Shawnee Mission, Hail to Thee

10: Visit to the ol’ hometown for my high school grad class 50-year reunion
By Brian R. Wright

[Link to Episode 9]

Note: These columns are a series I am making into a volume of my memoirs, working title: Volume 1: Overland Park Ways. You may follow the links at top and bottom of page to go to preceding or succeeding episodes. The series starts here. {If the [Link to Episode <next>] at the  bottom of the column does not show an active hyperlink, then the <next> column has yet to be written.}

Hometown: Overland Park, Kansas
High School: Shawnee Mission West… Vikings
Event: Cocktails w/serious hors d’oeuvres
Location: Mission Hills Country Club, Mission, KS
Date and Time: Friday, October 13, 2017, 5-9+

Followed by a Saturday the 14th tour of the school—Hi, Eric with the brass, um, horns!—, brunch at a nearby sports bistro (Maloney’s), and, for a handful of the historically motivated, a reunion coda at the Johnson County Historical Museum. So that about wraps it up. I decided that the 50th reunion weekend belongs in the memoirs as a flash forward, since so much of what transpired was of high reminiscence value. In the form of a travelog…

[It occurs to me herein I’m mixing past and present tenses indiscriminately. Sorry for that.]

Remote Contact

Throughout the summer I had thought, hey, this is a big year, my 50th anniversary of crossing that all-American threshold of receiving a high school diploma. I felt it would be nice to make the effort this time—perhaps the realistic last best chance to dip into the teenage nostalgia pool without being laughed at as a beyond-the-pale geezer. It was getting to be late July and I thought by this late date, any reunions would have surely been imminent or behind me. 

Then I get an email of all things responding to my June 25th (2017) column, the eighth episode in my Overland Park Ways series of columns (starting here), where I had discussed my youngster baseball career in OP. When I was 10 going on 11, I played baseball on a team named Ernie’s Skelly in a private organization for sponsored boy’s sports, called 3&2 Baseball. My dad was the manager and a lot of my childhood pals, boys I went to grade school with were on it—including the boy, now former United Airlines’ pilot, who sent me the email. Here’s the team photo. We went 16-0 and won the championship. So I’m the fifth from the left in the second row, and the email-sender’s name is Warren Leslie, who is two to my right. He was looking up my name on the Web and ran across the column and sent me a note. We emailed back and forth, talked about the good old days, and so on. [What’s interesting is that my dad—pictured in the back row, farthest right—actually went to Warren’s home to talk to Warren’s parents about him joining our team. That’s right, when was the last time you heard of a 10-year-old kid being recruited?! Turned out well, too. Warren pitched two no-hitters in our winning season. Mr. Shutdown.]

Anyway, setting the stage…

I said, why not, made the arrangements with my part time driver-tech job, and put the ol’ Milan on the road from Detroit environs for a leisurely two-days-over, two-days-there, two-days-back pace. For accommodations, on Warren’s suggestion, I picked the Knights Inn/ Ramada just off of world famous Shawnee Mission Parkway. The Website made it look quite attractive and the price, in the $50 range, was affordable. Pretty clean, right?

Well, staffing the so-called welcome office was a man about my age sitting atop what appeared to be a milk crate behind the counter a foot or two below me. To call the room in disarray, would be an understatement—it was a fairly hot day for this time of year, and the antique air conditioner teetered above us on the wall dead silent; I don’t recall a chair being present, if so, it was of the folding variety. When I told him my name and that I had reservations, he spent several minutes, I’m only guessing he’s looking at some kind of PC monitor down there, exclaiming occasionally, then voila, I’m in the system. Hallelujah.

Only now I’m not sure I want to be in the system. I’m thinking of the motel check-in sequences in the Steve Martin-John Candy movie, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Before walking into the office, I park, in the semi-secluded parking lot, next to a beatup old pickup truck with two ‘rustic-looking’ fellows, the passenger clad in a t-shirt and multiple tattoos, drinking a 44 oz. Jumbo soda, and enhancing the beverage from a flask of something more adult. Whoa! I’m about to tell the clerk, “no thanks,” when possibly because he thinks I’m a veteran on account of my USS Liberty hat, he says he’s going to upgrade me to the Ramada next door for no extra charge. Yippie.

