Greener Grass

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It’s easy to find that old road home. Sometimes it can be automatic and effortless finding your way here and other times it can be a road no one wants to travel. Why is it easy to find the road home when the road out-of-town is so difficult to locate? It can’t be those roots around your feet holding you down as so many before you have proven it possible to cut loose and make a run for it. Look around – there are plenty of family and friends who have broken free and found the escape route from their hometowns to find greener and brighter places to reside. There must be a brick for every one of those who left, making up the cobblestone four blocks of our main street. Countless bricks – a quiet reminder that it is possible to call somewhere else home.

Why is it easy to find the road home when the road out-of-town is so difficult to locate?

Not everyone wants to stay behind. The quiet of a small town can make your ears bleed, and it’s often the invisible expectations we place upon ourselves which keep the porch light on at night. Is it a fear of the unknown or the lack of confidence in myself that keeps me here? Is the grass under my feet greener than that which grows down the road? Or is it me that makes the grass greener wherever I’m standing… Great questions with answers yet to be determined.

I know for some it’s a race to get beyond the railroad tracks. Life begins when the cake is cut at the high school after-graduation party, and then it’s off to who knows where to start who knows what. We’re young and excited and we want to see what we’re capable of. We want to make our mark in this world and this small town is standing in our way! The grip of any one-horse town is no match to college, work and distant dreams and besides, who’s going to notice when I’m gone?

We go about our business of living while planting our own roots so the family we raise has a place to call home. We water the grass to keep it green thinking that’s all it takes to keep them here, only to have them hatch the same escape plan we had when it’s time to leave the nest. Some leave the small town life and come back while others leave and never look back. There are those that never leave but always wish they had and there are a few that are completely content to living their life on gravel. There is a reason the end of the rainbow is always off in the distance. That elusive pot of gold which lies at the other end is actually our family and friends who have had the courage to move away. But remember, there are always two ends to a rainbow, even though you may not always see it. Does that mean there are two pots of gold?

So whether you are running from your past, chasing fame and fortune or love, one thing is for sure – you will either be leaving the comfort of your hometown in your pursuits or you will be coming back to a porch light left on. The direction you travel is dependent upon where your grass was planted or where this rainbow ends.

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Snapshot

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The weirdest thing happened to me this morning. I was thinking about the start of the day and I started thinking of small bits of time throughout my life. Just things I remember about growing up. Like a birthday party in the yard or sitting on the back steps of the house with my BB gun. Or coming out of the walk-out basement door. You know the kind where you have to reach up and open it while you were walking up the stairs.  And the old metal shed on the other side of the driveway. It wasn’t used much and seemed real big at the time, but really it wasn’t. The feeling I had at night walking from the barn back to the house and having the urge to run. So many things that came to me like old Polaroid pictures that had to be shaken before you could see them. All are clear as a bell unlike the same old pictures from back then. Welcome to digital.

It’s funny how a mulberry tree in the back yard brings back some old memories or the fact that we raised bird dogs on the side of the barn that was located next to the same tree. English Setters and there were a lot of them. But what fun it was to be tackled to the ground like I had a pheasant in my pants. I’m a pretty likable guy, and it is apparent that is also true in the dog world. Or is it I smell remarkably like a bird?

But what fun it was to be tackled to the ground like I had a pheasant in my pants. I’m a pretty likable guy, and it is apparent that is also true in the dog world. Or is it I smell remarkably like a bird?

Even some of the “snapshots” I could see in my mind were of real pictures that were taken. The first day of school with me and my brother Danny standing next to our bicycles in the front yard. Sun in our faces, and our best plaid shirts on. Thinking about this makes me realize that my mother was standing there taking it as we were squinting and looked less than happy. I actually remember the picture but not my mother taking it. Weird. It had to have been around 1974 and even though we weren’t happy about it, I’m sure mom was ecstatic! After all it was probably a long summer of the screen door getting a work out, sewing patches in jeans and hearing “I’m hungry!”

I know we all have experienced something specific from the back of our minds that takes us to that very moment. It could be anything and anyone we’ve come across that sparks this feeling. I’m not sure what mine was today, but there is something nice about it. It is usually all good and it never fails to make me laugh. I hope today is a day that I can look back on and smile. Hopefully the “picture” in my mind will still be clear as a bell!

Rubber Bones

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When did I grow up? To be honest, I really don’t think I have. Certain things have changed as I grow older, like not coming home with holes in the knees of my jeans. Remember when your mom would sew patches in the holes in your clothes? I do. Do you remember when they came out with “iron-on” patches and they didn’t seem to work as well? I do. Now we pay money for clothes with holes and tears in them and my mother just shakes her head. If by chance we do put those holes or tears in them we throw them away. Do you ever wonder where retailers get those clothes that are pre-abused? Is there a department somewhere with people of all sizes (s-xxl) that are just out playing for days on end like we did as kids to get the right look in the jeans we want? I want that job!

