Sometimes you don’t have to go too far to feel like you’re on a deserted island. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of walking up the stairs to your bedroom, shutting the door, and sitting on your bed. When there, the five things you really can’t do without are warm, cozy socks, a fleece blanket, a cup of tea, a good light and an epic novel. Sadly, you can’t avoid being saved from an island like that. But if you’re lucky, you might at least finish the tea….
This year, my daughters are playing with the band, helping to fill out the flute section. It’s nice being close enough to walk to the square and back. Last night, I brought faithful Boy-Boy and he sat quietly and listened to the entire performance without making a peep. I was surprised because he howls whenever the girls practice at home.
Even though the band only practices together for less than two hours a week, the performance is always enjoyable. It’s wonderful to watch a group of people who love making music working together like they do.
On the nights that I don’t feel like walking down to watch, I can hear the band faintly from my yard. It makes me pause, and appreciate where we are. I mean, we live in a small town in the middle of Kansas. Yet, because of our location, we are within walking distance or biking distance of so many wonderful experiences, we could be living in a metropolitan area.
This looks like it could be a really fun app to play with. I checked into my neighborhood, and there’s a lot of places not mentioned. I’m going to start adding all the places I walk to, and see what I can get the “walk score” up to.
“So you failed. Alright you really failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You think I care about that? I do understand. You wanna be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you’re still smiling.”
When I was about 39 years old, still married to the boy I dated in high school, but separated due to a work opportunity, I rented the movie Elizabethtown after reading a review that it had one of the best soundtracks in recent history. The reviewers were right–and I spent the next couple of years listening to it during my increasingly frequent cycling workouts, while I worked in the yard, and commuting the 20 mile stretch of US 81 between Concordia and Belleville, KS.
My father had died a few years before, and the business we built was falling apart at the seams, as was my marriage, and everything I’d worked for during the first half of my life. I saw something in Drew and Hollie Baylor and Claire Colburn that directly corresponded to what I was going through at that time.
Claire’s feelings of rejection. Drew’s career imploding after a marketing fiasco. His mother, Hollie’s reaction to sudden tragedy by trying to seize life and hold on tight, all spoke to me. The movie gave me hope, allowed me to laugh, and helped me to start to pick up the pieces of what remained of the package marked FRAGILE of my my life, after being run-over by a Mac truck. At least, that’s what it felt like.
Road trips are wonderful things for sorting out and solving all the ills of the world, and Claire is right–everyone needs to take a road trip. But my time for taking long road trips was about over–I needed to find what I was good at, and build a new life. I have. I plunged into the world of divorce and single parenthood. Instead of living in the shadow, hiding my discontent at being the woman behind the man, I’ve built a career, and I’ve found love, and I’m still smiling.
On March 1, 2013, we set out early in the morning for Dallas, Texas. Today, I consider it a pretty long drive. After all, now I only commute three blocks to work. There was a time, however, when I took more long interstate drives, so I recognized the subtle thrill that comes from packing the suitcase into the back of the truck and making sure our road munchies, insulated cups and cell phones were accounted for. Then, we were on the road.
Great Bend, Kans. to Dallas is a right angled drive. You drive two blocks from my house, then head East for two hours, then head south for another six hours. Conversation started slowly, but by the time we reached McPherson, my mom and I were thick into solving the problems of the world, while dear husband kept his eyes on the road and fit a comment in edgewise when one of us stopped to breathe. Dear daughter alternated from listening to boredom to sleep.
One destination along the way I suggested was the Oklahoma City National Monument. I was happy mom and daughter were interested. Our wonderful driver was happy to humor us. I’d like to believe it touched him to see the field of empty chairs and the soothing, black marble “pond” of centimeter deep water that passed between the bookend marble slabs at either of end of the block, labeled simply 9:01 and 9:03. We wondered aloud what they meant, and were answered by a National Parks guide.
“It signifies the moment between when life was ordinary, and when everything changed, not only for the people of Oklahoma City, but the entire nation,” he said. So often today, after the tragedy of 9-11, it’s easy to forget that this bombing was a first for the country.
