Communion Of Dreams

“Rustic Missouri – The Experience.”
September 28, 2008, 11:00 am
Filed under: Architecture, Health, Society

“I feel like I’ve just walked into a Bass Pro shop.”

“Well, they own the place.”

* * * * * * *’

OK, I’m sick.  And I was sick when we left Friday morning, then drove 4+ hours to the  resort.  Take that into consideration for my comments to follow.

I grew up here in Missouri.  My folks were solid working class people, and so our vacations were mostly of the camping variety, in the southern part of the state.  There are numerous state and federal campgrounds, places to hike and swim, caves to explore, historic sites to be bored with.  I also had extended family who lived out in the sticks who we visited regularly, went hunting and fishing with.  Fried crappie with hushpuppies, or rabbit stew ‘n dumplings were meals we shared and loved.  To this day I’d rather have biscuits & gravy than just about anything else for breakfast – done right, with real whole-hog sausage (my family would make their own) and milk gravy, it’s a little bit of heaven.

I’m comfortable with a rural lifestyle, with the kinds of crafts that were necessities of survival for folks who didn’t have much money for ‘store-bought’.  Simple homes built out of local rocks and a little plaster, usually with an outhouse rather than indoor plumbing.  Furniture made out of sticks, lashed together with strips of green inner bark.  Seine-nets tied by hand, used to catch minnows for fishin’ and crawdads for eatin’.  I was in high school before I realized that the term “hillbilly” was pejorative and applied to more than just my cousins in the Ozarks.  Granted, I went away to college, and traveled, and have never had any desire to live the kind of life they lived back then, nor to have my world so bounded by the rough green hills.  But I still enjoy walking the forests, watching a lizard scramble over the rocks and deer stand and stare at you.  We own property south of town, on what is the northern tip of the Ozark plateau.  It’d be easy to move into a small cabin there, and ignore the world.

* * * * * * *

I like things that are real.  Genuine.  Always have.  I think that this is why, even as a child, I did not enjoy such places as Disneyland. I think it also explains why I am a book conservator.

Oh, sure, I enjoy a good movie or novel, a bit of fantasy or flight of fancy is fine.  I think, as Communion of Dreams shows, that my imagination is as good as anyone’s.  But even here, I prefer honest fantasy to the easy lie, science fiction to soap opera or situation comedy.  I don’t think that a new car will make me a better person, or that my happiness depends on whether I have the right kind of sunglasses.  Give me a week tromping around Wales over a week on a cruise ship, any time.

* * * * * * *

There’s a Bass Pro Shop about a mile from my house.  I have one of their credit cards, and purchase enough stuff there to annually qualify as a ‘preferred customer’.  I actually like going there, and have a couple of friends who work there.

But I have always hated the design of the place.  Of all the Bass Pro shops, actually.

Well, “hate” is too strong a term.  But still.  The place is like a red-neck Disneyland.  Fake.  Even as it tries hard not to be.

* * * * * * *

“We’ll go in this way.  The other road is more direct, but they have this for effect.”

I nodded at my wife, turned the way she indicated.  “Sure.”

The road narrowed, and after a couple of turns we were on a one-lane, one-direction country blacktop.  To be more realistic, it should have been gravel.  But then you’d kick up dust and get the fancy cars dirty.  We came around a corner through the trees, and a vista opened off to our left.  There was one arm of the Lake, way down the valley.  Huge, faux 1920s rustic resort lodges were above us.  We crossed a “stream”, complete with a rock (and concrete) bed, then continued to wind our way down the hillside, switching back and forth several times and again crossing the “stream”.  Here’s how one travel website describes it:

A typical Ozark country road zigzags through the lush, manicured landscape, playfully forcing motorists to ford two shallow streams.

Well, except the fact that the “stream” is completely artificial.  I suspected as much from just a quick glance – there were none of the usual markers of a spring-fed stream in this part of the world, no moss, no trees or bushes growing nearby.  Just an Alpine-style stream cutting almost straight down the landscaped hillside.

And I knew what I was in for: a rustic “experience”.

* * * * * * *

I find that now, feeling under the weather, I don’t really have the desire to catalog the many aesthetic offenses of the place.  Suffice it to say that the whole resort is pleasant enough, but it’s just playing at giving people a sense of what rustic Missouri life of the last century was like.  And playing with a stacked deck, at that.  The furniture in our room was made to look like it was from sticks, but in reality was a combination of metal and plastic, probably made in China.  The wood-grained blinds were actually cheap plastic.  Even the tile wall in the shower wasn’t actual tile, just panels of fiberglass with an embossed tile-like shape to it.

There’s nothing wrong with kitsch, so long as it is honest kitsch.  This was not that.

Once I got moving yesterday morning (my wife went off for the series of meetings that had brought us to this place), I wandered down to what had been indicated on the resorts’s website as the “Truman Smokehouse”.  Well, as I walked up to the building, I noted that the sign had been changed to “Truman coffeehouse and cafe” (or something like that).  Hmm.  Went in, and was greeted with the familiar layout of your typical Starbucks-wannabe coffee joint.  Canisters of pump-your-own coffee on the left, displays of various huge muffins and whatnot on the right, a cash register below a tiny menu listing mostly paninni sandwiches in the middle.  Yeah, they had a “breakfast menu” that consisted of a “breakfast paninni” and “biscuits & gravy”.

Did I order the b&g?  Not on your life.  There is only so much disappointment I can take in one day.  I got a paninni and some coffee.  Went outside, parked myself at one of the umbrella tables, sat in metal chair with a stick-furniture motif.  Sipped my coffee, ate my sandwich, enjoyed the lovely autumn morning.  Across the valley you could see the first signs of color edging the trees.  The extensive flower gardens around the patio were doing a great business with butterflies and bees.  At least they were happy.

Jim Downey

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

But thats what people want.

I’ve just finished A. A. Gill’s ‘The Angry Island – Hunting the English’, near the end he discribes attitudes to the countryside. Which basically, like you say, they don’t want – they want ‘The Experience’ Version, with all the icky bits picked out.


I’ve been out picking Brambles all week – nettled fingers, pulled clothing, cow muck and purple gloop down me, not something most people want to enjoy. Still – Blackberry and Apple Crumble, Bramble Jelly and Blackberry Brandy (teetotal myself, but and excellent gift) make up for it.

Comment by Troika21

Yeah, Troika, it is what people want. And horror that it is to the likes of me, Branson MO brings in a huge amount of money to what would otherwise be a depressed area. That means jobs, and a decent living, for the people in the area, so they want it too. Ah well.

Good luck caring for those fingers.

Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

[…] mentioned previously my own connections to the southern part of the state, and how much I actually enjoy going there.  […]

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