After a setback caused by the onslaught of a viral infection I picked up from God knows where, coupled with a stiff neck that sent me to the chiropractor twice, we finally embarked for a weekend in central Missouri to visit a relative on my Dad’s side; the daughter-in-law of my grandfather’s brother Joe, whom I never met. I’m not sure which complicated familial term would be most appropriate to describe the relationship, but “Cousin Ginny” was agreed to by all parties involved prior to the face-to-face meeting.
We probably started out on the highway around 11:30 AM Friday morning. We stopped for lunch at a Subway in Odessa, Missouri sometime close to 2 PM. I decided to venture off the boring interstate shortly after at a place called Aullville. I’d passed this exit many times and knew there wasn’t much to the town, but it was a beautiful day and I was excited to start my tour of small town Missouri. Besides, we were making good time.
Aullville was indeed fairly vacant. The main point of interest was a restored former market that appeared to now be a residence. Clearly it was not in a state of disrepair, but I found it hard to believe it was a market. I saw a vase in the window. Another old business seemed to be in less fortunate condition across the street. I photographed them both and moved on, also catching the entrance sign. I love the fact that Missouri displays all incorporated places with their current population. Aullville is home to 86 souls.
A back road carved through the lush farmland into the central Lafayette County town of Higginsville. Home to the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site, Higginsville proved to be a quaint little town with a fairly busy downtown full of shops, including an old theater that appeared to still be functional. It would have been nice to linger for awhile and walk around the town, but we continued on. At the edge of town we passed by the historic site, which commemorates the Confederate veterans who were housed here after the Civil War. The countryside surrounding reminded me a little of the South.
The next town was Corder. It was pleasantly small, but large enough to have some activity. There was a library, cafe, barbershop, market, post office and a few other businesses but nothing out of the ordinary going on. A few miles down the road was Alma, home of Alma Meats, which seems to dominate the town, along with the consolidated high school.
The town of Blackburn, bookended by small ponds, was smaller yet but with a body shop in the center of town, it almost appeared more active. A man was waist-deep under the hood of an old pick-up truck. I stopped in the post office and the guy was still diving into the truck as we left. Mount Leonard was a few miles north of the highway but completely devoid of any signs of life. A few crumbling buildings indicated that there was once a commercial district.
We passed through Shackleford before arriving in Marshall, the Saline County seat. The first thing we saw was a large meat processing plant, but eventually we came to the downtown, which was nice. We turned on a street called Eastwood Avenue, which was lined with beautiful homes, some of which could have been described as mansions. This proved to be a dead end road, but it was worth the detour to see the stately homes. My dad recalled that his mother’s sister had lived in Marshall at one point, but we were not close enough to be able to do any genealogical research so we moved on.
I finagled my way down a circuitous route through the forlorn village of Napton, which actually turned out to have a couple historical attractions. The first thing we noticed was the old Zoar Baptist Church, complete with a historical marker explaining the history of the parish as well as an adjacent cemetery. Along one of the four streets in town, we passed an odd-shaped building with a stone marker in front indicating that the site had been the location of the Jonesboro courthouse from 1831-1839. At some point after this, the county seat moved to Arrow Rock and the town was named Napton. Seeing this marker, and another more crude wooden signpost indicating the same, revealed a piece of history previously unbeknownst to us.
The road bounced through the rolling countryside to the town of Nelson. The water tower standing as a sentinel over the town, Nelson was pleasantly dull. A sharp curve as we drove into town passed by a vivid robin’s egg blue colored house. Functional businesses such as the city hall and post office could be found on the main street.
A few miles away, a dramatically different town even smaller than Nelson awaited us. The historic town of Blackwater, with a wide one-block main street and parking down the middle, offered a vast array of shops. Several of them were still open or gearing up for the weekend’s May Fest antique fair. I’d been to Blackwater once before when I was passing through on a drive back to the east coast, but it had since embellished its storefronts and caliber of offerings. We didn’t have time to shop, but it was a welcome sight after passing through small towns that were relatively nondescript. On our way out, we passed a decorative wooden mushroom, clearly hand-painted and possibly for sale at one of the shops in town.
Finally we found the Days Inn at Boonville, checked-in and had a few moments to rest before heading north to Fayette for dinner at Cousin Ginny’s. I found myself driving through Boonville and New Franklin for the second time in a month’s time, as I’d passed through here on my drive from Columbia to Saint Marys. Fayette was a cute town, complete with a stunning white courthouse in the town square. Ginny’s place was pretty easy to find. It was nearly in the country, although technically still within the city limits. When we arrived, we were greeted by her and her daughter Mary Ann. What a warm welcome!
We all sat down to a homemade dinner of pork roast, mixed vegetables, potato casserole (with cornflake crust on top) and dinner rolls. For dessert we had cake and ice cream. We talked for several hours while we watched the day turn into night. The idyllic view from her back porch revealed verdant pasture, a small pond and grazing brown and white horses. A myriad of crickets and other nocturnal insects provided the symphonic soundtrack to our conversation. Ginny beckoned us to come to the front porch to see the full moon over the neighbor’s field. Indeed it was bright and whole, illuminating the landscape in hues of silver.
We were bushed, so we left around 9:30 to drive the 15 miles back to the motel. As we pulled out of Ginny’s driveway, critters scurried to and fro to escape the onslaught of our car’s tires. We made plans to meet up and go for brunch in the mid-morning, although Mary Ann had to work and wouldn’t be able to join us. It was an easy drive and soon we were back in the motel room, flipping through the television channels and getting ready to crash after a long day. I wasn’t sure what the next day would bring, but there were plenty of nearby options and the weather was forecast to be beautiful.
Note: this content was originally posted on my old Blogger site “The Nystagmus Zone, Volume 3.”