Sunday, January 24, 2016


                  Silver Dollar City was proving to be rather deflating for my seven-year-old ego. It seemed everyone was out to make a fool of me and I wondered why the entire park, filled with adults dressed in faded attire from yesteryear, bothered to go to such great lengths to con little children. The whole city was a farce.
                  “It’s almost noon. Let’s head for Molly’s,” said Mom.
                  There was a line outside the restaurant and I could smell the fried chicken, making my mouth water for its crispy, greasy goodness.
                  “Over here!” yelled Dad who had already been seated.
                  We enjoyed Molly’s buffet, filled with southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob, while listening to Corey relive the courageous tales of the swinging bridge.
                  “It hangs with just rope and you swing all over the place,” said Corey. “I thought I was going to puke…like this…blech!” he said as he leaned his head toward my plate.
                  “Corey, stop it! That’s disgusting,” said Mom, while Dad laughed at his antics.
                  We finished our meal and planned the rest of our day. Candle-making, wood-carving and glass-blowing were all on the agenda.
                  “I want to make a candle for Grandma!” I said. “Since my pottery didn’t turn out so well.”
                  We spent the next three hours in what I called Heaven. There were craft shops everywhere and we created all kinds of treasures from scratch. It definitely made the trip a success.
                  The candle-making was fascinating and held my attention the longest. Large pots of hot wax stood outside the tiny shop. A woman dressed in a long-sleeved floral dress, apron and bonnet guided me through the process.
                  “Now, be careful, Sugar,” she said. “The wax is really hot and could burn you.”
                  I dipped my flimsy string into the hot red wax time and again, until my candle reached about an inch in diameter. The entire process lasted for what seemed like 30 minutes – dipping, cooling, dipping again. My brother grew tired of the repetition and left his string with my mom to finish, while he and Dad explored Tom Sawyer’s Landing.
                  “Wow!” said Jacki. “Grandma is going to love that candle. You’re doing such a good job.”
                  “And I did it all by myself and didn’t even get burned,” I bragged as I watched the other less-skilled kids touch their candles too soon, causing clumps and valleys to form in them. Mine was near perfect. There was no doubt Grandma would be impressed.
                  Corey and Dad came back, carrying two plates of funnel cakes.
                  “Give me some!” I yelled.
                  We sat along a rock wall, eating our funnel cake while Dad marveled at my artwork.
                  “That is just magnificent,” said Dad. “Are you sure you didn’t have any help?”
                  “No,” I giggled. “I really did it on my own.”
                  Dad placed my candle carefully in the brown paper bag given to us by the shop owner.
                  “Are you kids about ready to head back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house?” Dad asked.
                  “Yeah, I’m tired,” I said.
                  The ride home was quiet. Jacki showed me the bag of rocks she had bought at the rock shop and even gave me one to keep. It was bright blue with white streaks swirling throughout.
                  “Thanks Jacki,” I said. “This will be my lucky rock.”
                  I laid my head on her leg for the duration of the trip.
                  “Grandma, Grandma, look what I made for you!” I yelled as I raced into her house, tripping over my ratty shoestrings.
“Well, what do we have here?” she asked as she tapped her spoon on the side of a frying pan and turned the burner to low heat.
                  “It’s a candle and I made it all by myself,” I beamed.
                  “My goodness! I believe it’s the most perfect candle I’ve ever laid eyes on,” she said as she held the candle close to inspect my handiwork. Grandma would know breath-taking candle-making when she saw it. She was accustomed to seeing failed attempts every day during her leisurely walks at Silver Dollar City.
                  “I’ve got just the place to put it,” she said as she reached above the stove and searched her collection of glassware for just the right holder. She pulled out a narrow red vase and placed the candle gently inside.
                  “Fits like a glove!” she said. “Now I’ll just put her right over here on my special shelf your grandpa made for me. It’ll be safe and everyone who visits can see it.” She placed the vase on the shelf next to a small cup and saucer.
                  “Perfect!” I said.
                  “Oh yes, Patti Duke, it sure is beautiful,” said Grandma. “I can’t wait to show Grandpa.
                  That evening my Aunt Lynn, who was Don’s ex-wife, and Jason ate dinner with us. Jason told us about his new puppy, Rags, who was likely the smartest dog in the state of Missouri.