Don’t want to dwell on this accommodations’ snafu too long, I do have a letter going out to the the CEO and chairman of the Wyndham Hotel Group that owns both of these turkeys. The new room has a dirty carpet (they allow pets in this wing); uninstalled smoke alarm; gaps in the ceiling tiles; and disconnected clock, TV, and microwave. All I can say is I would hate to see the Knights Inn room I was upgraded from. As a scenery bonus, another pickup truck, this one picturesquely immobile, resides outside my door. To be fair, someone had it towed a couple of hours after I moved in.

I will say this, if I had been traveling with my ex or with just about any woman I know, she’d have slit MY wrists and bailed out, rather than spend a microsecond in this “wretched hovel.” But by golly, it’s closing in on 6:00, and I’m tired. The surrounding neighborhood looks fine. I can set up my computer on the other bed. Fridge works, beer will get cold, toilet flushes, water flows (but doesn’t drain very well), no problem. I grab a nap then drive down to the classic Jack Stack BBQ on 95th and Metcalf to fall off the wagon of eschewing delicious barbecued red meat as a partial-wannable vegetarian. Hey, when in Kansas City do as the Kansas Citians; I blent in a couple of Single-Wide IPAs, then spent a night hour refamiliarizing myself with the old town. Here lit up, Overland Park downtown I often walked to as a little ‘un.

Friday the 13th, flow through the old neighborhood, followed by reunion

Warren was already in town, and we had agreed to meet for lunch at Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue #2 in Olathe, along with Mike Collins, also a Vikings’ ’67 graduate. Beforehand I had plenty of time to roam thru and around my old digs. It’s hard to describe just how much my neighborhood had ‘shrunk,’ even from the previous time I’d been thru here, which was on my way to a Denver, Colorado, convention in 1983—geez, that’s a full 34 years! The trees had pretty much taken over by now. I’ll give you a few shots, above in the foreground is my growing up abode at 8715 Craig Dr., then you see where the Browns lived and the Hollowells down by 87th Street proper.

If you take a view roughly a 180-degree turn from my home image, you see the street view where I learned to ride a bike. The ‘hill’ seemed so steep and foreboding then. Heck, perhaps 40 steps up to the top was where my brother and I would launch our snow sleds and ride down at breakneck speeds of, what, maybe 3-5 mph? The angle of the road cannot be more than 3-5 degrees, as well. And who laid in the jungle foliage?! How does anyone see what they’re doing. I guess I like trees here, all right, but more in moderation.

Back then my bro and I walked no more than half a mile to my grade school, Cherokee. I remember becoming a proud member of the safety patrol long about fourth or fifth grade. We got to wear these nifty belts, too, suggestive of military or police honors. [It’s likely I’m making overt excessive law enforcement comparisons where none exist; the safety patrols of the country are still with us and appear to be sponsored by Triple-A.] Cherokee is no longer with us, the Seventh Day Adventists now hold forth on that corner property at 87th and Antioch.

As I keep driving up 87th then wander north somehow to 91st, I locate the Overland Park Department of Public Works, where I had worked for a summer before 9th grade—in the middle of which my dad was transferred to Oklahoma City. I probably learned a lot more there about how government really works than I did from my teachers’ lectures and our class books.

Will spare you the photos of my second junior high school, Hillcrest, now Westridge, and my first junior high school, Broad-moor, which is now called Broadmoor Tech-nical Center. Except to note that Hillcrest/West-ridge has a football stadium worthy of of a small college. When did junior highs, now apparently called middle schools, get all the sports’ dollars, especially since it looks from the few cars in the parking lot that business is way down. Oh, right, these schools don’t have to make money…

Not that I’m going to make a big deal about the general problem and anti-Americanism of compulsory state ‘education’ qua factory schools—at least not this weekend. It suddenly occurs to me that a single man driving around, getting out of his car, taking pictures of multiple buildings and grounds can be misunderstood by any local constabulary or neigh-borhood watch wonks. “Well, officer, I’m here for the 50th reunion, and I used to live here.” “Joe, bring the cuffs. We’re taking him to Homeland Security for interrogation.” Sad fact is that ordinary blokes like me have been civil asset forfeitured and rend-itioned to who knows where for a lot less than taking pictures of gov-ernment facilities and areas where children abound. Sigh.

Might be a good time to visit and take pictures of the church where I used to go, then the public park that has emerged from what we knew only as a nondescript hidden-away hazard, South Lake. Can’t remember if it was private property in the 1950s and ’60s, but we weren’t allowed to go exploring there for fear of drowning without a trace. Now it’s an inviting public place with a walking trail, picnic tables, and I even saw a young family brandishing a fishing rod. Property values are still steady, this is an upscale middle class neighbor-hood with plenty of young families. A nearby house north of the lake could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or Howard Roark.

