Over the River and Through the Woods

Our Thanksgiving visit with Jon’s family began the weekend before Turkey Day, as we readied Cloud 9 for its long road trip. We camped at nearby Cedar Hill State Park, where we enjoyed mild weather ahead of what promised to be an unseasonable cold snap in the St. Louis area. Preparation included checking the tires and tanks, stocking up on necessities, and cleaning the cabin from top to bottom (yes, the ceiling, walls and floor). Jon also spent much of the weekend wrapping up a couple work-related tasks ahead of his transfer to a new department. A Monday return to Hampshire allowed us to do our final packing before heading to Little Rock on Tuesday.

Known as “the natural state,” Arkansas has abundant wilderness areas, the Ouachita and Ozark mountain ranges, extensive limestone caves and rock formations, abundant rivers and creeks, and, of course, numerous thermal springs. Hot Springs National Park, which contains 47 naturally heated mineral springs, is the oldest protected area in the National Park system. That system in Arkansas also includes colonial outposts and Civil War battlefields, one of America’s most scenic wild rivers, and a civil rights landmark. We’ll definitely be returning to Arkansas for more than an overnight stay en route to Illinois!

Our drive from Little Rock to Belleville took us through the southern Missouri Ozarks into St. Louis and then across the Mississippi River. After arriving at Dutch Hollow Village on Wednesday afternoon, we set up camp and headed to Alton for supper with Jon’s mother and sister. Afterward, a reference to “a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants” got us to thinking about the “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of the old Mary Tyler Moore show. Of course, we had to watch it. The episode’s plot centers on the WJM-TV staff’s humorous reaction to the absurd death of Chuckles the Clown, who had dressed as the character “Peter Peanut” for his role as Grand Marshall of the circus parade, only to be fatally injured when a rogue elephant tried to “shell” him. We roared with laughter when, during the funeral, the minister delivered the eulogy:

“Chuckles the Clown brought pleasure to millions. The characters he created will be remembered by children and adults alike: Peter Peanut; Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo; Billy Banana; and my particular favorite, Aunt Yoo-Hoo. And not just for the laughter they provided — there was always some deeper meaning to whatever Chuckles did. Do you remember Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo’s little catchphrase? Remember how, when his arch-rival Señor Kaboom hit him with a giant cucumber and knocked him down, Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo would always pick himself up, dust himself off, and say ‘I hurt my foo-foo’? Life’s a lot like that. From time to time we all fall down and hurt our foo-foos. If only we could deal with it as simply and bravely and honestly as Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo. And what did Chuckles ask in return? Not much. In his own words, ‘A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.'”

We awoke on Thanksgiving Day to blustery winds and temperatures in the 40s, along with warnings that the weather would only grow colder throughout the day. Not being prepared for a winter blast, we braced ourselves against the chill as best we could and then headed north to Alton to pick up our precious cargo, which included not only Jon’s mom and sister, but also several boxes, bags and bundles for Jon’s nephew, who was hosting the feast.

Shortly after arriving for the big dinner, Jon’s brother and sister-in-law joined the family for the first time in more than two years. It was good to get the gang together again!

By the time Jon arrived back in Belleville after dropping off his mom and sister in Alton, we found ourselves settling into Cloud 9’s warm embrace as outside temperatures plummeted into the low 20s. Nothing takes the chill off the night like a glass of fine port wine!

On Friday, Cliff headed out to get the propane tanks refilled and also to purchase an additional oil-filled radiator to protect us against another night of freezing temperatures. Because it was our traditional “steak night,” Cliff prepared steak, potatoes, and asparagus in the cast-iron skillet on the electric stove in Jon’s mother’s apartment. Afterward, we introduced Jon’s mother and sister to “The Long, Long Trailer,” one of our all-time favorite movies. (By the way, if you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth your time. We still roar with laughter even after repeated viewings. Every time, we see something cringe-worthy related to our own travels – the towing challenges, the parking problems, the annoying neighbors, the unexpected expenses, and the petty arguments that can sometimes lead to hurt feelings and cold shoulders – we’ve experienced all of this and more as we’ve traveled border-to-border and coast-to-coast. But we’ve also experienced breathtaking beauty, unparalleled adventures, great escapes, and more memories by the mile that we could have ever imagined.)

Saturday morning found us visiting for several hours with Jon’s older sister in what has become an annual tradition. Afterward we went to his nephew’s house for a brief visit before heading back to Alton for a dinner of turkey tetrazzini. There’s no better way to enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers! After saying our goodbyes, we headed back to Cloud 9 to begin preparing for our Sunday morning departure.

Fortunately, the temperatures had warmed into the 40s, so we were able to use the city water line to flush our tanks and get on the road by 10 a.m. We pulled in to the Little Rock KOA around 4:15 in the afternoon, just in time to get set up and settled in.

We pulled out of our Little Rock retreat early on Monday morning to make our way back to Dallas just in time for Jon to work through the afternoon. As usual, it was an exhausting trip, but one filled with shared memories, family meals, hearty laughs, and sincere affection.