Often, when I’m driving around the skirts of White City I find plenty of quality memories in my rear view mirror. Just the other day as I headed East out of town, I turned south down a gravel back road kicking up a dust trail. I’ve been down this road plenty of times but this time was different. As I looked in my rearview mirror I imagined Russ Sams’ dad Sammy driving us down to the Council Grove Lake in his old Chevy truck on one of those endless summer days. As we rode in the back of the truck to the lake, the dust rolling behind us, the sound of gravel beneath the old bias ply tires, it gave the promise of fishing and a cool swim making any hot day better. Jean, Russ’s mom, would make us bologna sandwiches with potato chips on them and I usually won’t eat them any other way to this day. I’m not sure why the dust kicked up a memory like that, but I’m glad it did.
Another memory that I have recently recalled is hanging out in the White City pool hall playing snooker and watching Craig Christlieb and a few others play. Craig’s family lived south of White City out by the old bridge at the top of the hill where I usually take pictures of my motorcycles. Mel Bidwell and I, and a few others hung out there as growing up and I have to admit we all played a good game. Again, just some of those memories that bring people and places back like it was yesterday. Well, maybe the day before yesterday.
I used to know everyone in town, where they lived and such. But like the dust behind my old truck the other day, people and places head off in the direction their lives inevitably take them, but somehow those memories linger in the air. There’s a lot of those reminders stored away for days of driving down any old gravel road, and I appreciate those of you that had a hand in creating them, and leaving them with me.
I talk about my experiences and memories a lot, but I’m sure those who find themselves either in or somewhere other than White City also have their own unique recollections of these dust trails. My only hope is this dust doesn’t settle any time soon.
When I look around this small town where I’ve lived for the last 55 years, it’s not hard to see it through the same eyes of when I was a kid. I couldn’t have had a better experience growing up here, and possibly so much so that it has kept me from taking the leap that so many have and moved on to bigger and maybe better places. Life is funny when we look back through those same eyes, full of nostalgia, all the while the future is happening every second around us. With each blink of the eye, the future creeps in, pushing those memories further behind us and dulling the edges ever so slightly.
We’ve seen these changes throughout the years here in town as every small town has. But when driving down the main drag each and every day, those changes seem to happen at a pace hardly recognizable. For someone who hasn’t been here for years, a drive down highway 4 through town may seem drastic. What used to be is included each time we hear I remember when.
There’s talk of pulling up the red bricks along the five blocks of Mackenzie street and replacing this stretch with a new surface. I understand both sides of the conversation of keeping the brick versus how much Mackenzie needs repaired. What’s not to love about the history, effort and appeal of a brick main. I’ve written plenty about growing up here and how this town influenced my upbringing. Even when describing to anyone who might ask where I live, I explain how we cruised main street and hung out at the pool hall. I brag about the freedom we had and the friends I grew up with and how some of my fondest memories happened on and around these same red bricks. I think you catch my drift, and maybe you’ve said the same.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Mackenzie street is tired and has been getting rougher in recent years. Obviously, if there were an easy and inexpensive way to repair the brick it would have been done. When the bricks were originally placed, traffic wasn’t anything like it is today. Trucks are bigger and heavier now and the traffic just isn’t the same as when we were cruising main back in the 70’s. You would have thought those bricks would have worn out then with all the back and forth we did on that street.
But, with everything I’ve written and remembered about this small town, it isn’t based on red bricks. Although Mackenzie street was built on a good foundation for the bricks to last this long, it isn’t about the bricks. We are the bricks. This community of those who live or once lived in and around White Cityis Mackenzie street. Each brick along those five blocks represents every one of us. I know not all have fond memories of living in White City, and for some it was just a step along their journey to where they are today, and that’s OK. For some it’s a multi-generational family of farming with their life’s work planted and ranched each year on the outskirts of town. You drove to work, brought your kids to school, and opened shop on this street, And for someone like me, who’s memories and appreciation for how I turned is priceless, thanks to so many of you who are still here with me. WE are the bricks that make up the five blocks of Mackenzie, and that won’t change.
I’m OK with leaving the bricks in place and I’m also OK with replacing them with a smoother surface. In a perfect world we could correct the issue and keep the brick. I also know that no matter the surface on Mackenzie, there isn’t any cruising down the main drag anymore, but I still have the memories. Keeping the brick won’t bring back all the businesses of a once flourishing small town but some of those old business owners still live here. That same road that took so many away to follow their dreams will also bring them back no matter the surface.
Looking around us, the change is inevitable. I love the bricks on main street because it’s a piece of this town that’s genuine. And the fact that this discussion is happening tells me there are plenty of folks that are passionate about this. I get it. Like I said, if the bricks stay I’m good with it. If the decision is to resurface it, I’m good with that as well. Maybe the bricks can be incorporated into a sidewalk around the park as a reminder of a community that appreciates it’s past – I don’t know.
When I drive through town and hear the familiar sound of my tires rolling over the brick, and my mind’s eye sees the store fronts and the familiar faces from 1975, it always takes me back to cruising on a Saturday night. I’m also dodging the ripples in the bricks as I’m trying to get down the street. For me the memories will always be here, and for everyone who built this community brick by brick, past and on into future, it’s a job well done.
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.
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.
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!