 Even grand-daddy long-leg spiders were huge back then! Now they seem more like distant-uncle long-legs.

I do remember a lot from growing up that doesn’t have much to do with the actual event, but are still good memories. Like the wooden screen door that made the “bang….bang, bang!” sound as you ran through it. Shortly followed by the sound of “don’t run in the house!”. And of course we were on our way outside to search and explore everywhere. To find a weird bug, toad or an ant hill to watch until we got bored with it. Or after a rain, to stand in the water running through the ditch, all the while throwing sticks and leaves or the occasional weird bug in the water to watch them go to wherever they would go. Nowadays, we watch The Discovery Channel to see the exact same thing. Even grand-daddy long-leg spiders were huge back then! Now they seem more like distant-uncle long-legs. Just not the same, right? As kids we could smell mud from a hundred yards away and as if in a trance, we would run to it like we were lost in the desert and just found water. If every crime scene included mud, a kid could solve the mystery. If nothing else, we could bring the crime scene home on our clothes. One thing is for sure, we didn’t leave one stone un-turned. In fact, we didn’t leave one stone where it was. We threw them as far and as hard as we could. All day.

Once in a while we would dig a hole just to dig. It would start out looking for worms and turn into some archeological find. A broken piece of glass or piece of metal that held all the answers to questions our young minds didn’t even know to ask. But it was history we held in our hands. Now we watch The History Channel…

When did we stop climbing trees? It was easy and fun and while you were up there you could see forever. Or as far as the leaves would let you. We would spend hours up in a tree just looking around and waiting for someone to come along looking for us. When we needed to get down you just swung on a branch and then jumped. I guess back then kids had rubber bones, because today would yield different results. And yelling! When did we stop yelling at the top of our lungs for no reason? We communicated with Todd or Alex and Evan who lived in Green Acres by yelling back and forth. Sadly, today you would be told to shut up.

Whatever happened to just coming home sweaty, tired and dirty all in the name of having fun? I can still see the cloud of dust when I took off my socks. Scrapes covered with a days worth of dirt and sweat would heal I know, but back then it took longer because we wouldn’t leave the scab alone. Blisters from riding a bike with no hand-grips or from swinging from the monkey bars at the grade school hurt for sure, but it didn’t slow us down. We were balls-to-the-wall, who could ride or run the fastest, drink from the hose kids. Now, as an adult I still do some of the things I did back then, like drinking from the hose and yelling. And I still find weird bugs pretty entertaining. Running fast? Oh, I could if I had to. Climbing trees? That would cause the neighbors to call the cops. But it hasn’t stopped me from wanting to, and deep down I think it’s something we all want to do. Just make sure you have a spotter when you jump out of the tree!

White City, Ks. 66872

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Driving down the old brick main street of White City, it dawned on me how much everything has changed. As a kid growing up here there was so much going on in a town where not much goes on. The pace is slow and the town is small, but when you’re a kid in the 60’s and ’70’s all you had to do was ride your bike down the sidewalks past Anderson Lumber and Hardware where my mother worked part-time. You could walk in and buy a Daisy BB gun right off the wall behind the counter. I wish I would have paid a little more attention to my mother while she was working. Funny and graceful I’m sure, but I would like to go back in time and see her in action. She is still very funny, but age and health has taken the grace from her step.

On the same side of the street was the White City Register. The local and surrounding newspaper, where Lacey Mahon did it the old school way. I can’t imagine what it took to do a weekly paper but he and his son John did a great job. My sister Jan worked there part-time and I’m sure at a time in her life that carries a lot of memories, she will smile when reminded of this.  Next door to the newspaper office was the KP&L office and the Phelps Agency. Clarence Phelps sold insurance and it wasn’t a building I needed to walk into much as a young boy but I did on occasion. But mostly I remember the air conditioner that was above the door that dripped down outside on the sidewalk. Being a kid on a bicycle you tend to notice that kind of thing.

On the corner was Herb Funk’s Vicker’s Station. Herb had the air lines out across the driveway and we couldn’t resist every once in a while to ride across and make the bell ring. An old Pepsi chest vending machine and two old chairs inside for the regulars to sit on, the place was small enough that you had to step outside to change your mind.

On the next block was the laundry mat where many a day was wasted sitting outside on the steps. Not much to report here mostly because there never was much going on. It was a laundry mat for crying out loud! Next door was a church and Kohler T.V. and Appliance. John was a very public guy and was the Mayor for many years. I can remember riding by and looking in the windows at all the inventory. If memory serves me correctly, my folks bought our first color T.V. there. The RCA that changed the way we watched Gilligan’s Island and Big Valley. Amazing.

