BRANSON, MO - 1996

We moved our trailer over to the Georgia Mountain fairgrounds on Monday morning, September 30th, the plan being to meet there with Charles and Esther Sperling who came up from the Airstream park at Top of Georgia near Helen, where they had been spending the summer.  The campground at Georgia Mountain fairgrounds is still our favorite there on Lake Chatuge.

October 1, 1996
Mileage @ start - 72100

Tuesday - We left Hiawassee at 8:00 am sharp heading west on US 76 through Blairsville, Blue Ridge, Ellijay, Jasper, to Atlanta, then took the I-285 bypass around the west side of town.  Traffic was terrible.  Trucks were zooming by one after another, none of them heeding the 55 mph speed limit.  It would have been wiser to have gone through town, bypassing the bypass, but we made it through safely and got on I-85 headed for Montgomery, Alabama.  Just before reaching Montgomery we turned north on US231 to Wetampka and the Fort Toulouse State Park where we met the rest of the units on Jerry Honaker's Branson caravan.  They had already been on the road two days, having started in Umatilla, Florida with a stop in Tallahassee.

The weather was warm, but rainy. 

Only a couple of the trailers were in camp when we arrived so we got to watch them all come in, greeting old friends from the Tampa Bay Unit of WBCCI.  The Cockrells had been assigned "caboose" duty so were the last to arrive.  After getting settled in, we caught up on news and got in a quick game of pinochle before the catered barbecue chicken dinner under the picnic shelter.

Jerry Honaker, our caravan leader, was in his usual good form, providing entertainment for the group..  Jerry is the most unlikely appearing leader imaginable, but he is just great.  He had a song about the sinking of the Titanic that had everyone in stitches. 

We called Al and Otheal Weathers, arranging a lunch meeting with them in Tuscaloosa on our way to Columbus for our next stop.

Our assignment for the caravan is to serve as the Mail carriers.  We supply stamps, collect mail, take it to the Post Office, then when we get to Branson, we'll pickup mail and distribute it.  Easy duty.  Beats the sewer assignments, etc.

October 3, 1996
Mileage @ start - 72575

Columbus, Mississippi is an old town showing a lot of urban decay, but efforts are being made to revamp some of the antebellum structures.  The town began in 1821 as Possum Town, established when the surrounding area was still a part of the Choctaw Indian nation.  It is the birthplace of playright Tennessee Williams..  In fact, the Visitor Center was the restored birth home of Williams.

Our leader had arranged a carpool tour of the city with a guide from the Visitors Bureau in the lead car talking via the CB.  That was pretty much a bust.  By the time the cars in the rear got to what she was describing, she was on ahead describing something else.  But one stop on the tour made the whole thing worthwhile.  This was a visit to Highland House.  Highland House is a 9,000 square foot restored mansion that was built between 1900 and 1909 by the owner of a local brick manufacturing company.  His name was Lindarood.  When Mr. Lindarood died the house fell into disrepair.  There was a time when it was divided into apartments, then another period when it was simply abandoned as a derelict, too expensive to maintain.  It takes three gallons of paint to paint just one column, and at least six. 

The present owners, John and Celeta Holtzhauer, bought Highland House in 1987 and have dedicated themselves to restoring it and furnishing it with collections of all sorts of antiques and period furniture.  John is a obstetrician, obviously with a good practice.  The two of them live there by themselves and do most of the house work.  Celeta had a bubbly personality, with homespun Southern charm.  She told us all about the house and her efforts to having everything just so. They have guests for "bed and breakfast," and serve dinners and lunches on special order.  They can seat 24 in the dining area, and have entertained as many as 60 at a time.  Address:  Highland House, 810 Highland Circle, Columbus, MS 39701 - Tel. (601) 327-5577.

The next stop was at the Amzi Love home.  This was an antebellum house, built by Amaziah Love in 1848.  It has remained in the family through the years.  The present owner is a great grandson.  He came to the door dressed in the attire of the 1850s.  He explained about all the things that were there, it all being authentically a part of the original setting.  The house, though nice, was nothing comparee to Highland House.

Columbus has a pilgrimage of its antebellum homes in early April each year, patterned after the one held in Natchez each year.  I don't think these are even close to the opulent style of the houses in Natchez, but they carry such names as Rosedale, Shadowlawn, The Lee House, Rosewood Manor, Waverley Plantation, Telve Gables, White Arches, Aldan Hall, Temple Heights, etc.  The azaleas must be gorgeous when in bloom.  They are the predominant shrub.

