The Wonderful World of Missouri: Travel Notes

Helen Grant


As luck would have it, I was on my way back from a Missouri trip over the weekend. Talk about timing! I’d rented a little lake house with a view near the Mark Twain National Forest. You see, I have an affinity for the man. And when planning mini-trips I can sometimes be swayed by a name when thinking of places to chill for a bit, especially if said name is synonymous with natural settings and a sense of adventure. And since I have nostalgia for Twain’s satirical world view, plus I do like his sharp use of language, much to the consternation of his critics, who like to ban his books to this day because of words he dared to use, I decided this place was best suited for my family to “get away” from it all. It’s really out in the middle of nowhere. And did I mention I brought books to read too?



The view from our lake house rental at sunset.


And if having a literary reference were not enough motivation, Table Rock Lake was the strange, but beautiful place I imagined it to be. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised by the number of small rural churches we passed, but since I tend to shelter myself from the influence of such organizations much like Mark Twain professed to do in his lifetime, I was still a little surprised with how religious it is on those back roads. A lot of farmers posted their own billboards of bible verses along their fences. So if you’re hoping to avoid that, don’t drive by these rural towns. You will be disappointed by some of what you read. And in some cases the businesses will throw you for a loop too.


I know another song. Not by the Beatles mind you. It goes "America, the mixed up beautiful." Because as much as this was ridiculous in ways that go back to the Beatles and who they were and what they stood for, you're just not clear which lie Obama told. Or maybe it's all of them.

I know another song. Not by the Beatles mind you; no it’s an old Bowie tune, “I’m afraid of Americans.” Because as much as this sign was ridiculous in ways that go back to the Beatles – who they were and what they each stood for – you’re just not clear which lie Obama told. Or maybe it’s all of them, and how silly am I in asking for further clarification. Or maybe the joke is on me and this was said in jest because they don’t think he’s a terrible liar, rather they’re just being ‘ironic’ when it comes to the typical broken promises made by all politicians during a campaign of one sort or another — but I doubt it.


The other thing about Table Rock Lake is that it shouldn’t even exist as it’s a near crystal-clear, man-made reservoir nestled up there in the Ozarks; formed when they dammed up the White River in 1958. It’s teaming with different kinds of fish. Mostly sport fish, but I’m sure there are other things out there worthy of exploration had we the inclination to look into this natural world any further – as you can go snorkeling and diving too.


I fell for the Table Rock Lake marketing line " Bring the kids and create new memories; from catching their first fish to sitting around the campfire making s'mores." Because that is exactly what we did.

I fell for Table Rock Lake’s marketing hook, line, and sinker: “Bring the kids and create new memories; from catching their first fish to sitting around the campfire making s’mores.” Because that is exactly what we did. And for the record, we released our fish.


All-in-all the lake house we rented felt a little like going to grandma’s house out in the woods. Think the Southern version of a typical Heidi; the sort of a gal who would have milked sheep and cows by a pristine alpine lake. I’m not saying this picture is exclusively Aryan, for the record, as I am not exactly “white.” But in viewing family photos on the rental house wall and discovering an entirely white family, without even like a hint of brown unless it was a summer tan, was kind of a novel experience to say the least. I felt like I was snooping through their past a bit just by taking in what was around me. Old beer steins displayed as nick-knack decor, which I too have steins at my house, a hold over from the years I lived in Germany, then there were the choices of earrings and jewelry – I liked grandma’s style – , pictures on a dresser of people I’ll never meet, summing it up: they seemed like an average, solidly middle-class Caucasian American family, or at least grandpa certainly championed the look in his photos. There could be no doubt he was the center of it all.

His invisible hand also set the tone of the house from the fisherman and poker-themed decor to little treasures we discovered in his tackle box. He wasn’t a professional given the somewhat abysmal state of his lures and hooks, or if he was a bit of a pro and he’d passed on some years ago, then he should be rolling in his grave with the state of his gear as I found it over the weekend. He did have quite a bit of variety in reels too, so I’ll give the old man that. Although they were not all well-cared for and some needed to be re-spooled or have the bird’s nests picked out of them. But perhaps we weren’t the only recent house guests to use grandpa’s bait casters, but we did leave them in better condition than we found them while replenishing his stock with small hooks, a couple of bobbers, and a package of sinkers.  We don’t have fishing poles at home, so taking the little things we bought at the “Jug and Plug” all the way home with us seemed useless. And they say it’s good to “give back.”

The pleasant strangeness of Table Rock Lake, however, was in the lack of mosquitoes. Or if there were any around, they didn’t find us appetizing. I took a nap in a hammock at the lake house and happily woke up bite free. Even when hanging out at the lake and fishing for a full day, I discovered no mosquito bites were had by anyone in the family there either.

Also weird? For all the oceans, lakes, rivers, and various beaches I’ve lived near or visited on vacations, I can’t say I’d ever been nibbled on by a fish before, so that was new. I was told by the husband of an older white couple near our rental, also joined by their bachelor friend and the grandsons they had with them in their lake boats, that the fish were called perch. These people were nice to us and volunteered information about the area. Still I’m sure they saw us as strangers in their somewhat closed-off community. The locals know each other is all I’m saying. You can see it in the way they interact with regulars.

Honestly, I saw no other brown people in Shell Knob, Missouri. I’m sure they exist somewhere out there, Native American or a transplant from somewhere, but in our brief encounters with the locals from driving by houses with people outside, going into a nearby restaurant, the one main grocery store in town (stocked to the gills in liquor, wine, and cold NOT 3.2 beer, I should mention, and another reason why an Oklahoma lake house was not on the list of places to stay for an extended period) and even a bait and tackle shop – the brown people, obviously myself not included, were completely missing from the scene.

