A dispatch from the ‘Senior Capital of America’
December 6, 2007
I just returned from a five-day trip to Branson, Mo., with a senior citizens group from Southern California. I really enjoyed the trip and confirmed that Branson is now the undisputed “Senior Capital of America.”
Branson, in the heart of the Bible Belt, is a throwback to 1950s America, when family values prevailed and Americans weren’t afraid to demonstrate unabashed patriotism. We could use some of that today as leading politicians do their best to tear our country apart in the runup to next year’s presidential election. The Branson Christmas shows delivered two clear messages: (1) keep Christ in Christmas and (2) support our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever else they’re stationed around the globe. This isn’t to say everyone down there is gung-ho for the war in Iraq, but they sure support our troops, as we all should. In Branson, it’s God and country all the way.
I certainly learned a lot about my fellow seniors on this trip. For example, I learned that some seniors have trouble deciding which way to turn or whether to go up or down once they’ve boarded an elevator. That’s why I took the stairs so often. And seniors eat their meals at odd hours. One day I ate lunch at 2 p.m. and dinner at 4 p.m. But that wasn’t so bad because lunch was catfish down by the river and dinner was aboard the Branson Belle showboat. It was a sacrifice, but someone had to do it.
As for the Christmas shows, they were enjoyable, although I think I’ll pass out the next time I hear “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” We saw half a dozen shows and each of them featured an elaborate Christmas segment complete with children’s choruses and comely Santa helpers; however, there’s a notable contrast between holiday shows in Branson and those in Nevada. I saw my first Christmas Can-Can in Reno last month and can report that our Santa helpers definitely wear less clothing. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, merely pointing out cultural differences between Nevada and the Bible Belt.
My personal favorite in Branson was the Andy Williams Christmas Show. Andy, who turns 80 in February, still is in good voice and his show captures the Christmas spirit, as it did when he was on national TV. I also enjoyed Mickey Gilley’s show, which featured some down-home honky tonk piano playing and one of my favorite country western tunes, “All the Girls Get Prettier at Closing Time.” Some of you may recall that Gilley’s Club in Houston was the setting for the popular 1980 movie, “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta and a mechanical bull-riding machine, which still is spotlighted on stage at Gilley’s theater in Branson.
Among the lesser known entertainers we saw was Jim Stafford, a singer-comedian who is very funny, and clean too. Stafford claims that you can fix just about anything with duct tape and had us rolling in the aisles with a story about “fixing” a cat with duct tape. Imagine the possibilities. And then there was hard-working country/western singer Doug Gabriel, who continuously hawked his CDs and DVDs, even on our tour bus after his show was over. All of the Branson entertainers had special holiday offers on their audio and video recordings, even the karaoke guy who was singing love songs at a local mall. He wasn’t a very good singer but that didn’t slow him down, which only goes to show that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Branson.
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And speaking of tour buses, Branson is a virtual sea of “motor coaches,” as they’re known in the Ozarks. You can imagine the post-show fun as several hundred seniors looked for the right bus. Ours was easy to spot because we had the largest driver, an imposing 300-pounder who stood out from the crowd.
One evening we went to see the Dino Show, which I expected to consist of animated baby dinosaurs singing “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.” But no, because Dino turned out to be a born-again Greek-American piano player from the Bronx, sort of a poor man’s Liberace whose piano floated in midair as angels came down from Heaven. Dino and his lovely wife were bursting with religious fervor as they urged us to buy their CDs and DVDs; however, I managed to resist the temptation.
We also saw Branson’s spectacular “Trail of Lights” Christmas lighting display and rode the “Ducks,” World War II amphibious vehicles converted to carry tourists. I drove a Duck and have an “honorary captain” certificate to prove it. Our driver, Captain Crunch (no, I’m not kidding), encouraged us to act silly, and we did.
Well, that’s my Branson story and I’m sticking to it. Our tour leader was a cheery, enthusiastic lady who loved the shows and the performers, and kept everyone in good spirits. She temporarily misplaced the airport bus number when we arrived back in L.A. after a 15-hour return trip, but recovered quickly. And then there was the dignified woman who emerged from the airport ladies’ room with a tissue toilet seat cover sticking out of the back of her slacks, but that’s a part of the story best left untold.
So if you’re a patriotic American who thinks Christ has something to do with Christmas, Branson is the place for you at this time of year. God bless America.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a country music fan who just paid his first visit to Branson, Mo., where a good time was had by all.
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