                  “I taught her to go fetch and she did it on the very first try. I threw a piece of ham and she ran right to it,” he bragged. “And then I said, ‘Rags, jump!’ and she jumped all the way up to my hand and grabbed the entire piece of ham I was holding. She’s a smart one alright.”
                  “That doesn’t make your dog smart,” said Corey. “Anyone can get a dog to eat a piece of ham.”
                  “Does too make her smart!” yelled Jason. He thought for a minute, cooking up another wild story in his head and said, “Just yesterday I got hurt real bad. I saw my life flash before my eyes and Rags? Well, she saved me.”
                  “Yeah right,“ said Corey sarcastically. “What did she do? Save you from a burning building? Pull you out of a well?”
                  Jason contemplated his next move, then said, “I fell down in the road and she pulled me over to the grass all by herself. There was a car coming too and she barked at the car to slow down.”
                  Corey rolled his eyes.
                  “Is that true?” I asked.
                  “Of course it’s true! You calling me a liar?” Jason asked angrily.
                  “Okay you varmints,” Grandma interrupted. “I want you each to draw the best picture you can for me to put in my picture album.”
                  She placed three pieces of onion skin typing paper in front of us, along with hand-sharpened pencils.
                  “I’m going to draw Cubby!” Corey shouted.
                  “Oh, me too,” I said.
                  “Copy cat!” yelled Corey.
                  “Me three!” said Jason.
                  Sketching Cubby was only for the most experienced artists. The teddy bear wore a derby hat and bow tie. Magazines featured Cubby drawings, inviting master artists to try their hands at drawing the friendly cub. My brother had perfected the skill, replicating Cubby practically identical to the illustration. Dad mailed one of Corey’s sketches to the magazine, but we had yet to hear from anyone. He figured it was only because Corey was too young to participate in the highly coveted schooling they offered.
                  I did my best rendering of Cubby, but his snout appeared long and disproportionate to the rest of his face, almost resembling a weasel. Jason’s version was even worse. If one didn’t know any better, you would think cubby was a mouse. As usual, Corey’s was perfect. He had drawn Cubby so many times, that it was likely his hand had developed muscle memory to create his masterpiece with his eyes closed.
                  “Now write your names and ages on those so I can put them in my book,” said Grandma.
                  Our drawings would serve as a sampling of our talents, frozen in time for family members to view for years to come.
                  “But, it’s not my best work,” I complained to Grandma.
                  “Oh, I just wish I could draw like that,” she said. “Now hand it over,” she teased as she formed a pistol gesture with her fingers and threatened to shoot.
                  “Okay, but make sure you tell everyone I can do better,” I said.
                  “Buzz, buzz,” the doorbell rang. Wanda let out a loud holler of excitement.
                  “That must be Cheri and Vicki” said Mom.
                  Within moments, the small house was filled with family members from back home. Cheri, Bruce, Holli and Ladell came in first, followed by Tinker, Vicki and Codi.
                  “What’s going on?” I asked. “Why is everyone here?”
                  “Remember Patti? Grandma and Grandpa are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary tomorrow,” said Jacki.
                  “Oh,” I said. I didn’t know what an anniversary was, but I knew it was a big deal and that Mom and Vicki had recently spent a day in Columbia shopping for a gold cake topper.
                  The house was suddenly full of chaos.
                  “Ladell, quit pulling my hair!” screamed Holli. Grandma chased Ladell into a corner and smothered him with grandma kisses. He giggled and squealed, begging her to stop.
                  “You rotten little scoundrel! You give your Grandma a kiss!” she teased. Ladell finally succumbed to the torture and planted a kiss on Grandma’s cheek.
                  “Now, where’s my sweet little Holli girl?” asked Grandma.
                  Holli shrieked and raced into the family room, hiding behind a chair. “I’m gonna get you!” Grandma called.
                  “No! You can’t find me!” Holli teased. Within seconds Grandma was tickling Holli, causing her to beg for mercy too.
                  “I missed you Grandma!” Holli said.
                  “Oh, I’ve missed you pumpkin,” said Grandma.
                  “It’s Icky, Stinker and Toadie!” I yelled as Vicki and Tinker came into the room, holding baby Codi.