In 2008, on a different trip to Dallas, I’d stopped for the first time, in the middle of summer. It was sultry, and there was a different feeling than on this cold March morning when we stopped. The first time, I lingered, looking at artwork, reading the notes left on the chain-link curtain along the street outside the memorial. I slowly made my way to the Survivor Tree, and reached up and picked a leaf to press in one of my herbal books. I read the plaques and wished I had time to go through the museum before I was expected at my destination.
This time, I took more time to really look at the empty chairs. I noticed that the name of each of the victims was etched into the base. I was told at night, the glass bases light up, and the names are very visible then. There were tiny, impromptu memorials, stuffed animals and flowers left on some, evidence that on top of not being forgotten by their country, they were also not forgotten by their loved ones. This time, I registered that the walls behind the chairs were foundation walls–of a building no longer standing. I knew all of this before, but somehow standing in the cold breeze, it was far more noticeable. I turned around, and there was the Survivor tree, standing bare in it’s spot in the former parking area where many of the victims and survivors left their cars before heading into the Alfred P. Murrah building each day for work. Now, several semi-circular levels lead your eye up to the ground level on the north side of the pond. Another guide told us the pond was where the road was where the truck bomb was parked before it detonated. I pointed to the fourth pine tree from the east, “There, there was a loading zone where he parked it, and ran to get in his other car,” he said. “He claimed he didn’t know there was a daycare center there, but in the end, he shrugged and called it collateral damage.”
He was only too happy to tell us more, with far fewer visitors there the first of March than on my first August visit.
Daughter asked questions, “When did it happen, did anyone survive?” Two years before she was born. I remember not being able to stop from crying when I saw Charles Porter’s photograph of a firefighter carrying the body of an unconscious toddler, smeared in blood and debris from the scene.
It made me curious to learn if the child had lived or died–something I probably forgo over the past 18 years. Sadly, I learned she did not–having passed away shortly after the photo was taken. As we turned to leave for the warmth of our car and the rest of the trip to Dallas, daughter spied a tear in my eye, and asked quietly if I was crying. I choked out that it was a very emotional place. And I was grateful that for once, she didn’t laugh.
(originally run in the Great Bend Tribune, Great Bend, Kans. Feb. 3, 2013 edition)
(illustration courtesy of http://www.freeduh.com)
Recently, I was moving photos and pictures around on my walls. My favorites are two shadow boxes, one with a photo of my great grandmother and great grandfather, their daughters and a photo of their house on the farm. The farm is in Kackley, a tiny almost-ghost town in North Central Kansas. In the other box is a set of hand painted knobs my mother created 20 years ago, which adorned her kitchen cabinets for years until she remodeled. One of them has a miniature painting of the barn from the old farm.
Looking at them, I cant help wishing I’d had a chance to visit with my great-grandmother. I’d ask her all kinds of questions, starting with what finally made her decide to leave Sweden on her own and follow her sister to Kansas, where she became a house maid until she married my great grandfather. It was a common thing, back in the 1890s for a young woman from Sweden to do, but still, what courage it must have taken to follow through with.
This relative of mine has been the inspiration of my adult life in many ways. She traveled alone, she made her own way, she was tough when she had to be, and living out on a farm, she had to be often. But she never became rough. Though she learned how to use a gun, and was known as a crack shot and able to blow away snakes on a fence post, she insisted on having a fine piano and having her girls learn to play.
This week, I had an opportunity to visit Doris Reile’s class of people who wish to go through the naturalization process. It occurred to me, I don’t know if my great-grandmother or great-grandfather ever became naturalized citizens. The Immigration Commission was not formed until 1907, so I have to assume they simply came into the country and became citizens. Because of this, all the rest of us who followed after her are firmly native born U.S. citizens.
Now that the election is over, and the fiscal cliff deadline has been pushed back, reports are beginning to make their way back into the media about immigration reform. Once again, Nativists are attacking our birthright as citizens, this time through the “Birthright Citizenship Act of 2013”, H.R.140. In a sneaky move, they hope to avoid an amendment to the Constitution by amending the Immigration and Nationality Act, according to a report by Devin Burghart, published in Nation, State and Citizenship and republished on Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website says the INA was created in 1952. It was basically a way to organize and codify a number of existing provisions and “reorganized the structure of immigration law”. It goes on to say “The Act has been amended many times over the years, but is still the basic body of immigration law.
