Bread Crumbs

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The small town. How can it be that a small town is the topic of conversation wherever I go? It inevitably comes up when questions get asked, so can it be that I wear it on my sleeve for those who don’t know me to see? I know it’s assumed that any small town has a deep effect on those who live there. Childhoods are formed, friends are made and memories carried forever – and even I’m guilty of stretching the truth when it comes to how really small this town is and how slow-paced life can be. I’ve never thrown a rock from one end to the other, but c’mon, is it really the town that gives us this deep down feeling of Mayberry?

I’ve been thinking about this for the past week or so, and I’ve come to some sort of conclusion; there is something about the gravel on the streets and the red bricks making up the main drag through town. That feeling you get on a Sunday driving down main street when there are no cars parked along the curb, and not one soul in sight. The quiet of the country as it creeps into the city limits around dark, and the sound of a breeze blowing the cheers from the football field on game night. But wait, it’s more than that. It’s the people. It’s those within the community that can have a lasting impression on a small town guy like me. Over the years there have been many – and for you the list maybe different from mine – but just like the bigger cities where it’s bumper to bumper or elbow to elbow, it’s the people who rub off on you. Slow down, take a breath and stay awhile.

I can remember Harold Anderson sweeping the floor of the lumber yard at closing time. He always sprinkled a green floor-sweep all over the floor to put some oil back into the wood, and that always impressed me. You could always find Keith Lee somewhere in town standing waist-deep in a ditch digging up a water line with a big smile on his face. Keith Kahnt, Jim Barber and Lacy and John Mahon; Buck Sangwin, Butch Krause, John Kohler, Perry Moore and Vernon Rose were also right there in town every day touching the lives of those in White City. Frank Nelson and his son Frankie, Fay Comp, Herb Nuemeyer, Bill Calvin, Kenny Ingmire, Don Sanford, Bob Roberts and the list goes on and on. Let’s not forget those school teachers who helped shape the community with their time and efforts; Leland and Mary Lawrenz, Mary and Nancy Laudeman, Mr. Otis, Mr. Haun and Mrs. North. Sybil Effland, LeAnn Hickman, Don and Karen Harmison, Peggy Stenstrom and Harry Granzow among others. It would be very hard to name everyone and it would be easier to just pick up the phone book and open it. So many people in and around White City have made this community what it is and Joann Kahnt has had a big part in keeping our memories alive – by taking and recording photographs for our kids to see what we all used to look like when we were their age. It doesn’t seem like it now, but in a few years we will come to appreciate her hard work.

The shift changes every decade or so with those who pass the responsibilities they’ve held on to someone else. This small town has a way of letting you go out and find your way in life, but leaving a trail of bread crumbs so you know your way home. There will always be a familiar face somewhere and a smile and laugh to take with you when you go. As I said, your list may be different. For me and my memories, this is just a short list of those who had a hand in them. Some of these good folks are still with us, and some have gone to a better place, but if you stand in front of the community building around dusk, I swear you can see them rolling up the sidewalks on main street.

 

 

 

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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.

Old Friends and Home

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I can still hear the laughter from my friends as we hung out on main street in White City. Standing in front of the pool hall watching the same cars pass by, as we talked about what we should be doing or where we should be going. Back and forth, cruising the four blocks of that red brick street, making endless U-turns and unconscious waves to the cars we passed in opposite directions. That was our independence. The football field lights still shining bright after a home game and everyone is uptown hanging out, happy for a win, or bummed from a loss. We all knew each other, and growing up together in a small town was what you did. Voices still echo from those sidewalks as cars pass by, heading nowhere, waiting for the clock on the City building to let me know I was going to be late getting her home.

Those years can be looked upon as “the good times” and even though they were good times, we had no idea that the best years of our lives were yet to come. You could see all four blocks of that street and you knew that a U-turn was going to bring you right back. Those that had the courage to not turn around at the locker plant knew how it felt to return on those special occasions to find the front yard beneath their feet was still there, reassuring them they were home. Walking past the boot scraper, up those concrete steps and into the kitchen, remembering the smells that somehow still linger as the door opens to rooms full of memories. Photos are taken, hugs are given and small talk is made, then it’s back to the world that pulled them away.

I still hear the laughter of those friends, but now it’s through the words they type in texts or emails – I swear I can hear their voice in the words I read. Their smiles are the same and their laughs haven’t changed at all. Even though kids don’t turn around on the main drag in town anymore, it doesn’t mean the world stopped turning around. Friends that left still come back for graduations, weddings, reunions and funerals, so we get a quick word, a handshake or hug and then it’s goodbye…for now, only to return another day.

