Monday, June 13, 2011

Ad astra per aspera

When people hear where a Kansan is from, they almost always ask how Dorothy is doing. Or where Toto is. One time, I was asked if we milk chickens in Kansas. If you don't know the answer to that, well, you need to back to a basic biology class. (Disclaimer: no food this entry, but some pretty pictures and the reason there is no food.)

But I love the state I'm from. Kansas is beautiful. It's hard to really see the state's beauty when many people stay in the eastern part, whether it be in Lawrence or KC or whatever. But western Kansas, for all its analogies about being flat as a pancake, is unbelievable.

My holiday every year isn't Christmas or Thanksgiving. No, it's Memorial Day (give or take a few weekends). My grandma was born in Lewis, down in southwest Kansas. My grandfather was from Belpre, a tiny town a few miles away. My great-great-grandfather is buried in Lewis. So is my great-grandfather. And my uncle. And my grandpa's brother. And my grandma's stepfather. And her parents. You get the picture.

So every year, my dad, grandma and I take a weekend trip down to the area to plant flowers at their graves. We also make a stop at my uncle's (mom's side) farm, to visit them and their animals and plant flowers at my maternal grandparents' graves and also my cousin's little girl's. It's hours and hours of driving for a weekend, but it's worth it.

We load up a vehicle with about 20 different flower arrangements, a shovel, a giant drum of water (it's hard to find down there) and a hose. Then we get my 90-year-old grandmother in the car and go, always early in the morning.

It's a very nostalgic trip. We go see the fencepost my great-grandfather put in the ground decades ago (above). We see the farm where my grandpa worked the land. We see my great-grandmother's gorgeous house in town. We go see "Lover's Lane," a road where shelter belts (rows of trees) were planted on either side and formed a canopy.

We also see what is happening to rural Kansas. People are leaving. Things are getting old. Farmsteads are being abandoned as farmers sell their land. Young people don't really stick around. And honestly, if I were from there, I couldn't say I would stay either. But it's a place I still love to visit.

Most of all, it's a time to remember. For me, it's mostly about my grandpa, who has now been gone for 13 years. It's also about knowing my grandmother won't be around all that much longer. She could live another 10 years, but at 90, it's something I need to come to terms with. It's about realizing this is the first year my Grandma Hofmeister is out there, and that she's finally next to my grandpa. And it's about appreciating what I have, and knowing that some people are taken away from us at far too young an age.

Don't get me wrong, though. It's a wonderfully happy day for me. I get to spend hours of uninterrupted time with my dad and grandma, and they're both happy too. I don't think I could ask for much more.

Except to visit Stripe, my uncle's donkey!


  1. Coming over from BlogKC!! Great pictures and sounds like a beautifully bittersweet day. I love KS also, we currently live in MO but plan on moving back across the state line when we buy land one day!

  2. Hey! Also visiting (and now following!) from BlogKC. What a beautiful post! I agree, people don't always appreciate the beauty of Kansas. I love that you have such an amazing holiday with your family. Very cool!

  3. I wish I could get out to Claflin more often than for funerals. It's been ages since Grandma & Grandpa's 50th wedding anniversary, and that was probably the last time I visited for any reason other than a funeral. I envy you the tradition. I'm sure it's worth the drive. -Rachel


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