We found a Morrison's Cafeteria for lunch, then returned to the campground.  We had Bob and Jo Ambros with us for the day.  They are new members from Plant City, Florida, having just purchased a '96 Land Yacht motorhome.  The Cockrells took the day to go see Lamar's sister in Sturgis, Mississippi, not far from here.

October 4, 1996
Mileage @ start - 72625

After prayer for the road at lakeside led by the Sparks we got rolling again.  It was just a 125 mile trip through Tupelo, Mississippi to Holly Springs and the Wall Doxey State Park.  It used to be Spring Lake State Park before being renamed after a prominent local man.  The 200 acre springfed lake is the featured reason for its existence.  The trip was a smooth one.  One of the caravanners had a blowout, and another met a Japanese tourist they invited for dinner with us.  It was otherwise uneventful.  The Japanese man had seen the Airstreams rolling down the highway and had speeded up so he could stop and take pictures.  After doing that a couple of times he was noticed at a rest stop.  It turned out his grandfather had one of only three Airstreams in Japan, and he was anxious to take pictures of our trailers to take home.  Striking up a conversation ended with the dinner invite.  We were fed another catered dinner at the park dining room.  Roast beef, chicken, baked potato, green peas in the pod, salad, and dessert.  The caravan is providing one meal a day.

October 5, 1996
Mileage @ start - 72750

We were on the parking crew this day, traveling early with the leader.  We left camp at 7:30am for a 258 mile day to Willow Springs, Missouri.  We left Mississippi, drove through Memphis, Tennessee and across the Mississippi River into Arkansas, then through the Ozark Mountains.  Traffic was fairly heavy for a Saturday.  Our campsite was an old campground.  We parked on grass in an unusual alternating pattern.  At 6:00pm we gathered at Grandma's Kitchen, a truckstop restaurant about 4 miles down the road for a buffet type supper.   Then we returned to the campground where our host had arranged for a clogging group to entertain us for an hour.

October 6, 1996
Mileage @ start - 73020

The skies cleared to a beautiful Sunday morning, the first since leaving home.  Not a cloud in the sky.  We gathered for an impromptu church service organized by Frances Cockrell complete with organ music, singing, devotionals, praise and prayer.  Afterwards we drove the last 125 miles to Branson, stopping for lunch at Lambert's, the home of "throwed" rolls.  That was a fun experience.  As soon as you're seated hot rolls start flying through the air.  Delicious too.  Then they come around with buckets of fried okra, just dumped on a paper towel on the table.  After ordering from the menu, a boy comes around with a container of molasses for the rolls.  After the meals come, they come around with fried potatoes and onions, blackeyed peas, and onion rings.  The waitresses dance around the tables to the Macarana, the new dance craze, then to "Cotton- eyed Joe.

We arrived in Branson about 3:30pm, setting up at "America Best Campground," out near Mel Tillis' Theatre.  We did a little housekeeping and rearranging of our show schedule.  Plans were to see Jim Stafford, Jakov Smirnoff, Lawrence Welk, Shogi Tabuchi, Andy Williams, Country Tonight, and Kenny Rogers' Showboat.  Shogi, Andy, and Country Tonight were included in the caravan fee with shuttle from the campground provided.  The rest of the time we're on our own.

October 7, 1996
Mileage @ start - 73145

After relaxing most of the day, we went the Jim Stafford show in the evening.  It was the third time we'd seen him, and the best.  He gets better and more classy each time.  It has to be one of the best shows in Branson now.  He's an excellent musician and a naturally funny man.

October 8, 1996
Mileage @ start -  73145

Two shows on this day:  We began with a ride on the showboat, Branson Belle.  This vessel modeled after the showboats first run on the Mississippi River, they can handle 700 guests at a time.  The organization of entertaining and feeding that many people was outstanding.  The ride lasted two hours, and by the time through eating, we were back at the docks on the south side of Lake Taneycomo.  It was all done with exceptional style.  It was a a good meal and a good show, and the weather was cool, clear, and delightful. 
In the evening it was the Andy Williams show.  Again, it was the third time we'd seen him.  He gets better each time also.  He looks like an ancient cadiver, but his voice is stronger and better than ever.  A pair of dancers added much to the show.  This, in our opinion, is the second best show in Branson, a real class act.

