Posted by: trevormeers | December 17, 2011

The Girls & Me

I’ve been reading a book by James Dobson titled “Bringing Up Girls.” Not because I suddenly find myself befuddled by the task of parenting sugar and spice and everything nice. But because I thought that while I’m between grad school semesters, it wouldn’t hurt to apply some of my revived study habits to the husband/father side of the ledger.

Alli at the controls of the world's largest skillet.

The book’s early pages are a little heavy with the backhanded self-promotion that tends to come with Dobson works. (I always recall the anecdote in which he chuckled at himself for once getting so busy that he sat down in the audience of a White House meeting, forgetting that he was the featured speaker. Don’t we all know that feeling! If it weren’t for my iPhone calendar, I’d be missing haircuts and blowing off presidents all the time!) But pretty soon he gets to the good stuff and starts dispensing some hard-won, empirically proven truths about what girls need from Mom and Dad.

It’s not rocket surgery, as a friend of mine likes to say. Girls need their dads to pay attention to them and make them feel important. You can thank me later for saving you a few hours of reading.

It was purely coincidental that I happened to be reading this book just as I set off on a weekend trip with my daughter, bound for a business trip to the promised land of Branson, Missouri. Riding shotgun in the rental SUV was my mom, who has been applying layers of Mom Guilt for years about how I’ve taken everyone I know, including my elderly dog, on jaunts related to my job. Everyone, that is, except the woman who tended me through every childhood illness and, in case I’d forgotten during all my hoity-toity running around, given me my very life. Not that that’s worth a measly getaway in some people’s eyes, apparently.

Eager to chip away at that debt, I asked Mom along. This was the first time, I’d like the record to show, that she was actually interested in a place I was going. So she quickly accepted, and early on a Thursday morning, the girls and I headed south, with a friend promising via Facebook to send bail money if the need arose.

Photo op with the sweetest place in town.

Allison taped a “Branson Or Bust” sign into the Jeep’s side window and was sold on the place before we even crossed over from Christian County to Taney. Billboards for the innumerable music revues crowd the shoulders pretty much all the way from Springfield to Branson. “Branson is so exciting, and we’re not even there yet!” Alli declared from the backseat. “These are the most festive billboards I’ve ever seen!” She was especially excited at the appearance of any billboard featuring a Japanese guy with a fiddle. “Shoji!” she yelled roughly every half mile as we passed another big sign quoting a national magazine trumpeting the brilliance of the legendary Shoji Tabuchi.

But Shoji was still 30 hours away, and we had a whole hollar full of roller coasters, shows and enormous skillets of hash to check out before Shoji rose up through the stage in a fog bank. One day kept us busy enough that we didn’t break for lunch until 3:30, which Alli found scandalously appealing, yielding the same tingle as staying up way past your bedtime or eating ice cream for breakfast. We grabbed our meal at Buckshot Annie’s Skillet Cookery, a theme park food stand where three pleasant ladies tend a 5-foot-wide cast-iron skillet that’s constantly warming a load of chicken, corn, potatoes and green beans. When I tried snapping their photo, the lady in charge said, “You get back here for a picture by this skillet, young man. Nobody knows who we are.”

I immediately decided that if you’re working the Christmas season, the Buckshot is the job to have, since the skillet acts as an enormous radiant heater on 40-degree days. The plates of hash didn’t make bad hand-warmers either, but as Alli and I ate ours, my mom retreated to the culinary school to sit by the fire. Inside was a cooking contest sponsored by my magazine, but Mom wasn’t quite convinced our VIP status would stick.

“What if they don’t let us in?” she asked.

“They’ll let us in,” I said.

“What if they don’t?”

They are us. They can’t keep me out of a contest I help run.”

Sure enough, we made our way inside the velvet rope. But the real fun was still outdoors, where Alli quickly developed an addiction to the Thunderation roller coaster. The ride is in the sweet spot of feeling scary enough to be an adventure, but manageable enough for a 10-year-old to ride five times in two days. We rode it by day. We rode it by night. We rode it without holding onto the grab bar because Alli declared that for wimps. “I’d ride it backwards if I could,” she said as we rolled out of the loading dock into the dark.

Kickin' it with Shoji after the show. (He's the one in the bow tie.)

I talked her into riding Powderkeg, which was a decided step up from Thunderation. Halfway through the ride, I was feeling like a dad who’d never even heard of James Dobson. The first big hill that left us weightless and trying to stuff our stomachs back down our throats left Alli fighting tears, and left me contemplating a lifetime ban from Father Of The Year consideration. But halfway through, she found her sea legs and declared it not so bad. Then we headed back to the outdoor line for the Christmas Carol show, where we left Mom to hold our place while we rode roller coasters.

“I wish I had my chore coat,” she said through chattering teeth.

That night, Branson’s biggest star treated us like rock stars, thanks to a little media-industry name-dropping by the folks who arranged my tickets. When we picked up our tickets at Shoji’s ticket window, the house manager appeared and said, “Can I get you anything from the snack bar?” We took him up on some popcorn and followed him to our seats. “If you’d like to stick around after the show, I could introduce you to Mr. Tabuchi.”

Ninety minutes later, we stood beside the stage as Shoji emerged from behind the curtain, still sparkling in his trademark sequined coat. We chatted about the show and golf and his daughter’s ongoing quest to become a star in Nashville. I thanked him for keeping the music of Bob Wills alive and said Alli is actually a fan of the 1940s country star.

“Is that right?” Shoji asked her. “You like Bob Wills?”

“Who?” she said, and looked at me.

Despite the obvious fact that I was a blowhard, Shoji took a liking to us and sent us on our way with a few free CDs and 11 candy canes for Alli. She counted them on the bed that night in our hotel suite, then started typing up her trip report for English class. Mom called Dad back home to check on her missing barn cat and give her take on the finalists’ dishes in the recipe contest.

I don’t recall Dr. Dobson ever mentioning Branson in any of his books on the subjects of getting along with either moms or daughters. But if you need to rack up some quick points as either a dad or son, I’m pretty sure that you can do a lot worse than Branson. Just use caution with the Powderkeg.



  1. Nice post, Trevor. Fun to see the pix and hear about your trip. Now write a post that I can use, my friend. Take your dad and brother somewhere that I can take my boys. Better yet, take Dave and my boys and make up for blackening Drake’s lungs at such a young age. Do this and we’ll call it even and maybe I won’t ever bring it up again… 🙂

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