                  “Can I hold her? Can I hold her?” I asked Vicki.
                  “Just a minute,” she said. “She just ate and needs to let her food settle.”
                  “Hi Codi,” I said in my baby voice. “Hi Codi.”
                  Codi was six months old and had the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen. Her perfect pug nose sat at a 45 degree angle on her tiny face. She wore a tiny pink sundress and bloomers with a matching bow stuck to tiny sprigs of blonde hair.
                  “Codi, Codi, Codi,” I teased as I poked her belly. “Peek-a-boo!”
                  I continued vying for Codi’s attention and was eventually rewarded with a tiny smile.
                  “You’re a pretty baby, aren’t you?” I said. “Boo-biddy, boo-biddy, boo!”
                  Vicki tried to her best to avoid tripping over me as she held Codi on her hip. Grandma wiggled her way between us to welcome them, but I quickly took my place again, making funny faces at Codi and tickling her belly.
                  Then suddenly, “blech!’
                  “Aack!” I screamed and spit uncontrollably. “She spit up right into my mouth!”
                  The taste of chunky, spoiled baby formula consumed my taste buds and my eyes watered with humiliation.
                  “Get it out! Get it out!” I screamed, brushing my tongue with my fingers.
                  Laughter filled the kitchen as I rolled on the floor, gagging and spitting. Nobody would help. Tears flowed from their eyes as they absorbed every moment of my anguish, first chuckling, then howling uncontrollably.
                  “I told you she had just eaten!” said Vicki as she tried her best to wipe her tears. The laughter continued at my expense.
                  Finally Grandma appeared with a small cup of water to extinguish the putrid taste in my mouth.
                  “Oh Grandma, it tastes horrible!” I cried.
                  “I’m sure it does!” she laughed.
                  I ran to the tiny bathroom next to the kitchen and rummaged my suitcase for my Scooby-Doo toothbrush. I slathered it generously with toothpaste and scrubbed the baby formula taste from my mouth. When I returned, Grandma had organized all the kids around the table to play “Snowing in July.” She gave us each two pieces of paper to fold into tiny squares and cut holes to create snowflakes. We hung the snowflakes all around the kitchen. Holli and I made a sign that read, “Happy Anniversary Grandma and Grandpa!”
                  “My goodness!” exclaimed Grandma. “Is anyone else getting cold in here?”
                  We laughed at her silly joke and tossed scrap paper into the air. “It’s snowing!” Jason cried.
                  “Okay, you kids. It’s time for bed. We have a big day tomorrow,” said Grandma.
                  It took close to an hour to find bedding for all of the kids and another hour to get us all settled into our spots after another musing round of bedtime stories.
                  “Goodnight my little varmints!” called Grandma.

                  “Goodnight Grandma!” we chanted simultaneously, followed by more giggles and squeals.


                  “I want to go to Grandfather’s Mansion now!” shouted Corey.
                  “No, that place is creepy,” I complained. “It’s hard to stand up in there.”
                  “How about I take you on a train ride while they do the creepy stuff,” suggested Jacki.
                  “Okay!” I agreed.
                  I had never actually been on the train before, but always wanted to go. It only ran at intermittent times and my parents had never had the patience to wait for the next departure.
                  “I’ll go with you two,” said Mom. “You boys can go do whatever you want. Meet us at noon for lunch at Molly’s Mill Restaurant.
                  And off we went to the Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train. The smell of funnel cakes filled the streets. I loved funnel cake and Mom had gotten a recipe to make them at home, and while they were a close second, they never quite satisfied my watering mouth like the ones at Silver Dollar City. I realized how hungry I was getting.
                  “Can we get a funnel cake?” I asked Mom.
                  “No, it’s almost lunchtime. Let’s wait,” she answered.
                  “Okay, but don’t forget,” I said. “Can I just have funnel cake instead of lunch?”
                  “No, you need to eat lunch. We’ll get some before we leave,” she laughed.
                  NEXT DEPARTURE – 10:40 A.M., the clock read as we approached the train.
                  “Hurry!” Mom said. “It’s about to leave.”
                  We rushed to the gates and pleaded with the conductor to let us aboard.
                  “Hold up!” he yelled. “We have three pretty little ladies who would like to join us.”