Lunch at Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue #2 with my renewed buddies, Warren Leslie and Mike Collins, was a hike from the old digs above, out in the area where the money and more trophyesque homes started moving, well, even as I was in high school. Right about the year I graduated from Shawnee Mission West, the powers that be built Shawnee Mission South. [And I wouldn’t be surprised if already standing or soon to come is the ultra new Shawnee Mission Southwest… and even South Southwest and West Southwest.] We’re talking conventional, nationwide, fully over-the-top suburban sprawl with its own KC qualities—mainly people drive less aggressively, at the speed limit, and the roads are designed adequately for traffic, with reasonable access to anywhere you want to go.

Note: It was my general impression when driving in strip malls or to buildings with large parking lots that I could go where I wanted. One parking area would connect to another. None of this “you can’t go here” signs or physical barriers impeding what would seem to a rational driver should be accessible and drive-throughable.

Lunch was great, especially catching up with Mike, who conveyed to me just how much my dad, as coach of our Midget C team meant to him and how memorable he was. Mike thought of him as a disciplinarian, ahead of his time with calisthenics and such, who at the same time was positive and motivating. Mike told the story how once he had made this exceptionally good throw from the outfield to our catcher that made the out on the opposing team’s runner. And my dad went on and on about it, putting that throw on a pedestal as an example every young outfielder should strive for! Naturally, Mike was elated and remembers it to this day.

[Note: Putting in a link here to a guest column on my Coffee Coaster site for a short essay Mike wrote and sent to me, that is so apropos.]

Reunion Time

Doing a little more geographical reminiscing on my way back to the Ramada coop, I managed another nap and prepped for the reception at hand. The Mission Hills Country Club was just down the parkway, maybe 15 minutes drive, and I was unprepared for what an elite and elegant habitat this location is.  As I pull into the lot—interesting there are no gates, or any signs of a security force—I’m wondering if it’s okay to park here absent a BMW, Audi, Lexus, Escalade, Jaguar, etc. Amazing that plebs like yours truly can pretty much wander around the grounds (taking pictures) and walk to the clubhouse, enter by opening a door, and making themselves at home. And you know, it really did feel comfortable and inviting, pure Kansas City friendly.

Yes, there is a signin process, and I probably shouldn’t say this, but it wouldn’t have taken rocket science to figure out how to crash this little shindig. The bar was cash (on the high side, tho generous free-pour of the hard liquor) but the hors d’oeuvres were free, copious, and to die for. I’d say we had perhaps 100 altogether at high tide.

Joy Nacarrato Cheerleader, First Attendant Basketball Sweetheart

My understanding is our most inspiring and notable graduate, David Westbrook, was fundamentally responsible for setting us up in such a marvelous venue, and I want to give a special nod to Janice Ledford, Joy Nacarrato, and Charles Varner who seemed to be the on the spot implementers. I’m sure there are others. Go to the Facebook page, Shawnee Mission West Class of 1967, and you’ll know what I know.

Brian Wright Well-Meaning Dork in Progress

Note, I was only at West for my senior year—I did the Oklahoma City (Putnam City HS) detour for tail end of 9th grade thru 11th—plus I had just finished reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead the previous summer, then Atlas Shrugged during my psych class of all places. So add the Rand splurge to helping my OKC neighbor lady on the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, and you had one keyed up, acne-ridden, individualist-conservative-libertarian prepped to stand up against anything that so much as looked like ‘conformity.’ In short, I didn’t feel I fit in very well. In retrospect, who among the teenage classes, then or now, does? So look at my goofy yearbook photo. Why is this dude smiling?

Fact is, I did get along for the most part. And as the evening wore on, amazingly, several individuals walked up and introduced themselves with smiles of recognition. Or I would walk up to them. Mark Johnson and I immediately recognized each other, he’s the tall guy on the Vikings’ basketball team—what, 6’1″ or 6’2″—and then a second look thru my Saga yearbook shows me he was our National Honor Society president, or something grand academically (doggone Saga doesn’t index that page, but I’m sure it’s in there). Anyway, Mark looks like he’s still in shape and knows all the elements of the Periodic Table. We used to play together, he lived down by the Roller Rink. I’d walk over there, then home after. Never realized he was so smart.