There are a lot of miles on that old main street, and there are a lot of miles between old friends and home. I miss those days when we were close enough to say it in person, even if it was just a two finger wave from your hand on the steering wheel. Maybe someday I’ll know what it’s like to not turn around at the locker plant.

City Limits

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Walk down any main street in any small town and you can feel it. The slower you walk, the stronger the feeling through the soles of your shoes. A vibration of days gone by and a sense of those that walked the same sidewalk many, many years ago. Taking the time to look through store-front windows and see the product of a day-to-day business that serves the community even though it doesn’t make a profit. Built from a sense of pride and to fill a need, only to be cannibalized by a larger community off in the distance. The inevitable happens and the bright lights inside become a dim memory. Bigger and faster takes the place of carrying your sacks to the car for you. A screen door is not as fancy as those automatic kind and I guess since no one in those big cities holds the door open for you, the doors do it themselves.

Character is established in both architecture and ancestry and we live the life of a small community and we carry on the life of how we were raised.

Small is as small does, and the personal touch is knowing your name and asking “how you are doing” and meaning it. We hear it so often without sincerity that when it is asked by someone you know, you know they mean it. Main streets have sincerity. It is built into every small town I’ve been through, and you can’t tear it down and modernize it. It’s engrained in the wooden floors and door hinges and when the door swings open, it makes the sound of “welcome home.” You can’t make it bigger or shinier without making it cold and dull. Small towns have that warm feeling of porch lights and a wave to your neighbor, and a stoplight doesn’t give off the same glow as a small town street light. Convenience is a state of mind and its definition isn’t in the dictionary. Small towns are a way of life and at any time you are just a block or two away from being out-of-town where culverts and silos take the place of curbs and steps.

Like an old barn that on the outside appears to be weathered and worn, the small communities wear it like the patina people so desire on antiques and collectibles. They have a feeling of used – not used up, cared for and precious and a link to times past. You know, when life was good and times were simple. Life is still good and it’s only as simple as you make it. Character is established in both architecture and ancestry and we live the life of a small community and we carry on the life of how we were raised. That, my friends, can be found between the city limits signs of White City.

Home by Midnight

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I know since the 1970’s things have changed, but really some things never change. I still live in the same small town, and I don’t really feel different different, so I suppose from the outside looking into my life some would think the opposite. Being a teenager in this mile-long town didn’t require much effort at all. I knew everyone and everyone knew me, so as in many small towns, the news of what you did usually beat you home. For the most part, everyone just got along and we grew up without much drama.

Saturday nights were predictable as you would either have a date or maybe you would just hang out with all your friends in front of the pool hall. Four blocks of Main Street kept the cars cruising back and forth and even though you passed Russ or Richard or any one of your classmates or friends out cruising, you would still give the “country wave.” There was usually a crowd in town on those Saturday nights, and after everyone had gone to the movies or out to eat we would always end up back on Main Street in White City going up and down that brick four blocks. You didn’t want to miss anything so you kept an eye on where everyone was and without the luxury of cell phones, we actually talked face to face with one another-or waved. Go figure…

Once in a while we would head out East to the edge of town and make a U-turn far from those pesky street lights of main. There was a stop sign there and as you turned around you could see my house. That house still stands and it brings me back to a time when life was moving at a slower pace-you know like cruising four blocks in my Dodge Charger and making endless U-turns, your girlfriend by your side listening to Chicago on the 8-track.

But it has to end sometime and she needs to be home at midnight, so using the old math problem “if one train leaves the station at 3:15 traveling at 60 m.p.h. and a second train leaves the station at 4:20…” we hurry back to her house to stay in good graces with her folks. Remember, we need to be able to go out next Saturday night and getting grounded puts a damper on things. We pull into the drive, shut the car off and kiss goodnight, just waiting for the porch light to flash on and off indicating the evening is over, or that my watch was wrong. Just one more minute and one more kiss. It was hard to let go of her to say goodnight even though I knew I would always see her again. I hated the drive home alone but it was always a good night. Sunday, with a little bit of luck, I could find myself at her place to share the afternoon.

Looking back at those days I realize this small town made me the guy I am today. I still do the “country wave” when a car passes by me, whether I know who it is or not, and Saturday nights aren’t quite as exciting as they used to be. I wish I still had that Charger and who knows where it might be. But whoever has it must know that every four blocks that Charger travels it wants to turn around. Some things never change.

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.