                  The gates opened and we hopped aboard the train. We found open seats next to a group of teenage boys. One whispered something to his friend and they gave each other a devilish grin as they glanced at my sister, Jacki smiled and flipped her long hair behind her shoulder as she took her seat.
                  “Do you know those boys?” I whispered loudly to my sister.
                  “Shhh, no,” she answered.
                  “Then why are they staring at you?” I asked.
                  “Hush, the ride is about to start,” she said.
                  “But I think they know you!” I insisted.
                  “Please, Patti. Hush!” she pleaded.
                  “Welcome to Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train. Please keep your arms and legs inside the train at all times,” said the conductor over a loud speaker.
                  The train began rolling through the lush hills of the Ozarks. From my seat, I could see miles and miles of trees, stretched tightly over the small mountains.
                  “To your left, you’ll see…trees,” said the conductor. “And to your right, you’ll see…more trees.”
                  The audience giggled. A small breeze swept across my face and it felt relaxing, yet potentially very boring, to sit back and enjoy the pleasant ride. Mom was smiling and I could tell it was just the break she needed.
                  “What’s your name?” one of the boys asked my sister.
                  “Jacki,” she said with a shy smile.
                  “Oo-oo-ooo, Jackie Blue,” sang one of the other boys. The group laughed at his quick wit.
                  Jacki rolled her eyes at their sophomoric banter. I had heard my sister listening to Jackie Blue on her stereo in her bedroom many times, but I didn’t know everyone else knew the song too.
                  “My sister listens to that song all the time,” I announced, which sent the boys into a fit of laughter and serenading.
                  “Patti, be still,” reprimanded my mom. “Come over here and sit by me.”
                  “I think my friend likes you,” the boy said to my sister as the boys continued singing. “Hides that smile when she’s wearing a frown, oo-oo Jackie, you’re not so down.”
                  “Well, I already have a boyfriend,” she said as she flashed her boyfriend’s class ring, wrapped tediously in yellow yarn. I remember the night Jacki got that ring. She was so excited and spent at least an hour threading the yarn through the large ring, sizing it just right for her tiny finger.
                  “Oh, ouch!” he exclaimed.
                  Jacki rose from her seat and took a spot next to Mom and me, turning her back on the obnoxious attention she was rousing from the boys.
                  Suddenly, the train came to a complete stop.
                  “What happened?” I asked.
                  The conductor hopped off of the train.
                  “We’re being hijacked!” I heard one of the boys say.
                  “Mom, what does hijacked mean?” I asked. I was getting scared. Hijacked was a word I’d heard on TV shows like The Rockford Files and Quincy Jones, MD, and it was never supported by scenes suitable for children to watch.
                  “See those guys with guns? They’re outlaws and they’re holding up the train,” explained Mom.
                  “What?!” I exclaimed.
                  “Shh, shh, listen,” whispered Mom.
                  I could barely make out what they were saying.
                  “We are brothers, Alphie and Ralphie Bowlin,” one said. “And this is a stick up!”
                  The conductor had obviously come across these misfits before.
                  “Haven’t I told you boys you can’t rob my train?” said the conductor. He continued a verbal war with one of them while the other walked alongside the train.
                  I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation because I was focused on the second outlaw who had just boarded the train.
                  “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,” said the Bowlin brother. “I would ask that you remove all gold, silver and fine jewels from your possession and deposit them right here in my hat. That includes jewelry, coins, even fillings in your teeth.”
                  Passengers searched their pockets for coins and tossed them into the hat. Suddenly, I heard a gunshot outside of the train and saw the conductor holding his butt in pain. The other Bowlin brother had shot him! This was serious.
                  The conductor howled in pain while the Bowlin brothers laughed at his comical dance, hopping from one foot to the other to relieve the pain.
“Now, what’d ya have to go and do that for?” whined the conductor.
“Mom, don’t give him all our money,” I whispered. “Hide some of it.”
Mom pulled out three nickels and gave my sister and me each one to place into the hat. I stared at my shoes the entire time, not wanting to make eye contact with the robber.
“You!” he said to one of the teenage boys who had harassed my sister. “I know your momma gave you more money than that. Now come on, give it up.”
The boy searched his pocket and pulled out another coin. The other boys chuckled.