That was when the so-called Popsicle Index was a 5: the likelihood that a grade-school kid could walk to a store a mile away, by himself, buy a Popsicle and return without incident and without his parents thinking twice about it.

The find of the evening for me was when Susan Mall-now-Varner came beaming up as if it was just yesterday when I drove her and three other Spanish IV students from Señor Villareal’s class all the way to Wichita one Saturday for a competition. Then after coming home, into the Hispanic part of town where we enjoyed some authentic several major-thumbs-up Mexican food. [Susan is on the lawn here in the front of the Student Relations Committee.] At that point, I’m working on my one manly beverage of the evening, an abundant Jack Daniels on the rocks. So here she is all smiling and everything, and I know I’ve seen these eyes before. She looks familiar but a senior (and probably male) moment prevails, I can’t imagine my parents would let me have a car—it was probably the ’66 white Oldsmobile F85—to drive myself, much less a major high school babe and three others, to the corner store for a root beer, much less to Wichita! Maybe it was Topeka.

Then slap forehead and turn red, okay, now it’s coming back to me. “Bartender, whatever she’s having.” And I get the flood of memories, bits and pieces at a time. She and the ample Jack Daniels break the ice, now I’m in the flow. Chatting with Charlie, I visit with Nancy Calkins briefly, telling her I think she and I went to the same (Overland Park Lutheran) Church, to which she responds with detectable exas-peration, “WE WERE IN THE SAME SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS, [silently]  KNUCKLE-HEAD!” Then a long sit down with Susan Majure where I broach politics (let’s see, I believe I expressed concern about urban development, suburban sprawl, the state-dictated dominance of the automobile, etc.; the fourth rolling of her eyes told me it was time to move on).

The photo above is a bunch of the true SMW believers trying to remember, then saying what the heck, and belting out the school song best they can. The insistent choir leader is Mr. Jack Kline, a longtime friend from the old neighborhood. Also on my Ernie’s Skelly baseball team. He was kind of a big wheel at West, too, president of the pep club, played on the football team. We traded memories back and forth, amazing what one remembers and the other doesn’t and vice versa. He’s an author now, and I want to put a big plug in for his maiden voyage 30s’ KC detective novel, But Not for Me. I’m three full chapters in and I can tell you, folks, this book is EXTRAORDINARY! And most important, FUN! Click on the image for the Amazon page; the Kindle version is priced at a first-time author rate of $3.99. A bargain at twice that.

The evening is winding down, I remember a couple of couples wand-ering onto the dance floor in front of the music maker such as it was. I did brush up on my Saga yearbook before I left Detroit, and, in fact, I brought it along with me for reference. Then the second major find of the evening: once Lynn Winbigler, bona fide SMW cutie (left photo inset: second attendant to the basketball sweetheart), now with a different last name. She lives in the Austin area now. Let’s just say she is in a happy frame of mind, when I wind up at a standup table near her.

She gets a substantial giggle out of the fact that I brought my yearbook to the reception. Funny, because I figured just about everyone would do the same… but hardly anyone did. My engineering training? Major faux pas? Anyway, we have some laughs and I prevail on her to have a photo taken of us. Mike Collins is in the area, “Hey, Mike, mind taking a picture?”  “Hey, Mike, nice, but it’s blurry.”⇑ “Hey, Brian, I’ve had just a few adult beverages, okay?” Subsequent attempts produce nothing appreciably better. But they do attract other would-be mashers into the vicinity. ⇐Such as Mike Davis here. Go for it, dude. Someday we’ll all look back and say, “Ah, to be free, footloose, and 68 again!”

Big event #3, I run into Charlotte Orwick [some-thing]. She was not only in my neighborhood: we both lived on Craig Drive and her home was maybe five or six houses down on the other side. This was like in first and second grade and we were pals. She tells me tonight that she thought of us as such good friends that she was very disappointed when her mother kaboshed her request to have me come over and spend the night with her. 🙂 She has traveled the world. I leave my card with her, so maybe she’ll send me a note and we can catch up when we have more time.

It wouldn’t be fitting to leave the reunion without a respectful and nod to those who have passed on to the Great Spirit. RIP good people. And dammit all, too soon.