A little further down was a phone booth where a call could be made for ten cents. Or you could dial home and hang up when you needed a ride, without putting a dime in. You could hear the person who answered but they couldn’t hear you, so you would often hear from the other end of the line when calling from there or from the payphone at the high school “is this Jeff?” “If you need a ride home, hang up”. What a world we lived in back then…

The Jones’ had a clothing shop and there was a barber shop next door to it. Erichson had the pool hall and Perry Moore had one of the two grocery stores. I spent a lot of time in both the pool hall and the grocery store. Pool tables and pinball machines along with some locals playing dominos was a way to spend a few hours on a summer day between mowing yards. And Moore’s Market was a place to pick up a few things for my mother and have Perry “put it on the ticket”. Great to be a kid in a small town.

On the other side of the street was the Standard Gas Station and Spohn’s Repair Shop. Ash’s Repair shop was just a door or two down from Spohn’s and Buck’s Service station. Again not someplace a kid needed to go but it always seemed there was a lot going on there. The Post Office and Ken and Barb’s Cafe was next door to them. Ken and Barb’s was a neat place to go and how I wish we still had a Cafe or Diner like that. Ken and Barb did a great job. Vernon Rose had the other grocery store and it too was a cool place to walk into as a kid. Vernon’s Market was in the biggest building in White City and to this day is still a pretty neat old building. Like all of the business owners in town, Vernon was a good guy.

The White City Bank where Boone Scott took care of all my mowing money is on the corner across from Vernon’s Market. Can you remember a time when a bank didn’t have an ATM or drive-up window? I do. There was a Masonic Lodge, a bar called “Walt’s” and a farm implement dealer that was owned by Russell Brown. Did you blink? All of these and a few more business’s were located within the two blocks of main street. Since those days there have been many more people involved in the local business’s like Christlieb’s, Parker’s, Guimond’s, Fielder’s, Wood’s and Debbie Blythe. Bill Hickman and both Keith and Joann Kahnt, Rusty Rice and Ingmire’s to name a few. Lee’s Plumbing and Jamie Schmidt with Town and Country Beauty Shop and Alan Scott with The Katy Grill. I know I haven’t named them all and believe me there are more. Bill Calvin was a local welder, Bill Hare worked on small engines behind Vernon’s Grocery, the Mor-Kan Elevator, Barber and Son Construction, Junior Hultgren moving houses, Robert’s also owned a gas station, Keith Barber had the pool hall, Wayne Hultgren still has a repair shop and Frankie Nelson runs the library. Leo Hultgren sold Ohlde seed and Dale Scott with his NC+.

Life in the fast lane I know, but you had to be there to understand the impact all of these business’s and great people had on the community. They managed to provide and thrive in a small town and keep it all wrapped up in a town of about five hundred. You didn’t need to leave town for anything and I would give anything to have that back. But the amazing part of this is we still have the “small town” thing going on. That’s why in my mind, I can still drive down Main Street and see the drip from the air conditioner at Phelps Agency.

The Dip in the Road

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Ah, the small town life. Not too exciting but every once in a while, there will be something that happens and we all take note. Back when the Council Grove Drive-in was open it was not uncommon to go to the movies with six or more of your friends. It was cheaper that way as you could pay by the car load instead of by the head. Now I don’t know about you but it only made sense to do it that way. It was like the box store philosophy of the more you buy the more you save! But sometimes you just wanted to go with your date and it was worth a little more for that. In what day and age would it be acceptable to have bodies in the trunk of your car except to go to the drive-in? Today, you would go to jail…

 In what day and age would it be acceptable to have bodies in the trunk of your car except to go to the drive-in? Today, you would go to jail…

For those of you that grew up in similar communities, you also had those places you hung out at. In White City, we had the “Y”, which was just a mile North of town where there was a fork in the road at the rail road crossing. We would hang out here when you just needed to get away from all those “city lights”. All ten of them.  There was the church parking lot, right on Main Street, where you could sit and watch everyone cruising the four blocks of Main to the point of nauseum. We also had the “dip road” South of town about a mile which as you can imagine was a road with a dip in it. It was a dirt road, and a great place to go out and drink beer with you friends and not have to worry about much. The mixing strip, the Parkerville bridge, Effland’s hill, Blythe’s hill and the cemetery were some of the places you could just name and everyone knew where you were talking about. Burton’s grove, the “crooked bridge” and Maloney’s pond were a few more that should be mentioned for the record, and all were just a few minutes from the city limits.

