Boulevard. They enjoyed watching the rest of Branson go on about their busy lives, while they sat behind the veil of glossy glass, that made it difficult for anyone to see them. He sat with his back to the door. 

They were quiet, they didn’t try to bring attention to themselves, yet attention always found them. They were popular with the servers, as they tipped well above the 20% mark. They would come in at odd times, just after the lunch rush or just before the dinner rush.

I was usually finishing up the day’s business, counting the bar drawer, or tipping out the bus boys in the back office when the hostess would call to tell me the Bakkers were there, and ask which server should get them. I would study the floor plan and decide who I trusted the most, usually only a couple of servers were on the floor at that time. Though the Bakkers didn’t warrant any “special” treatment, they were, well, let’s call them, unique. 

Jim Bakker ordered four drinks. An iced tea, half cut (meaning half sweet and half unsweet), a hot tea (English Breakfast), a second mug of hot water, an iced water, and on occasional coffee. I don’t recall what Mrs. Bakker ordered, as most of the pomp and circumstance went to Mr. Bakker. I’d assume a water with a lime wedge or an occasional cup of coffee would suit her. 

Mrs. Bakker came for our salad bar. This I do remember, as we had an extensive conversation about it once at the front door. I was closing the inner doors because of the draft, and she caught me at the salad bar just inside. She asked if we had fresh croutons. This was not an unusual question, as many people loved our salad bar and our croutons, with there  dark and crisp outsides and their soft and chewy insides. I told her that I would whip her up some fresh ones. She touched my arm and said not to do it just for her. I assured her that I was headed back there to do it anyway. I was not, but she was so gracious, I felt the need to do it. She thanked me. 

I went back to the kitchen and dropped the small blocks of pumpernickle bread into the fryer and set the timer. It was a precise process. It took less than a minute for the brown bits to float to the top, but if you left them in just a moment longer you would hit the sweet spot. While I waited, I tidied up the line, as I often did when we were down to one afternoon cook, and I studied the screen in the kitchen with all the entrees cooking. I found table 110. It was nothing fancy, a bowl of soup, for Mrs. Bakker I assumed, and a small sirloin, cooked medium well, with a potato. Side of broccoli. No special instructions. No minus this, substitute that. Plain and simple. 

I pulled the croutons up from the fryer, let them drain for a moment, then dumped them carefully into a large silver bowl. I sprinkled garlic salt over them (the secret ingredient), then tossed them a few times adding more garlic salt as I saw fit. I filled a large plastic cambro for the salad bar, then dumped the remaining handful into a small bowl and started for table 110. 

When I got to the table my server was happily chatting away with the Bakkers. Mr. Bakker was explaining how delighted he was that his children were given the opportunity to play in a Christmas show that year. The children he spoke of, were adopted from inner-city Phoenix some years before. They had wonderful voices and he knew they would be a big hit. He spoke like a proud father, doting over each child and their particular talent. I sat the bowl of croutons down in front of Mrs. Bakker and I turned to walk away. As I did she gently touched my arm and said, “Thank you, Melissa.”

I was a bit taken aback as I had never told her my name. I later found out that she had asked the server who the “lovely manager” was, and he told her my name. I said, “You’re welcome, Mrs. Bakker.” And she told me to call her Lori. I did not. I smiled and walked away. 

The rest of their meal was tasty, friendly, and quick, I hope, as those were some of our goals. It wasn’t until the server came back to cash out his money for the day, that I got to ask about their experience. He described it as “normal”, which was good, but I inquired further, what did you talk about with them? I assumed, wrongly, that they spoke about church. About religion. About Morningside, Jim Bakker’s place of worship and fellowship where The Jim Bakker Show is filmed every day. Morningside is 20 minutes west of Branson, on the Arkansas state line. 

“No,” my server concluded. “He doesn’t talk about that. Just his kids, and the weather, and how business is for us these days.” I smiled, not sure why. 

“He did say something weird about hot tea, though,” the server said, as he rolled up his apron and gathered his keys.

I looked up quizzically. 

“He said hot tea has got him through a lot,” the server laughed. “He’s odd,” then he walked out the door. 

I didn’t know much about the Jim Bakker at that time. In fact, I knew more about his ex-wife Tammy Faye, because she was the more memorable of the two. The talk around Branson was all positive. He was busing doing God’s work. Saving lives. Helping the less fortunate. He was the great American evangelist of the new century. And apparently, he liked hot tea. 

In 1989, Jim Bakker sat in a courtroom, a mile from where I write this today. He was facing a long list of alleged sins, including hush money to a woman he’d had an affair with, stealing money from his followers, and fraud. He was also facing 120 years in prison.

In true Jim fashion, the court hearings started out odd and grew more bizarre by the minute. The court learned about the way he skimmed his followers, including the fear tactics and promises that were left unfulfilled. They learned about his homosexual behavior in steam rooms with young men. They learned about his desire to have a private geisha, going as far as having one of his office workers act the part, in exchange for an unlimited budget for travel and expenses, along with, of course, the knowledge that she was doing God’s will. 

At one point his defense lawyer pled “insanity” on his behalf. Bakker slammed himself onto the floor and began sobbing, kicking his hands and feet. This was followed by what a reporter from the Charlotte Observer, Charles Shepard, called “A real breakdown”. 

“His pain appeared genuine. So genuine I couldn’t even ask him questions. Neither did the TV reporters. He has this problem thinking people are always after him, out to get him. It is sort of a psychic nightmare of his. Now he is being dragged out in chains. He always felt like a victim, that people were after him. Now they really came and got him.”

Sitting here at my desk in Charlotte, North Carolina I may be a mile from the court that brought down a 45 year sentence to Jim Bakker (he only served five years), but I am a million miles from that young girl in Branson. A million more from the beliefs and ideologies of Jim and Lori Bakker. I know his kind now, regardless of how sweet he was, how solemn he seemed. I see the hurt he causes, I know the fear he puts into hearts, I feel his icy hand in moments of darkness. Making the world worse, not better, and doing so at the expense of others. Followers. Believers. Victims. And still I am left wondering if there is enough hot tea to save him from where he is headed next. 

M.