This morning dawned a lazy, blissful Kansas morning with strong coffee and no schedule. I write later as my wife ogles Shemar in the carriage-room indoors from another brilliant starscape. (“Yeah, the stars are amazing again. Ho hum. Is there any brisket left?”)
Today Deb decided she would like to visit Topeka (the state capital). Probably the first time that’s ever happened in history, but I was amenable. Naturally, the old Kansas boy missed the turnpike entry and sent us around via small towns named after 1800s women (in which Kansas annually leads the league, just as we are annually last per capita in tourism). Thanks to your ace navigator, it took longer…but it led us to the Combat Air Museum. I only had to emit a small quantity of whines for Deb to accede to a visit. One of the cooler military air museums I’ve seen, with planes crammed into two hangars about as tightly as if someone planned a jigsaw puzzle of maximum aircraft density. For Deb, it was an hour and a half she’d never get back (she later admitted some enjoyment). While going between hangars, we watched a Blackhawk medevac helicopter training flight, with the bird coming in, setting it light on the gear, then climbing again. “So that others may live.”
9/11 today, so most flags at half-mast. Except for one car dealer with about twenty flagpoles around his lot, with the large one at half-mast and the other twenty-odd at full hoist. I guess there are limits to how much work some folks are willing to expend in the area of flag-waving. A traffic detour led to a great moment as we were routed down a side street past a body shop with a marquee advertising PANTLESS DENT REMOVAL. With a pack of grouches behind us, we couldn’t stop for a photo, but we could circle around. Got ‘im. Imagine the service advisor’s world: “Hey, Fred, we got a client. Drop trou and come on out here!”
Topeka was every bit as underwhelming as I’d expected of a city that basically cowers before Fred Phelps rather than answering his batteries of lawsuits with ten times as much of the same until he begs for mercy. Even the imposing state capital dome was surrounded by scaffolding, which makes sense as it looked like someone should hose it off. Stopped in Emporia to visit with mom and grandma, a pleasant visit. Home for brisket barbecue–and in Kansas, weak barbecue sauce simply will not do.
Now I sit here in the carriage-room, listening to the dog bark in the dark at some imagined threat (probably a skunk, which could have ramifications) in the vineyard. Yes. The ranch had a vineyard in the past, obstinately growing grapes and making wine, until basic health troubles made it just too much. The only good place to set my beer would be on a century-old school desk next to me, which seems like four kinds of sacrilege, so it’s on the floor. I look left at the stairway rails my grandfather cleaned up and refinished, right at a massive cedar chest containing gods only know what (probably quilts or old tintypes…that’s what I’d put in there), ahead at saddle blankets. A massive Dutch door is the exit. The limestone wall behind me seems the most ancient in the house, as is natural; that’s the part that was living quarters when what is now a living room and dining room was where they drove the wagons to load up sheep wool circa 1886.
The grandmother I visited this afternoon was born in 1919. In this house. About thirty feet away from where I sit. In my childhood, the woman who bore her made me apple pie in the same kitchen she had used since she was an intense-eyed young matron (and we have pictures of her on side-saddles), by then ancient and half blind, all the motions by habit of seventy years in the same place. Her sister, very elderly and soon to pass on in the late 1960s, gave me her old 1955 World Book encyclopedia set. By the time I went to kindergarten I had devoured it.
I wonder if Aunt Nell even guessed the impact those would make. She had been a teacher for many years. I suspect she knew exactly what she was doing.