Branson Bound


Christmas, New Year’s, Saints, Carnival, Carnival, Carnival. Enough already. I can’t stand no more celebrating. Bring on Lent. I can’t wait.

Then I get a better offer.

My mother-in-law, Ms. Larda, and three of her old high school friends are taking a little trip to Branson, Mo.

Branson, in case you don’t know, is the opposite of the French Quarter. It is all about nice, wholesome entertainment. Everybody keeps their shirts on. Perfect for families and old ladies.

It was supposed to be Larda, Earline, Dottie and Lunalee. But Lunalee run into an old boyfriend at the Chalmette Emergency Room – they were both there for heart attacks which turned out to be just gas – and they been inseparable ever since. It is their second chance, and Lunalee ain’t going to waste a minute of it. So she bows out of the trip.

And they ask me to come instead. Ms. Larda says it’s just what I need. I will come home completely relaxed and ready for St. Pat’s.

My son, the computer genius, finds me a good deal on the plane ticket and everything else is paid for, even the rustic hotel.

The night before we leave, Ms. Larda warns me not to pack no hangnail clippers or a large snow globe in my carry-on because the TSA says they can be used as weapons. Well. I never travel with any size snow globe, but I do take my nail clippers out of my carry-on. I don’t want no trouble.

Earline’s grandson, Little Bubba Jr., chauffeurs us to the airport in his minivan. Like a gentleman, he helps us haul our luggage out the back and stack it on the curb before he drives off. Ms. Larda warns the others about hangnail clippers and snow globes, and we get our big bags weighed and checked through to Branson. Then we notice one bag is left over. Ms. Larda opens it, shrieks “OHMYGAWD!” and slams it shut. (She don’t say “Oh. My. Gawd” with periods in between, like my daughter does when she is aggravated. This is a panic scream.)

We all peer into this bag. There is one thing inside, and it ain’t hangnail clippers. It is a gun. A huge one. I guess you would call it a rifle. We all gasp and clutch ourselves in various places.

We can’t take it on the plane. We can’t leave it on the curb. I tell Earline to call Bubba Jr. right now. She brings out her cell phone. Then she informs me it’s brand-new and she don’t know how to use it yet. But Bubba Jr.’s number is programmed in because he did that himself.

Desperate times call for desperate measurements. I see a lady getting out of a cab holding a little boy by the hand, and I ask her if she knows how this phone works. She takes it, looks at it, then hands it to the little boy. He taps the screen a few times, and Bubba says “Hello?” Earline snatches it and screams “Bubba! Come get this (bad word) gun right now!” I go to thank the lady and her little boy, but they have disappeared all of a sudden.

Dottie and Ms. Larda go ahead to the gate, but me and Earline have to stay and guard the bag for 10 whole minutes, until Bubba screeches up to the curbside and grabs it. “Been carrying it around since duck season,” he says. “Carry it out of here,” I say.

Now we got to run for the plane. We get to security and Earline sails through. I am right behind her, but when I step into the X-ray scanner, the TSA agents suddenly get serious. They take me to one side. They wave their electric wand over me. They pat me up and down. It is almost time to board, and Ms. Larda comes back from the gate to see what’s wrong. An agent tells her to stand aside.

“Modine! Did you get rid of that gun?” she yells to me. Everybody freezes. I think fast. “Gum? I spat it out in the trash,” I say. “I don’t like Dentyne.” Everybody relaxes.

Finally, a lady agent reaches under my shirt and feels the waistband of my underwear. “Oh,” she says. “Spanx. With metallic thread.” And she waves me through.

“Next time, don’t wear spangly panties when you fly,” she calls as I’m rushing away.

Guns, globes, spangly panties. This ain’t relaxing.

And neither is Branson, it turns out. Ms. Larda and them are committed to see all the attractions, and I need to take pictures of them smiling in front of every one: The Maze of Mirrors, the Titanic, the Hollywood Wax museum, “Hits of the ’60s”… I had no clue three old ladies could move so fast.

Then, on the morning we leave, I sleep late. Ms. Larda shakes and screeches me awake, and I throw myself together: cotton panties, no spangles, no nail clippers, no snow globe – no time for makeup. And would you believe, the TSA agent tells me I don’t look like my government-issued ID. So I got to run to the ladies’ and put on my face and run back, and then he laughs and says, “Just kidding, pretty lady.” Wholesome family humor. Ms. Larda says he deserves a kick in the snow globes.

I am mad all the way to Houston, where we change planes for home. The last leg of a flight to New Orleans is always the best, because when you get to the waiting area, it’s almost like you are home already. Nobody is too skinny or too uptight. Everybody talks normal (“Where y’all been?”) and they pass food around and laugh, and somebody is lugging a trombone case. For the first time in a week, I relax.

I should have stuck with Lent.