Things were different back then as we didn’t have cell phones or cable TV. But some had CB radio’s and of course a  few calls to “Red Dog”  which would quickly be answered, and the evening would be off to a great start. We miss you Earl! It was a simple time with 8-tracks and vinyl seats, windows down and waving at the car coming down the road from the opposite direction. Making u-turns at the locker plant and then again at the old depot. Then a run out to the mixing strip, turn around and back to town. Repeat. That was a Saturday night in White City. Stop at the pool hall for something to drink and to show someone who didn’t know any better, how air was blowing up from the bar stool stands. Yep! Lift the stool off its stand, have them place their hand over the hole to feel the air, then slap the back of their hand down into the grease and leave a circle of grease in their palm. Good Times. Even a local guy like me has had the old grease trick done a time or two. You never knew, maybe the second time there WOULD be air coming out of it.  But we didn’t care, it was just a good time to be hanging out with friends in a small town.

I wouldn’t change a day of it. It is who I am and probably always will be. Kid’s don’t cruise much anymore and the pool hall and locker plant are closed. Those of us that remember, still refer to the landmarks by their old names. Mainly because Effland’s and the Blythe’s still live out there and the Parkerville bridge is still, well…how you get to Parkerville. So next time you pass through any old town that looks like it has seen it’s better days just remember, somethings you can’t see.

The Price We Paid in the ’70s

As a teenager in the ’70s I was completely distracted by girls and motorcycles. If I only knew then what I know now, I would be in better shape with both motorcycles and women in general. You see, some of the motorcycles I owned back then have become new again. Highly desirable and worth more money than originally priced. Examples include, Honda 305 Scrambler,  1975 Yamaha DT175, Harley-Davidson X90, 1976 Husky 175, a Yamaha TY250 Trials and the list goes on and on. Sometimes, even in the moment, we are aware we should hold on to something with everything we have knowing we may never get them back. I know now I was never thinking they would be worth more than what I had invested, but living in the moment has its price. And I paid that price in full.

I was a child of that era and it goes beyond just motorcycles and girls. Cars and trucks came and went just as easy. 1966 Plymouth Fury, 1970 Dodge Charger, 1972 Dodge Charger, 1956 Ford truck, 1961 Ford truck Uni-body, 1949 Chevy truck, 1967 Chevy short-wide bed truck…see the trend? What was I thinking? But you have to remember, to me, cars and bikes were just a moment in time. Girls on the other hand were different. Like hair styles and bell bottoms. High School and dating. Transportation and recreation. Buy and sell or trade. Some were great deals and others were, well… not so great.

Even the Levi’s I was wearing back then are worth money! Say what? Yes, and in high demand. I’m not sure the pea green or sky blue leisure suites my mom made for me with her McCall’s Patterns would be worth much now, but who knows? Stranger things are happening. Some people save things from their past with hopes of it being worth something, but when it comes time to actually sell said things, they can’t part with them. They have a name for that. Hoarding.

As much as I appreciate the beauty of the Honda 305 Scrambler or the ’70 Dodge Charger, I can truly say that I am so much happier having owned and enjoyed them without the worry of damaging them or decreasing their value in some way. We rode hard and drove hard back then because we were living life. 8-track music blaring through cheap speakers or our Levi’s bell bottom pant leg chewed up from the chain of our motorcycles. It didn’t matter because we had a date that night!

It’s Seasonal

As September hits I’m reminded of many things. Mostly, riding in the fall and how the summer days felt when it was unbearably hot. Looking back now those hot days seem like they were tolerable. School for everyone is in session, and growing up in a small town it’s classified as a big event. One particular hot day in August, on the first day of school, I wore a shirt that I was sure would be my favorite. A typical August day, in a school without air conditioning could suffocate a horse. But even your soon to be favorite shirt (that happens to be flannel) can become a sweat shirt in this heat. Really Mom? Sending your kid to school in a flannel shirt? I’m sure it was my decision and I fought her every step of the way until she caved in. Chalk it up to learning the hard way. To this day, every time I put on a flannel shirt I think about this. In the seventies there was no such thing as a “heat day” where kids got out of school because it was too hot. Instead, every day was “suck it up” day. So I did.

It’s a wonder how fast the seasons can change when we are lost in our day-to-day lives. Go to work, come home, ride a little and repeat. All the while trying to do the things required of me around the house. Before you know it the weather is changing and the days are getting shorter. I keep telling myself that it’s only a few short months until Spring and we’ll be fine. But hold on, I still have some riding to do and believe me the chores aren’t done. In any case I will ride this winter as I do every year, but as far as everything else…

Every season has its advantages and disadvantages and some seasons we like more than others. But when it comes to hot or cold or dry versus wet it’s all good. Just remember, it’s all temporary and it’s just a few short months until it all changes again. Apparently as a Freshman in high school on the first day of class, I lacked the depth and knowledge of both fashion and common sense. I made it through the day none the worse for wear and with a valuable lesson as my reward. After all, I was a Freshman and you can’t expect anything more from me. Just ask my mother!