We recently travelled to Missouri to visit Mike’s brother and sister-in-law. On the morning of our departure, we were somewhat bleary-eyed having hosted a neighbourhood drinks party the night before, but soon we were packed and headed in the direction of east Texas and Arkansas. We spent the night in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a spa town once frequented by convalescents, baseball players and gangsters alike. The main street comprises an elegant collection of bathhouses that sit directly over the springs. The town was once called the Baden-Baden of the US and interestingly, what I saw of Arkansas, with its tall pine forests and lakes, did indeed remind me of Germany.
The next day we reached Springfield, Missouri, an area once inhabited by the Kickapoo Indian tribe. Much of our time was spent visiting places that Mike and his brother had frequented as children – springs, creeks, a trout farm and the hillside spa town of Eureka Springs. We also drove through Fair Play, where the two boys had grown up and where their father, the local doctor, had kept cows. Though the town is now somewhat neglected, most of its inhabitants having either long passed away or moved on, it was not difficult to imagine the Huckleberry Finn type of childhood that one would have experienced in a place where everything – church, school, hamburger joint, bank, general store, hardware store – were situated within yards of each other.
Later that week we moved on to Kansas City, Missouri, a large elegant city famous for its jazz and cuisine, including Kansas City-style barbecue. The main purpose of our visit was to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art where we not only saw several paintings of Mike’s favourite painter, the American regionalist Thomas Hart Benton, but also an exhibition of Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo. Later that day, Mike was keen to try Arthur Bryant’s legendary barbecue joint and although he was somewhat disappointed, not least with the quality of the barbecue sauce, I have to say that when we left the place all of our plates looked as though licked clean.
The following morning we crossed the Missouri River into Kansas and drove alongside miles of golden wheat fields followed by soft green prairie land dotted with black Angus cattle. Several hours later and we were in Oklahoma, formerly known as Indian Territory; part of our journey was on the so-called Trail of Tears, referring to the forceful removal in 1838 of thousands of native Americans from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Apart from the occasional oil jack, the flat landscape was quite bland and when we later drove into Texas, everything immediately looked more cared for. We spent the last night of our trip in Fort Worth, Mike’s former home, and where, until four years ago, Mattie and I spent many summer and Christmas holidays. It was a thrill to be back, not least for the wonderful restaurants and world-class museums, which put Fort Worth firmly on the map as the cultural centre of Texas. Mattie particularly enjoyed re-visiting the old stockyards area where twice a day a cattle drive is re-enacted through the streets, and I remembered her, as a five year-old, attempting to ride the mechanical bull, just down from the rodeo building. After a delicous meal at the El Salvadorean restaurant, Gloria’s, we headed home. The only downside of our trip was the traffic on the I35 headed south but a forced detour onto some side roads led to our buying some local cantaloupe melons from the back of a truck. A sweet end to a sweet trip.