“What are you boys laughing at?” asked the outlaw. “Now that’s gonna cost ya. Come on, empty your pockets before I empty them for ya.”
I continued staring at my feet. I studied the ratty shoestrings in my discount Converse replicas and noticed one shoe was laced tighter than the other. The shoes were hand-me-downs from my sister, Vicki, whose feet were smaller than most third-graders. They were worn and filthy and the strings had long since lost the plastic tips that made it easy to lace your shoes.
I saw the outlaw’s boots walk right past me. My whole body trembled. I wanted to close my eyes and make it all go away.
Soon the Bowlin brothers reunited on the train and thanked the passengers for their participation. Audience members laughed and shook hands with the outlaws as they exited the train. Confused, I looked at my mom for answers.
Mom smiled and giggled. “It was a just an act,” she said. “They aren’t real outlaws.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
Mom did her best to convince me it was a set-up between bouts of laughter.

I gave her a stern look and turned away to pout. I had been duped.


                  “Who wants to go to Silver Dollar City?” my dad yelled from inside the house.
                  I ran to the door, screaming “I do! I do!” thinking I would be the first to hear the exciting news. I looked around the kitchen and saw that everyone else was ready to go.
                  Dad laughed and said, “Then, put your comfy shoes on and let’s go!”
                  Grandma and Grandpa had both worked at Silver Dollar City. Grandpa was an electrician when the town was little more than Marvel Cave and a small village. He helped install the wiring in rides like Fire in the Hole and The Lost River. He had most recently worked in the saw mill, demonstrating to young guests how wood was cut in the 1800s. In 1969, he made a cameo appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies TV show. The cast and crew filmed five episodes of the popular series at the park, trying to fetch a husband for Ellie May.
                  “Turn her on, Herb,” the town mayor said, which became Grandpa’s legendary two-seconds of fame. I had watched nearly every episode of the hit show, but had never seen the one that hoisted Grandpa into the spotlight for a short time.
                  Grandma wasn’t an employee of Silver Dollar City. She sold her pioneer dolls in one of the craft shops. She charged thirty dollars for each doll. Mom continually encouraged her to raise her prices, but she was more satisfied when tourists were able to enjoy her handiwork and take a piece of Branson home with them.
                  “Aren’t you going Grandma?” I asked.
                  “No, I need to stay here and look after Wanda. You kids have fun and watch out for those baldknobbers!” she said.
                  We hopped into the truck and headed through downtown Branson to Silver Dollar City. Small shops lined the quiet streets. One shop caught my eye, as it had every time we drove by it. It was painted light pink and wore a sign that read, “doll house,” in big letters. I wondered what could have made those dolls so special that they lived in a large palace. Pottery and basket stores paled in comparison to the pink fortress, suitable only for wooden and china royalty.
                  Within a half hour we arrived at Silver Dollar City. The tram pulled to a stop, just as we hopped out of the car. My sister grabbed my hand and led me to a seat.
                  “Keep arms and legs in the vehicle at all times,” said the driver through a bull horn.
                  The tram stopped and let a handful of guests off at the park entrance. Limestone rock walls lined the park, similar to the ones at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Just inside was a gazebo and square dancers in matching full red skirts, boots, bandanas, ruffled shirts and hats, were getting ready to take the stage. The men wore red pants, white shirts, red vests, hats and red colonel ties around their necks. A small band of banjos and fiddles were ready to accompany their performance.
                  “Bow to your lady. Now bow to your corner,” said the caller.
                  In unison, twelve dancers began swinging and dancing on stage. They repeatedly changed partners and I was amazed at their ability to follow the caller. “Now circle left, forward and back. Allamande left and swing your partner! Pass through. Now promenade!” yelled the caller as he clapped his hands and stomped his feet. The crowd began clapping with him, while the dancers spun quickly and changed formations.
                  I began slapping my knee and stomping my foot with the banjos, clumsily running and hopping closer to get a better look at the exhibition.
                  “Howdy folks,” said the caller. “Come on up and put your hands together.”
