The Wizards of Oz

The State of Kansas has had less than favorable notice the past few years. The Governor, the Secretary of State, and the legislature, in particular, head up the news you’re seeing. “What’s Wrong With Kansas,” became a best seller.

Kansans have always been touched by the crazy bug. I mean, consider moving to where no one lives, where nothing lives, really, but tallgrass and Native Americans, and building a home out of sod. We’ll start there. But Kansas also boasts the Garden of Eden, complete with concrete poured animals and a beloved, shrunken to a mummy, in a glass-topped coffin; a Wizard of Oz Museum; and a Rock in a Cage. That’s a very very very brief list. If you’re really curious, go here. You’ll find more in alphabetical order by town. Oh, and the geographical center of the Continental United States.

But here’s a Kansas only the local community will talk about, in particular, Marysville, Kansas, the town where we shop when we go to the farm, and the home of The Marysville Advocate, home town newspaper which arrives in my mailbox once a  week.

This week’s top story, along with a bond election for the schools, but we’re not going into politics, was on the Hong Kong Restaurant, a town favorite, which opened in 1997, and is closing. The owners are retiring and moving closer to children. Crowds filled the restaurant for a last meal, the patrons sad; someone changed the closing date on the door sign from Nov. 1, 2015 to Nov. 1, 2016. One of their children, Connie Chan, who grew up in the restaurant, graduated from high school and subsequently from Carnegie Mellon University, wrote a column in this week’s paper, saying thanks for the memories. And thanks to Marysville, her “hometown.”

While not exactly my hometown as the farm is seventeen miles northeast, nonetheless, I’ve known Marysville, Kansas since about five years old. As we drove Highway 36, the old Pony Express route, on the way to Grandma’s house, I always looked for the neon sign that read EAT horizontally and GAS vertically. EAT GAS. Even at a young age, words amused me. Eat gas was my first introduction to Kansas crazy.

When I returned to this part of the country, we live in Kansas City, Missouri, across the state line from Kansas a few blocks to the west, and when I began regularly going to the farm and to Marysville for supplies, one of the first things I noticed was the Chinese restaurant and the Mexican restaurant. In the newspaper, I noticed Asian and African-American and Mexican and Caucasian schoolkids, laughing in newspaper photographs.

Something remarkable had happened in Marysville and in Marshall County. True, it’s at a crossroad: the Pony Express, the train, the highways 77 and 36 in a major crossroad, and the county seat. But so much diversity in a small Kansas town surprised me.

So yes, while there’s a lot wrong with Kansas, there’s a lot right, too. And acceptance for differences (we’ll leave out the Legislature for now) is a hallmark.

We be a little crazy in Kansas. It’s probably in the wind.







Family Trees and Reunions

My childhood was filled with family reunions. And family, for that matter: Great-grandparents, Grandparents, parents, siblings, Great-Aunts and Uncles, Aunts and Uncles, their offspring, my cousins, first cousins, first cousins-once-removed, and second cousins. Those last two were hard to figure out. The conversation wound back a couple of generations and I’d be lost in the family tree.

There were, of course, the formal reunions like marriages, deaths, Grandpa’s ninetieth birthday, holidays, 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries. Those were big! But mostly we got together because we liked being together and there were enough families and enough reasons to make it happen often.

This is a Sunderland family reunion with “Grandma and Grandpa Walt.”” No one said just Grandma, unless you wanted something real bad. It was Grandma Walt. I learned a lot about cooking from her, my hands look like her’s when I’m kneading dough. And I have her name, the name no one ever said. And I don’t say. Because it’s ours.

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Grandma Walt, feeding family

That’s the Sunderland side of the family. Four to six brothers, I lose track, came to Missouri/Kansas. My grandfather’s father was one of those brothers and they settled in Marshall County, Kansas.

Then there’s the story of the Ellis and Moore families. That’s my mother’s side. Her great-grandmother, (my great-great grandmother) Lucinda Moore, came across the country in a Quaker migration and gave birth to my great-grandfather in a newly dugout home from a hillside, Jewell County, Kansas, above a stream is my guess. The dugout, not the birth.

And then there’s Mr. Ellis, my grandfather, a railroad man up from Kentucky who seduced a good Quaker girl…and married her…and had children, my mother the oldest.

How that whole family got from Jewell County, Kansas to Marshall County, Kansas is a more complicated story…my mother born in Jewell County…but it came down to Grandpa the Railroad Man getting a transfer to Frankfort, Kansas. Her parents followed with the rest of their children. My mother’s mother the eldest. And they all grew up in Marshall County.

The Bad Boy and the Quaker
The Bad Boy and the Quaker
Mother’s Parents and Grandparents


Now you understand why it became confusing to sort out the first-cousin-once-removed from the second. There were a lot of us.

All of which, in a round-about-way, gets me to our family reunions this summer on our road trip. We stopped along the way visit family in West Virginia and I got to hold my brand-new great-nephew and teach him how to suck his thump. Great-Aunties have prerogatives. But it was the first reunion for my primary group, grandparents, children, grandchildren. Well, there was one other when my granddaughter-in-law-to-be flew here one Christmas to check out her new boyfriend, my grandson’s family. I was impressed. This reunion was a family vacation, in cabin in the woods outside Blue Ridge, Georgia, on a lake. We played poker again just like the first time.

A grandson’s arms long enough to love us all

We laughed and we cooked and we ate. My daughter-in-law and I both take pride in feeding people. So does my granddaughter-in-law, although she and grandson more inclined to take people out to dinner, and now we take selfies.

My sisters and I, and the cousins, all adults, talk of when we could have the next family reunion, but we are so wide-spread, from New York State to Hawaii, and points in between, the task to organize becomes daunting.

At least we’re all on Facebook. The oldest of our current crop of babies, three so far, turned one-year-old yesterday, a girl. The two younger ones, boys, are less than six-months old. Another arrives early next year. The cousins’ babies.

So will they be second cousins? Or first cousins once removed? There must be a formula for that. I don’t think I learned it, growing up.