You may remember (or you may not, who knows?) that I live near Branson, MO. The heart of the Ozarks. The place that The Shepherd of the Hills was written about. By the way, you can still see a live performance of The Shepherd of the Hills if you visit Branson, and I highly recommend it.
Depending upon whom you ask, Branson is known for many things: live music, country music, God & Country, veterans remembrances, traffic, family values, chicken-fried everything, bass fishing…..and Christmas. Branson loves Christmas. Christmas shows, Christmas lights, Christmas parades, and ugly Christmas sweaters as far as the eye can see. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago, Branson even began getting some national recognition as a place to enjoy Christmas.
I tell you all that to tell you this: lots of people come to Branson in November and December. When flying into the area this time of year, it’s pretty likely that you will be sharing that crowded space with people who are coming to celebrate the season.
And so it was yesterday on my flight home from Texas. Families with small children, retired couples, a few ladies groups, and I think even some residents of the area. It’s a short flight from Houston, just over an hour, and the Saturday afternoon passengers seemed in good spirits. With Thanksgiving less than a week away, I was ready to get home and start indulging my holiday spirit.
My seat mate was Ruth, a retired lady traveling with a group of friends to Branson for Christmas shows. They’d left their men folk at home so they could enjoy some girl time. If I were asked to guess, I would think Ruth was mid 70’s, though she looked younger. She was bubbly, smiling, and excited for the coming week. She was really quite sweet. She told me about some favorite Branson experiences from prior years, and we shared a genuine sadness over the loss of Andy Williams. She asked me if I’d ever seen Shoji Tabuchi (which she’d be doing on this trip), and what I thought. In all honesty, my favorite part of the Shoji experience is the bathroom, and that’s exactly what I told her. She laughed because that wasn’t the first time she’d heard that answer. She complimented Branson as if I was somehow personally responsible for it, like Branson was my 12 year old child who consistently made the Honor Roll. Not that I minded; I’m quite proud of this little part of the world.
One thing she especially appreciates about Branson is the beloved “Merry Christmas” greeting. While I have real mixed emotions about that particular subject, I smiled and concurred that, yeppers, Branson rejects the theory of wishing anyone “Happy Holidays”…. it’s all about Christmas. Ruth told me that she was a devout Christian, and she loved the fact that Branson was (in her words) “a Christian place”.
As we took off, there was some crying from several rows back, obviously one of the toddlers. I’ve learned over the years that no matter what tactics parents employ to keep a child from crying on a plane, it’s a crap shoot….especially when the change in air pressure hurts those little ears. I really appreciate the parents who prepare for travel, and have books and snacks and patience, even when all that preparation is for naught and their 2 year old just freaks out. You win some, you lose some.
You can understand my surprise when Ruth went on a little rant about rude parents letting their children “howl” on a plane. A) This child was NOT howling; and B) what are parents supposed to do? Duct tape? Time out? Since the Mom was having a lucky day, the child stopped crying just about the time Ruth finished her diatribe against the spoiled little humans who cry willy nilly and their inconsiderate parents. Soon, though, the crying episode was forgotten and we were talking about the best places for dessert. (Sugar Leaf Treats in the Grand Village shopping center for bakery items, and Andy’s Frozen Custard for a frozen treat, in case you were wondering.)
As I said, it’s a short flight. Before I knew it, the flight attendant announced that we had started our initial descent. Apparently, the Crying Child was made aware that she was now “almost there”, and she got excited….and loud.
“ALMOST THERE! WE’RE GONNA SEE YAYA & POP-POP!”
First of all, I love kids who call their grandmothers “YaYa”. If I had it to do over, I would have started that with my own grandchildren. YaYa is just cute and precious. Second of all, I love it when children are filled with anticipation. Unbridled excitement and joy is just good for the soul, and if you’re not feeling it, witnessing it is pretty darn good.
“FROOOOOOOOOOSTY THE ‘NO-MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN” filled the inside of the plane. Hearing her belt out a Christmas song made me realize how restrained the earlier crying actually was. This kid had a set of lungs on her.
“TWO EYES MADE OUT OF COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL”
Shushing from the Mom. Something about an inside voice, which was ridiculous even to me because we were soaring through the clouds.
“A, B, C, DDDDD, E, F, GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG, H, I, J, K, L & M & PPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP” Not bad for what I was now thinking to be the little brunette imp that I’d noticed before boarding. Maybe 3 years old or so.
Ruth had had enough. Pursed lips. Almost imperceptible shaking of the head. Best of all, the sucking of air through her teeth during the long notes.
Conspiratorially, “Isn’t that the most annoying thing?” Clucking her tongue against her teeth for emphasis.
Yes, Ruth. Yes, it is. The level of annoying is off the charts. Tell me again about what a devout Christian you are. Tell me again how this is your favorite season because it celebrates the birth of your Savior. Speaking of Him, would He be sucking air through his teeth at the sound of a child singing? Didn’t Jesus love the little children, Ruth? Do you think He only loved quiet children? Was He annoyed by their exuberance? Their uncontrolled excitement and joy?
Did Jesus cluck in disgust at the little children, Ruth?
This is where I struggle. I should display patience and kindness towards Ruth just as I think she should towards the little munchkin 6 rows back. I don’t want to display patience. I want to turn off my filter and let all those cutting, spiteful words that are bouncing around in my brain come pouring out of my mouth. I want to justify my urge for bad behavior, since I don’t boast about being a devout Christian. On the contrary, I’m pretty open about the fact that it’s a battle for me to demonstrate the virtues that I know I should strive for. My freakin’ acid tongue has caused mountains of hurt over the years, more than I can ever make amends for.
Ruth is still looking at me, waiting for me to concur. I smiled and said “Well, at least she’s not crying” and immediately hated myself. I had just betrayed that little elf back there, the one with a YaYa and Pop-Pop that probably can’t wait to see her.
What’s worse? Slinging some verbal venom at Ruth, or not defending someone who doesn’t even know they’re being disparaged?
How many times have I been “Ruth”? How many times have I made snap judgments, not shown any tolerance, been thoughtless and hurtful in my interactions with people? I think those times probably outnumber the Christmas bulbs in Branson.
“WE’RE HERE! WE’RE HERE! WE’RE HERE!”
As I retrieved my bag from the luggage cart, I told Ruth that I enjoyed meeting her, and thanked her for the nice chat on the flight. Every word of that was true.
Then I wished her Happy Holidays and walked away.