                  The dancers’ full skirts flew high in the air, exposing multiple layers hidden underneath as they spun to the music from a century ago. I skipped and twirled from the ground, trying my best to mimic their choreography. I was consumed by the folksy atmosphere and getting caught up in the moment, forgetting the cardinal sibling rule, which was to never act like you know your brother in public, I snatched my brother’s arm and spun him in a circle.
                  Corey jerked his arm away. I froze for a moment and could see the fire in his eyes. I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer, ‘please don’t let him hit me, please don’t let it hurt.’
                  “What are you doing, idiot?! Keep your hands off of me!” he screamed.
                  I stood still for a moment, holding my breath, trying to recover from the rejection. Suddenly my dad grabbed my arm and began dancing and clapping with me. I was relieved and began laughing and dancing once again.
                  “Do say do your partner,” said the caller. Dad folded his arms in front of him and skipped a circle around me, while I skipped in place, unsure of what to do. His square dancing techniques reminded me of a sacrificial Indian dance, and I began to empathize with my brother’s reluctance to make a complete spectacle of himself. I brushed it off though. I was getting a rush from the excitement and wanted to continue dancing with the only partner option I had.
                  “And promenade!” shouted the caller. Dad took my arms and we skipped side-by-side through the small crowd that had congregated in front of the stage.
                  Mom and Jacki clapped and tapped their feet as Dad and I shuffled about. Corey stood a fair distance from the stage, looking the other direction in hopes of Scotty beaming him to another planet.
                  “Now bow to your partner. And you’re through,” announced the caller.
                  The crowd cheered and clapped for the dancers.
                  “And let’s hear it for this little lady,” said the caller as he motioned to my dad and me. All the dancers clapped for us.
                  “That was some fine dancing,” he said. I smiled and curtsied to the crowd, then quickly, realizing I was in the spotlight, covered my face in embarrassment. I ran to my mom who was laughing at my sudden shyness and buried my face in her blouse.
                  “What’s the matter?” laughed Mom.
                  “You looked like a complete dork,” said my brother.
                  “Oh, I thought we done good,” said Dad as he patted my shoulder.
                  “Young man?” said an official looking guy in a deep voice as he approached my brother.
                  Corey’s eyes got big and filled with fright as he peered up at the man in uniform. The badge on his shirt read “sheriff.” Uh oh, my brother had done it now. The sheriff likely heard him call me a dork and everyone knows that’s unacceptable language to use at Silver Dollar City.
                  “Yes?” my brother answered quietly.
                  “You look like a strong, honest fella,” said the sheriff as he circled my brother, inspecting his physique. “How would you like to become an official Silver Dollar City deputy?”
                  “Okay,” answered my brother excitedly. “What do I have to do?”
                  “As a member of the law enforcement team at Silver Dollar City, it is your sworn duty to abide by all official Silver Dollar City rules and regulations set forth by our founding fathers and to make sure all guests of our city follow them as well,” said the sheriff. “Can I count on you, young man?” he asked in a militant voice.
                  My brother nodded his head.
                  “Then raise your right hand and repeat after me,” said the sheriff. “I, state your name.”
                  “I, William Corey Crump,” repeated Corey.
                  “Promise to uphold the constitution of the City of Silver Dollar,” said the sheriff.
                  Corey repeated the oath word for word.
                  “I hereby declare you an official deputy,” announced the sheriff as he handed Corey a silver badge.
                  “Whoa!” said Corey as he accepted the badge.
                  “How about that?” said Dad, messing with Corey’s short hair. “You’re a gen-u-ine deputy.”
                  “Let me see!” I said as I pushed my way between my brother and dad while they marveled at the medallion. “Where did you get that? I want one,” I begged.
                  “No!” shouted my brother as he pulled away his badge. “It’s only for official deputies.”
                  “But I want to be a deputy too. Dad, can I be a deputy? Please!” I asked.
                  Dad looked at Corey, so proud of his new title, then back to me. “I’m afraid Corey is right. Only a sworn deputy can wear a badge.”
                  This was not fair at all. I folded my arms and pouted, exaggerating my disgust in the matter. Once again, it was obvious that my parents favored my brother. There was no denying it. I had heard the story numerous times. They wanted a boy so badly, but were cursed with three girls in a row. They had given up, resigning themselves to a life with unstable, hormonal drama that comes with the weaker sex. Finally, years later, they were blessed with their coveted boy. I’m certain angels appeared from the heavens that day, singing a beautiful song and worshippers drove for miles to bring lavish gifts and to catch a glimpse of this gift from God. My birth, on the other hand, was likely accompanied by crickets who chirped a note or two to acknowledge my entrance into the world.