October  9, 1996
Mileage @ start - 73145

Up at 6:00am we gathered for a convoy into the Grand Palace for the Yakov Smirnoff show.  This was not as showy as the others, but this is a funny man.  He immigrated to the U.S. nineteen years ago from Russia and has made his mark as a comedian by joking about the trouble he's had with learning English.  Until someone points out how crazy our language is we take all our idioms for granted.  Yakov is also a very smart man with some deep thoughts about life.  He said some things that native born Americans seldom think about.  For example, he pointed out that the United States of America is the only country in the world that you go to and become an American.  An immigrant to Italy would never become an Italian, e.g., etc. He told some stories about his experiences when he first arrived that had tears in most eyes. 

We ate lunch at the Golden Corral then went across the street to the Shogi Tabuchi theater.  Shogi put on his usual super show, with his young 16 year old daughter taking a major role.  Think her role was a little too much though.  He came across better when he was the only star.  Still consider this the best show in Branson.

October 10, 1996
Mileage @ start - 73145

This was a rest day.  Lamar and I played dominoes for most of the day while the girls went shopping.  We had a catered dinner in the campground dining area in the evening, then all went to the Country Tonight show.  It was way too loud.  Hard to make out the words.  They had a good yodeler, and a good juggler.  The little girls that we saw two years ago had grown to somewhat gangly teenagers and weren't so cute.

October 11, 1997
Mileage @ start - 731145

The only activity on this day was the afternoon Lawrence Welk show.  After seeing their Christmas show last year, this was a letdown.  They had a dancing poodle act that was good.  Joann Kassels was overbearing though.  If she would just play the piano and leave off the other crude attempts at comedy, she would be better.  One of the Lennon sisters was absent due to an illness in the family.  Costuming was first class.  The theater was only half full.  This and Country Tonight were the only shows that were not sold out.  Afterwards, we ate at the new Mesquite Charlies restaurant.  This new facility is set up to feed 1200 people at a time.  They've only been open two weeks.  The steaks were good, but they have much to smooth out before it will be a class place. 

Branson is stlll a unique place, well worth the effort to visit.  While some of the shows didn't seem quite up to expectations, others were better than ever.  And traveling in a group as compatible as this one made the trip especially enjoyable.  The Honakers made the caravan a rich experience.  They work hard to be accomodating.  We've been especially well fed.  We've paid for a couple of meals out of pocket, but most have been included in the caravan fee. 

But now it was time to starting thinking of home and reality again.

October 12, 1996
Mileage @ start - 73175

After a "prayer for the road" devotional led by Lamar, we hit the road again, heading back east and home.  We took a little different route than when we came, driving south on US65 to Harrison, Arkansas, then east to Mountain Home, Arkansas.  Our campsite for the night was at Lake St. Charles State Park.  Several units have left the caravan heading different ways.  The Kinneys lost their transmission and had to stay over the weekend in Mountain Home.  So the caravan has dwindled from 29 units (27 trailers and 2 motorhomes) to 20.

October 13, 1996
Mileage @ start - 73375

We had another impromptu worship service led by Bob and Margaret Rubush at the lakeside this morning before departing the campground. Then it was 165 miles through Arkansas to Memphis, then south to Holly Springs, Mississippi.   We stayed at the same Wall Doxey State Park as on the trip out, with a very good catered meal in the lodge in the evening.  This was a white table cloth and linen napkin affair with barbecue chicken, wild rice, beans, and salad.  We were a well fed bunch.of Airstreamers.

October 14, 1996
Mileage @ start - 73540

From Holly Springs we drove back to Columbus to revisit the same campground where we stayed on the way out.  Even the same campsite.  Jerry had arranged for our final banquet to be held in the dining room at the state park.  The meal was very nice, and we had some entertainment afterward, a man and woman putting on a senility skit.  We told everyone goodbye, then retired.  The caravan will continue on down to Wetumpka, then disband in Tallahassee.

October 15, 1996
Mileage @ start - 73725

We pulled out at 7:30am to get a good start on the trip home.  Thought we might spend one more night on the road, but traffic conditions were good, so we drove all the way, arriving at our mountain home about 4:00pm.
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