“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!”