                  “Hon, what would you like to do first?” asked my dad as he bent down to make eye contact.
                  Quickly forgetting the neglect that had been bestowed upon me, I shouted, “Fire in the Hole!” I had never actually ridden the carts of terror. The last time were had come to Silver Dollar City, I was too frightened. My macho brother had talked about the thrill ride for months following the visit.
                  “Then Fire in the Hole it is,” Dad said as we headed for the ride.
                  “You’re going to chicken out,” said my brother. “It’s really scary. Last time we were almost hit by a train. It just barely missed us!”
                  “I will not chicken out!” I screamed back.
                  “Yeah, right,” said Corey. “You just wait. It’s really dark and scary in there and the whole thing is on fire.”
                  I felt a trembling in my stomach, but insisted I was ready to risk my life to prove my courage.
                  The line extended beyond the entrance. Nervous kids stood, fidgeting with anticipation.
                  ‘Was there really fire in there?’ I wondered. ‘And how many people had been crushed by the out-of-control train that apparently ran through this exact location time and again?’
                  CAUTION – YOU WILL GET WET, read a sign just inside the entrance.
                  The line moved quickly and before I was mentally ready to sacrifice myself, the gates opened and it was my turn to hop aboard.
                  “Don’t chicken out!” teased my brother.
                  “Will you ride with me?” I pleaded with my mom.
                  “Well yes, of course I will. Come on,” she answered as she grabbed my hand and led me to the small cart. She had no inhibitions about risking her life.
                  The attendant pressed the bar into our laps, but I could still move about freely.
                  “It’s not tight enough!” I complained to my mom. “I’m going to fly out!”
                  “Here, let’s hook our arms together,” said Mom.
                  I reluctantly joined arms with her. Slowly the cart began moving into the darkness. ‘What kind of mother would put her child in harm’s way?’ I thought to myself. Within seconds we were sailing through open, black space inside our rickety cart, jerking to the left and swiftly to the right.
                  Up ahead we could hear the commotion of a town set ablaze. Small burning buildings were lined, side-by-side as we made our way through. Life-sized dioramas depicted scenes of hillbilly misfortune.
                  “Red Flanders, get back in here and put on your pants,” I heard a female voice call.
                  “I tell ya, I ain’t got no pants no more. The dang baldknobbers stole ‘em,” answered her husband from atop a tree, wearing only his long underwear.
We turned a corner and entered a village invaded by baldknobbers who wore what resembled white flour sacks over their heads. Armies of them pointed rifles at unsuspecting townspeople who were stricken with terror.
Laughter filled the cave and it was then that I realized the fire wasn’t authentic. Strobe lamps and special effects created the illusion of a devastated town. Relieved, I started laughing with my mom.
Suddenly my laughter turned to fear once again as I saw a light ahead and what sounded like a train approaching, out of control.
“Choo-choo,” it roared. The train was headed right for us. There was nowhere to go. This was it. My fate was to become a victim of the train, like countless others who had been goaded into this Russian roulette game. I closed my eyes tightly and gripped my mom’s arm.
Just seconds before we collided with the oncoming train, I felt my body become airborne as the cart took a steep nose dive to avoid the train. Passengers screamed for their lives. I was silent, scared beyond comprehension.
“Fire in the hole!” I heard a voice yell from somewhere inside the cave, but before the words were finished, a bucket of water was thrown into our cart.
“Mom!” I cried. “I’m all wet!”
“Didn’t you read the sign?” she asked, while chuckling at my reaction.
Our cart rounded the corner and came to a jerky stop. Dad and Corey stood alongside the track, pointing and laughing at my drenched hair and the obvious look of displeasure on my face.
“Were you scared?” my brother teased. “Fire in the Hole is such a baby ride!” he laughed.
“Shut up!” I screamed.
“Come on, Corey,” Dad said as he yanked him by the ear and pulled him into an open cart.

“Have fun!” I yelled as I stuck out my tongue. “I sure hope you don’t get wet!”