So far, 13 House Representatives, mostly from southern states, are in favor of changing the act to “require that only the children of citizens, legal immigrants permanently living in the country, or immigrants in the military, be granted citizenship.” In other words, they don’t want any more illegal immigrants having babies in the United States and thereby ensuring their child has a birthright of citizenship.
While I can see how some might think that’s a good idea, I have to disagree. Sneaking around and slipping in a change in the law in a sneaky way only raises my suspicions at motive. The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 to underscore the fact that former slaves were to be considered citizens now, and there should not be any question of that fact.
I can understand wanting to secure borders from possible terrorist threats, but honestly, when was the last time you ever held a baby and worried what it’s motive for being in your arms was?
Veronica Coons is a reporter for the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(originally run in the Great Bend Tribune, Great Bend, Kans. Jan. 20, 2013 edition)
When I was growing up, my mom made a point of going to the grocery store by herself, rather than dragging us along. There were several reasons, but mostly because she didn’t like listening to all the pleading to get snacks that weren’t on the list.
I can’t stand the pleading either, so I am following in my mom’s footsteps. But now and then, bringing one of the kids along simply can’t be avoided. One of the children, whose name I will not mention, is prone to slipping items into the basket on the sly, in hopes that I won’t notice when I’m at the checkout. I’ve become very observant now—which has really helped to keep my grocery budget under control.
That same scrutiny comes in handy when I sit down to translate political speak into plain English. This week, Governor Sam Brownback gave his annual State of the State speech. Rather than watch it, the next morning I grabbed the transcript and a pen and began reading and underlining, writing my questions in the margin, and figuring out what it all means. I haven’t studied like this since I was studying Economics in college. And I admit, I’m torn. I consider myself a liberal Republican, sometimes a conservative Democrat. I don’t disagree with everything that Brownback wants to accomplish during his administration, but I disagree with enough of it to take seriously the proposals he makes.
Consolidating departments and eliminating duplication I agree with. Decluttering is a good thing to do, and if one can do the job, why pay for two?
But repealing an 80-plus year tradition of requiring Kansas corporate ownership of agricultural land to be owned and operated by entities that actually reside in Kansas, I am adamantly against. I’m all for the Governor enticing business to locate in Kansas, but not at the expense of the stewardship of our land. Those who have a close, personal stake in the land are the ones who will take the best care of it.
Next, while I’m not sure how much money is needed to provide our children an adequate education, I believe in the authority of the state Supreme Court. It’s disastrous to suggest that supreme court judges be subject to the political whims of whoever is in power. Changing the constitution because you disagree with the court’s ruling borders on becoming a new chapter of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
And I’m shocked and astonished that Brownback would propose we completely eliminate measures to ensure educational equity in the state by allowing districts to raise unlimited property taxes to fund school districts locally. The spin he put on that really made me feel like I had to get off the ride before I lost my lunch. Many qualified Americans fought long and hard over the years to bring equity to education, and to defend it. We don’t need to have a state full of haves and have-nots when it comes to something as vital as education. You never know where the next Einstein is lurking. Why, when I moved to rural Kansas ten years ago, I was amazed to find that the district we lived in, which had over 50 percent of the students receiving free and reduced lunch and where the average home sold for less than $100,000 had a higher than average number of National Merit Scholarships. I have to credit that in part to educational equity.
But as I read on, I felt there was still something missing. I couldn’t put my finger on it until the next day, when I learned about the speech after the speech.
We all knew the budget shortfall was going to have to be made up somehow. I think it was cowardly of Brownback to not mention his plan during the State of the State address though. Declaring his intention the next day to eliminate the mortgage interest deduction just makes it look like he’s trying to slip something into the cart of goods he’s selling voters.
The mortgage interest deduction may not be the only motivating factor for buying a home, but it’s at least in the top three to five. In fact, it is taken into consideration when a would-be home purchaser sits down to determine how much house can be purchased. By getting rid of this, Brownback may be able to follow through with cutting income taxes, and that may very well help entice businesses from elsewhere to move here. But at what cost? Will Kansas simply become one more state where the native population cannot afford to invest in their own state, and be forced to choose to either live as a slave or move on to greener pastures?
Veronica Coons is a reporter for the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at email@example.com