I’d joked with a friend before this trip, that I had to track down an address for this place complete with visual landmarks from the host on Airbnb, which is how I found the listing. Google maps couldn’t find it with the address she provided and I seriously didn’t want to wander around an unknown community at night only to wind up shot because I knocked on the wrong door trying to find the rental. So I asked for more detailed directions. I guess having this kind of anxiety is good? I mean, I even pushed my husband for an early start specifically so we’d arrive well in advance of dusk.

I’d also mused during this pre-trip phone conversation with my friend, that if we did get lost I should send my white husband to knock on doors, since if anyone was going to get shot, it’d probably be me. It was a deeply cynical joke, because I don’t honestly believe I would be shot out there, but it would be a lie to say I didn’t worry about possibly being confronted by an armed idiot or two. I’ve been following national news coverage concerning the case of a young black woman who was shot by a homeowner. She drunkenly crashed her car on her way home and then knocked on the wrong door seeking help. One look at the lady should have told the shooter she wasn’t a threat. But that’s the risk you take in not planning to get somewhere alive, I guess? (That was sarcasm, in case you were wondering.)

Anyway, I can’t say I didn’t know what I was getting myself into with this trip. Or so I thought at the time. My pre-trip conversation ended with the sentiment: “Thankfully I’m not taking this trip 50 or 60 years ago. What a nightmare that would be, right?”

Even so, we kept our trip short as no one really wanted to board the cat and naturally the dogs came with us, even though we swore we’d never take them on another family vacation again. But the plan had always been to leave on Saturday morning.  Yet even while traveling that day and getting settled back home by nightfall, it didn’t take long for me to catch the news of what had happened to Michael Brown out in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri called Ferguson within the course of the next day or so. Tumblr, Facebook, and social media in general had a constant stream of news and images showing up in the feeds I checked. The first one looked like this.


Seen on my Tumblr.

Seen on my Tumblr dashboard.


You know, I enjoy a dark, comical outlook on the world as much as the next person. But I realize now I have been complacent in acknowledging what’s it like to be a weird shade of person when it counts the most. So, it’s time to stop talking about about our summer vacations and start talking about these messed up national events.

Here’s the skim: a person of color was shot in what can be accurately called a “heat of the moment” decision. And now there’s a closed door investigation in progress. But since this story is picking up momentum, the FBI is supposedly looking into it as a civil rights case. Things don’t look too bright for Missouri right now.

Before “casting stones” at Missouri, do remember that in Oklahoma it wasn’t all that long ago the use of excessive force and resulting death of an innocent man of color had happened in Moore. To say nothing of that shooting in Del City that took place a couple of years ago. These violent outbursts between cops (a sphere that expands to include game wardens now it seems) and citizens rarely ceases for long. So it’s not like Oklahoma and Missouri are the only places where poor law enforcement choices are sometimes sheltered from an equal application of the law. On a less deadly note, there was also a recent Twitter PR attempt by NYPD that backfired spectacularly. The NYPD asked for twit pics of people having positive interactions with the department and what they got back was another picture entirely.

Speaking of sheltered, the parents of the 18-year-old, college-bound kid who was murdered, mother and step-father, still have yet to hear the name of the police officer who shot their son. And they haven’t any real answers for their serious questions.  I don’t know how many readers are parents, but as a mother with two daughters I can only imagine what it must be like to be kept in the dark like that.


via Huffington Post

via Huffington Post


Complicating transparency is an attempt at forcing a media blackout as even the press have been stonewalled by the police.


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It’s not law enforcement’s job to censor coverage of riots or protests. The First Amendment is clearly on board with journalism. And I’m not naive enough to believe this is for the protection of the reporters. The police seem to be over-extending their reach in telling news vehicles to get out of the area, there’s a no fly zone in effect, and they’ve warned reporters “that their lives will be in danger” if they don’t leave.  I guess it’s ok for these guys when journalists are covering violence in the Middle East, but not over there in Ferguson, Missouri.


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Bear in mind as you see pictures, like the one below, this happening in America right now. But it wasn’t all that long ago that members of Pussy Riot (and sometimes members of the press covering them) were beaten by state-hired security during the Olympics for daring to protest against Putin’s politics and policies. Unlike most folks however, it seems they’re going to be asked to guest spot on the next season of House of Cards. Flip it around and view this situation as something that could conceivably happen to you if you’re minding your own business, and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you can kind of get the feel for what your average innocent, civilian Iraqi must have felt when they saw U.S. troops pointing guns on them just for looking like “a potential enemy combatant.” Mistakes happen, I’m just not sure how we’re not correcting the circumstances that keep leading to these clashes. Is peace even harder to attain than putting people on shuttles and launching them at international space stations? Apparently so.


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Seriously. It looks like there’s a war against black hip hop and/or politically engaged black hipsters.


At any rate, I am so happy my next trip takes me Northwest and far enough away from of all the madness. The next state I’m visiting has seen a decrease in crime, actually. And the major metropolitan city I’m headed to is even hosting a National Moment of Silence vigil. Still the longer justice is delayed in Missouri, I’m sure the more I’ll read about the organized activism taking place to address it.

There will be nationwide events kicking off Thursday in a moment of silence for Michael Brown and others killed by the use of excessive police force. You can read more about it in this link, or follow #NMOS14 on Facebook or Twitter. If you’re in the OKC area, feel free to e-mail us through 365 Things to do in OKC with your #NMOS14 related event.


Clearly the South has serious injustices it has yet to right. Which it’s a shame this area of the country continues to drag its feet, because the more this kind of thing plays out on the national stage, the less and less I want to visit places I’ve lived in or near, like Atlanta, Savannah, Montgomery, and Memphis – just to name a few. It also makes me wary of Moore and Del City. America’s beautiful alright, too bad we all don’t get to enjoy this land equally.

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