Over the New Year’s holiday, I had the pleasure of spending my anniversary with my wife in New Orleans with a quick trip down to the warmer weather of Mexico, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman. I’ve made a trip to the Caribbean a half a dozen times or so in my life at various times of the year. And with every trip, I often meet people who are from or have traveled through Southwest Missouri. This trip was no different.

At breakfast, I noticed a young boy wearing a Mizzou hat. While I’ve never followed college ball much, my sister is a Mizzou alum and in her second year of medical school there. And being from Missouri, I felt comfortable leaning over and saying “I like your hat.” He smiled and his mother quickly asked “Are you from Missouri?” I said I was and we began to talk. It was no great surprise to find out she and her family were from Kansas City. And during conversation, I discovered she was an executive with the Kansas City Southern Railroad (KCS). When I told her I was from Neosho, it was obvious she knew where that was. For the next hour or so, we had some interesting discussions about the KCS and its future in Mexico. She certain knew her stuff when it came to railroads and freight – in particular the movement of shipping containers from Asia. I got her card and I’m sure we will talk again!

Two days later, I meant a man stationed in Fort Leavenworth. He was serving his 18th year in the Army and was an officer on board an M1A1 tank. He had recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan and had traveled the world with his wife as a diver. We made two dives together in Grand Cayman and spend our surface time talking about the war and how America is perceived in Afghanistan. I wasn’t surprised to find that some like us and some hate us — such is life everywhere. But he was certainly proud (rightfully so) of what he was doing and was fiercely dedicated to protecting the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. And given the tattoos he had, one of which covered her entire chest, it was obvious he was willing to die protecting his country. Oh, I forgot to mention, he makes a number of trips down I-49 past Neosho on his way to Beaver Lake each year and he plans to be there this summer for his youngest son to get his dive certification.  

Finally, on our last night, I met a young couple from the former Soviet Union. They were from an area northwest of China near Mongolia. They were Muslim, although he was quick to tell me they “weren’t like the Arab Muslims.” He had met his wife while doing an internship in Egypt. They had also traveled to Israel and Palestine. And before taking jobs in the Caribbean, they had been serving on an American post in Afghanistan selling electronics in the AAFES store (the Walmart of military bases.) This kid certainly had a future. I asked him how American’s were viewed in his country (not knowing how strong the cold-war mentality was in those too young to remember it.) He said, “we are all human and we are all the same.” He said he can tell Americans by their dress (versus Europeans and Russians) and he liked them. But what he said next surprised me a bit. He said “Americans are very proud of their country.” I agreed. He asked where I was from. He knew were Missouri was. He said “Oh, big tornado in…in…” I said Joplin. He smiled and said “Yes!  Obama go there!” Even though he was from a country far from us, he certainly kept up on the news!

It still amazes me how often I meet people during my travels. I can be hundreds or thousands of miles from home and still talk with people who know about Neosho and Southwest Missouri. And oftentimes we have something in common that allows us to strike up a conversation just like I would at home. We live in a great town, in a great state in the middle of a great nation. And while I love traveling and seeing the world, nothing makes me happier than coming home to good ol’ Neosho, Mo.!

I hope 2014 has started well for you! While I’m getting homesick, I’m not upset that I missed the last cold snap earlier this week. And while I look forward to being back in my bed tomorrow, I certainly will miss waking up to 78-degree morning breezes with the curtains blowing in the wind! I’m showing 28 degrees at home. Burr!

Until next time: Stay the course, keep the faith, and may God bless Neosho!

Richard Davidson is mayor of the city of Neosho.