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Monday, December 6, 2010

Meet the family....Arkansas style

Although I had been to four States, including Texas, after living here for five years I had not driven across a State Line.  I had imagined it to be like driving through Europe but without having to show a passport at each border.

We decided to take a trip last year to visit Dana's mum who had moved to Arkansas.  Apart from Chara, and a brief visit with Dana's niece, Maria, I had not met any of his family.  Despite the excitement of a road trip, I was wracked with nerves at having to meet the 'in laws'.

I have been blessed with sisters.  I have my own sister, Elise, who after years of sibling rivalry became my best friend, and whom I miss like crazy, (love you Leezie) and I have three ex-sister in laws, all of whom are now my very good friends.  To gain another sister in law was going to be interesting.

We left work on Friday night on our way to Denison, Texas.  Denison, for those not in the know, is north of Dallas.  We stopped for something to eat at a wonderful place called Raymonds Southern Kitchen, a delightful buffet, run by Raymond.  Raymond cooks a variety of southern dishes including a rather delicious carrot souffle.  However, probably the most refreshing attribute is that Raymond insists on serving children rather than letting them serve themselves.  It would appear that children are welcome, as long as they behave themselves.  We have a lot of buffets around Austin, most of which insist that kids are accompanied by adults when around the food.  However, there is one particular place where children seem to be able to run free.  In fact, it would appear that the parents think it's a party; the kind of party where you drop your kids off and come and collect them after a couple of hours.  I have no objection to kids in restaurants.  I just would prefer not to have their fingers in my food, either before I have selected my repast, or while sitting at my table.  As they run past with plates piled high, (less high than when they started running, leaving a trail for wait staff to slip upon) I do tend to growl or ask 'where is your mother?'  They don't understand me and I am normally looked at with a vague stare.  The one particular buffet has a fabulous dessert section, with a chocolate fountain.  Need I say more!  Mr. Muscle is challenged trying to clean the brown fingerprints from the glass shelves.  Chocolate covered strawberries are usually held by chocolate covered hands extending from chocolate covered sleeves.  At Raymond's. different dishes remain in their respective containers. 

After being filled to the brim, we started once again, on the road to our hotel.  We negotiated the Friday evening traffic in Dallas, with the obligatory 'la-la ing' of the Dallas theme tune (if you dont know what I am talking about...ask your parents!) as the skyline came into view.  Our sat-nav was having a nervous breakdown as we had decided to drive through the downtown area, where as she would have preferred us to take a longer, less congested route.  'Turn around at next exit; turn around at next exit', she almost cried as we constantly ignored her.  She decided not to talk again until we were through the City.  

Just before we reached the hotel, I realised I had not packed my wet wipes.  We were going to have to stop somewhere.  Dana suggested we go to the hotel, have a shower, and find a Walmart.  No!  I needed the wet wipes before I could have a shower and it had been a long journey.  I needed to use other facilities that the bathroom affords.  Not understanding having to reclean a room that had been cleaned by a cleaning crew, he relented and we stopped just before reaching our evening destination. 

The hotel was basic but, thankfully, clean.  After cleaning the room I had a shower and we settled down to watch some television. 

The next morning we enjoyed our breakfast and I drove to Oklahoma.  Crossing the State line was more exciting than I thought.  I was in a different State and the atmosphere was different.  There was a different feeling that is not easy to describe.  We stopped at the welcome center and I felt as if I had been transported back in time and was in The Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy, minus her ruby red slippers, was behind the counter, waiting to see a rainbow, somewhere.  Delighted to see more visitors, she was eager to give us directions to anywhere.  Maybe, one day, someone would come and ask for directions to Kansas.  We needed to get to Arkansas. 

Driving along the Interstate in Oklahoma was unlike driving in Texas.  One lane, lots of traffic cones and pot holes that would rival moon craters, the road wound through the State, in and out of towns and eventually the Arkansas State sign was visable.  The Natural State beckoned me over and the obligatory picture was taken before I retook the wheel and drove over another State line.  Once again, the atmosphere changed and the scenery turned from Casinos to beautiful trees with hills and dales.  The topography reminded me more of the English countryside, than that of Texas, although there were still no Silver Birches. 

As we neared Rogers, Arkansas, Dana received a telephone call from his sister.  He had called from the Welcome Center just past the State line and left a message.  Nervously shaking my head when asked if I wanted to say 'hi', he started to laugh and conveyed my terror at meeting his family.  I tried to laugh and make light of his comments but the more I denied, the less convincing I became.  Realising that being silent (something very difficult for me) was probably my best option, I excused myself no more and attempted to regain composure.  When I am nervous I talk more than usual, normally telling stories in such detail with totally irrelevant facts to people, about people, they know not.  Each time I meet someone knew, I try, with all my might, to keep quiet, but to no avail. 

Finally, we drove into the home of Dana's mum (mom). Vowing to keep my tongue in check, I exited the car and followed Dana up the stairs to her apartment.  My fears dispersed very quickly as Cindy mentioned that we were only about 20 minutes from the Missouri border and offered to take me for a ride to collect my third State in two days.  As the four of us drove to the next photo opportunity, I chatted away, trying to keep trivia to a minimum, and I seemed to gel with my newly found family.  Cindy stopped the car and I walked into my first State beginning with 'M'.  The camera snapped and the memory was recorded in less than a minute.  Mission accomplished, we returned to Arkansas and after stopping for a bite to eat, we returned Mom to her apartment and followed Cindy to her house, where I met a new brother-in-law, who promised to add another tick to my wish list, by taking me on the back of his motor bike the following day. 

All too soon our visit was over and the following afternoon, after my bike ride and first kayaking experience, we had to bid farewell to the family and head back to Denison.  Retracking our route, we drove out of Arkansas, into Oklahoma and back into Texas.  After finding a local eatery we retired to our room.  Dana spent about an hour writing a rather elaborate and somewhat embellished account of our journey.  His attempt to saddle me with the nick name 'Harley', fortunately, was not successful.  One bike ride does not a hells angel make!  My insistance that I could read a map was over-ruled and further evidence that the map did not show the roads on which we were travelling, was disallowed, and the jury was instructed to ignore this fact.  His story sounded funnier with me being incompetent. I warned him that the defence was going to be awesome!!! 

We drove back to Austin on Monday and again alienated our sat nav through Dallas.  She seemed less reluctant to give in this time and demanded I 'get back on the road' when we stopped for a break.  Obviously, she has no understanding of the need for a rest area!  My trip was a great success and my new found appreciation of the Missouri Collegiate Football Team was born.  After all, having spent some time in their homeland, my affiliation would be eternal. 

The race for States was on.  My past trips and experiences will, hopefully, build a big enough picture of the past six years, and allow me to continue with current experiences without having to digress, although, as I have said, digression is my strong point.  I hope the cover picture of this blog will be the next post and I hope interesting enough to be considered.....another story.

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