‘A hundred years goes faster than you think’
CEDAR GROVE, Tenn. — My dad, Bob Ross, bent down…
BRANSON, Mo. — I blink, and I’m a child again.
It’s the late 1970s, and I’m bickering with my younger brother and sister over my birthright: a larger allotment of space in the back of our family’s station wagon.
We’re driving down the interstate, headed to my grandparents’ home in southeastern Missouri’s Bootheel. Or maybe we’re off to Libertyland or Opryland — since-closed theme parks in Tennessee.
Sometimes, we pack fried bologna sandwiches for the ride and stop for a picnic. Other times, we pull into a fast-food joint — a treat in those bygone days — and devour cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes.
I blink again, and I’m a young father.
It’s the first decade of the 2000s, and our extended family rents a cabin on a lake in West Tennessee.
For several years, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents spend a week each summer swimming, fishing and grilling out.
We bask in the sun and the time with loved ones. Eventually, as the youngest family members begin playing sports and marching in bands, the annual lake trips fade away.
I blink again, and I’m a grandfather.
It’s the summer of 2022, and I love my life as a husband, father and “Papa” to two absolutely perfect grandbabies. But I still feel nostalgic at times for the road trips of my youth, with the first family who made them memorable.
So when my parents, Bob and Judy Ross, and my sister, Christy Fichter, invite me to join them for a week in Branson — the popular vacation destination in the Ozark Mountains — I quickly accept.
(We miss my brother, Scott Ross, but he has a new factory job and can’t get away. Someone has to keep America’s supply chain moving.)
For years, Mom and Dad have enjoyed going to Branson. They love the southwest Missouri community’s country music shows as well as its displays of patriotism and appreciation for veterans. Besides preaching for decades, my father is a retired Air Force master sergeant.
But this is my first time to experience the sweetly hokey tourist town of 11,500.
Hitting the highway after Sunday morning worship, my sister and parents, who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, pick me up at a Love’s Country Store in Oklahoma City.
As we begin the five-hour drive to our destination, it seems like old times — except that there’s plenty of room in the extended-length Ford Expedition (it helps that Christy’s husband, Josh, is the general manager at a dealership). And no one mentions stopping for a roadside lunch of bologna sandwiches.
We time the trip to coincide with Mom’s 75th birthday, a milestone worthy of celebrating.
As we cruise into Branson, Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley (his cousin at least) greet us from colorful billboards promoting themed shows.
There’s not a lot of arguing over where to eat — we all still like the same kinds of food. Cracker Barrel, steakhouses and catfish places all feature in the rotation. Mom doesn’t eat fish, but she can always find something she likes on the menu.
Nearly every day, we slide into a booth at Cakes & Cream Fifties Diner & Drive In. I kept forgetting to bring quarters for the jukebox, but I highly recommend the grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream sundaes.
Country music has played on our family’s car radio for as long as I can remember, so the focus of our first nightly show in Branson — the biggest hits of the past 50 years — thrills me.
Perusing antique shops usually isn’t my favorite pastime, but I’m old enough to realize these moments with family won’t last forever. So I do my best to savor every one.
Helping to support Branson’s economy, I buy my grandchildren (and myself) souvenir T-shirts at Dick’s 5 & 10.
Other fun memories from our trip: Eating meals at places with giant chickens and cows out front (not real ones). Taking a picture beside a big Ronald Reagan head (Branson is big on God, country and conservative politicians). Touring the local Titanic museum (I enjoyed it, even though I’m not sure I’d pay $35 to do it again).
I blink, and I can’t believe our trip is over so soon. I can’t wait to do it again.
Take advantage of opportunities to make memories with loved ones.
Life moves so quickly. The Bible says so in James 4:14.
Here’s my advice: Take advantage of opportunities to make memories with loved ones.
You don’t have to go to Branson. But do pay more attention to your family than you do your smartphone or big-screen TV. Jump at opportunities to spend quality time with those close to you.
As country singer Kenny Chesney put it in a hit song, “Don’t blink.”
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
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