Looking Back

The old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same” works most of the time but lets face it, change is change. This bridge is about two and a half miles from White City and I’ve taken my motorcycles here spanning the last 16 years or so because of the cool backdrop the bridge provided. But time marches on, infrastructure needs improving and old country bridges need some lovin’ too. To me this old bridge wasn’t bothering anyone but that’s just me being selfish.

Growing up in White City Kansas, there are many places where the past is still very present. Old buildings and houses, some abandoned, a brick street running through the heart of town, an old water tower most recently repainted and a whisper of the sound of a town once thriving. Don’t get me wrong, there is life in this town of mine but you have to know where to look. White City isn’t immune to progress, after all we have seen such progress in our city streets, Co-op, school and those entrepreneurs keeping their businesses going. It’s a great place to have grown up. But, back to this old bridge.

The first time I traveled out the bridge only to see trees had been removed and construction was under way, I was a little shocked. Word travels fast around these parts and I hadn’t heard anything about the bridge being replaced. I’m not sure the county owed me a phone call, but the surprise of what I saw left me a little sad. This was a great spot to ride out to and stop, kick rocks off the edge and listen to the water pass underneath. Once in awhile there would be fresh graffiti painted on the supports giving you, at minimum, the year of the graduating class, give or take a year or more, and maybe the status in relationships tagged with a heart. A place where feelings were expressed, good or bad, with a can of spray paint. As the construction progressed, the scene turned into an unstoppable step forward.

The small town guy in me will miss this bridge for many reasons. Just like the memories of growing up in a town at a time when every storefront had a business, the constant cruising down the street on Saturday night and being home at midnight was a thing. The motorcyclist in me will miss it for a peaceful destination and appreciation for it’s service to the county. Oh, and for a backdrop for pictures.

There are plenty of places like this – old and interesting – that would make a fine place to picture my motorcycles, but this place was special. I’ve grown up in this area and watched the landscape change around me, yet it basically stays the same. You only need to know where to look.

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.

A Day in the Life

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Walking down the halls of either the White City grade school or high school brings back plenty of memories. Not only was the grade school big for a small town, there were plenty of steps to keep Mr. Otis or Mr. Haun happy with our physical fitness. A small gymnasium was the focal point of a lot of activities like recess when the weather was bad, basketball practice when the big gym in the high school was in use, but it also served as a lunch room, and a place for prom to be held each year. How many times did I sit there in class smelling the lunch that I was about to eat? Plenty. And what about a milk break in the morning? Why yes, thank you. We spent a big part of our lives going up and down those stairs, from class to recess to lunch and back. How many times and how many steps? We’ll figure that out someday in math class.

Worrell’s house on the corner, which by the way is no longer there, took up some of the play ground, and next to their house was a make-shift baseball diamond where I broke my ankle in sixth grade. School was almost out for the summer in 1974 and now I had a broken ankle. Who knew that in a month I would have my first motorcycle and no way to ride it? Bummer. I think it was Stan and Ron, or maybe it was Rusty and Steve that carried me from the East side of the school property, past the wind-break/walkway that separated the high school and grade school buildings to the office. My mother was called to take me to the hospital, while some of my classmates told me to quit showing off in front of the girls! Whether or not that’s what was said, that’s what I heard. If you know my mother, she drove the speed limit to Junction City getting me to the hospital, all the while, with my leg crossed and my foot dangling. Good times.

We often think about those days when school was anything but fun, but it is a compilation of the good times and bad that makes the experience what it was. Worrying about homework or a test the next day wasn’t very productive and as we all know as adults, worrying about the small stuff still isn’t productive, but it’s in our nature. When our kids are going through school, we often worry about homework, tests and grades more than they do. But we all got through it. Some better than others, but that doesn’t take away anything from those that received less from the experience than some. We all have our own personal experiences and memories of those days and it takes getting older to put it all in perspective. Maybe that should be a class; “Perspectivism: A guide to putting it all together to figure it out.”

If you sit and think about all the bus trips, field trips, games (home and away), and where Mr. Albrecht took us in band, and how it all comes together with so many students and teachers trying to achieve the same goals, it’s amazing we accomplished it at all. Being an average student, using humor to mask a lot of insecurities deep inside that full head of hair I had at the time, I look back and wish that the guy I am today could have told the kid I was back then to relax and be yourself. Comparing now to back-then isn’t fair for me but that is how it is. We grow up and realize who we are and even though we feel we haven’t changed, we did – even if just a little. We find that strength inside and we become who we really are, even though it was there all along.

What seemed like an eternity to get through school, I look back and realize, just like today, the years fly by. Thanks to all of those that had a hand in my education and helping a small town kid realize those insecurities were all in my head. While humor will get you pretty far in life, it helps to have a few friends that are willing to carry you when you need help!