In the last five years two movies about Missouri have enticed me to the theaters—“Jesus Camp,” a few years back, which takes place around Lee’s Summit and Kansas City; and now “Winter’s Bone,” which was filmed outside Branson, not far from when my dad lives.
“Jesus Camp,” of course, was two hours of religious fanatics speaking in tongue and home schooling their children. The group of friends which accompanied me to the theater shook their heads as the lights turned back up and told me they “couldn’t imagine” how I’d grown up in such a place.
My response? “I didn’t.”
Missouri isn’t big—not nearly as large as say, California, where I’ve lived until recently. But it has never ceased to amaze me that it’s believable that California might be filled with republicans and hippies, surfers and scholars, citrus groves and vineyards—but Missouri must just be cows, Jesus and Budweiser.
“Winter’s Bone,” too, while tragically beautiful and stark, opens with an unpainted wooden house and a trampoline in the front yard. There’s a fire burning in an old metal trashcan and they eat deer stew.
Truth be told, while I’ve never had venison stew, I’ve certainly had jerky, and, my family never allowed us a trampoline—but if they had, I like to think we’d have put it in the back yard. But, I certainly knew more of the rural poor in the Midwest (that’s right—not the south, the Midwest) than the type that spoke in tongues (the one family I do remember of this sort seemed strange even to six year-old me. After one birthday sleepover with no cable, religious-themed board games and that creepy 80’s movie, “Legend” played as a suitable, heaven and hell flick for first graders battling with themselves over good and evil; I was quick to inform my mother I would not be going back to Christa’s house ever again when she picked me up Saturday morning).
I’m not saying evangelical Christians and meth labs don’t exist in Missouri. I’m not even saying they’re not prominent, but I am saying it’s an entire state and not every kid that grows up there has the same experiences. I did know a girl who raised her own cow to buy herself a car. I knew another that kept a chamber pot in the corner of her farmhouse bedroom because it was too cold on winter nights once the fires went out to walk downstairs—but I also knew a girl with a private airplane, and nearly everyone I knew well in high school or college is in Chicago or New York now…but I guess very few stayed in Missouri.