I was hoping to be seeing Larry Creasman in particular. We were good friends up until, like 8th grade, when we both went to Hillcrest Jr. High. Then one day, because I lived just down the street from her, I kind of made the move on, apparently, his girlfriend. I could have this wrong, but I remember her name was Kendra Slabotsky, blond, tall, a year younger, she looked like a model; I was so smitten I couldn’t sleep at night. One afternoon she invited me to her place, we sat in their living room, talked, and maybe held hands. Hubba hubba!

Lo and behold, Larry got majorly pissed when, who knows how, he found out (did she tell him?), and a week later I’m sitting with friends at the Overland Park Theater, F, D,and H, when he comes storming down the aisle and, like, slaps my face, saying words to the effect, some kind of friend you are, let’s go out and settle this. Whoa! First, I didn’t know Kendra was his girlfriend, it’s not like it was on a calendar. Second, truth is it wouldn’t have mattered. Third, he’s all fired up and will likely kick my ass. I respectfully decline (make a smart-aleck remark and slide down in my seat). Thankfully, the usher shows up, escorts Larry away. I finish watching the movie and duck out the back.

I was hoping to see him tonight and find out whether he’s gotten over the trauma of it all. Buy him a drink. “Larry, she meant nothing to me, I swear! And nothing happened!”

I’m winding this evening du jour up with a couple of photos expressing the understated, special quality of Mission Hills CC… and displaying my rube sensibilities no doubt. First, the image on the left, unfortunately the clearest I have with available light, just feels like old, genteel money. Comfortable, homey, yet the best. The place, no doubt home to several of best and brightest (and barracudas) of the upper ‘classes,’ still evokes something more universal and benevolent, can’t really put my finger on it.

Second, this image on the right, here’s where all the you know whats hang out, so to speak, and, yes, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this configuration of urinal. When I was in my 20s, and on a business trip to West Coast, Florida, our vendor ushered us to the VERY exclusive St. Petersburg Yacht Club. Now that’s 40-45 years ago, and I think I would remember today having seen a comparable design. Stopping to think for a minute, bingo, what else would they be for but to prevent dribbling on the expensive flooring. [But, if that’s the case, what prevents a guy from backing up even farther?] Okay, call me a rube now. — Still curious in Novi, Michigan… send me an email if you know why they’re like this.

Saturday the 14th, tour and coda

The aforementioned Face-book Group page has many pictures professionally taken by a classmate, especially of the school as we were on the tour. I have to say at first glance, this is a very clean and well-maintained, even superbly landscaped proper-ty. Kudos to those who make it possible.

Remember I was only here for the one year, 1966-67. My mom taught sophomore English at SMW at the same time. My brother was a sophomore. Also, I wasn’t in many activities. I do recall having distinct and opinionated political stands, which I didn’t mind articulating in my social studies class with one of my favorite teachers of all time, Mr. Davis, shown here. What I really appreciated about him was that even though he was quite likely a dedicated socialist—no, I can’t honestly say that, he certainly mastered the art of being impartial—he taught several of the major logical fallacies that trip up the average person in dealing with politics, and, well, I got the impression he enjoyed genuine discussions. He also laid out the US government in an extremely thorough yet easily grasped structure. I enjoyed it and aced it.

No baseball because at the time, Shawnee Mission high schools didn’t have it. No football, because Mom won that battle over Dad and wouldn’t sign the forms. No basketball because I wasn’t tall enough or good enough. No track because I wasn’t fast and really didn’t want to work that hard in a sport with few spectators… or cheerleaders.

If you read the rest of these memoirs I’m building (starting here), you’ll see that with respect to the compulsory state school system, I had a negative emotional reaction from the gitgo. Mainly, it was because they took away my dear brother, who was my constant companion and playmate from the age of two, when he launched his tricycle off the landing and down the concrete steps of our staging apartment in Kansas City, Kansas, requiring several stitches in the ol’ headbone.

Here’s his high school senior photo, from after we moved up to Detroit area. He built that motorcycle from a basket of parts. Girls, be honest, which of the Wright brothers would you find more exciting?! Where I learned fairly quickly how to make the best of our forced school situation, mainly by heading into recess and the world of books, Forrest developed the real Marlon Brando rebel attitude. From a dinner conversation during our years at West, some teacher tried to put him on the spot by asking an important question in front of the class, and he responded, “I don’t have the slightest idea.” God, I miss him.

Speaking of book world, back to our 50th-anniversary tour, we come to the end of it in the library, and some of us take note: “Where are all the books?” Never guess. A bright young senior accompanying the assistant principal tour guide explains, “It’s all heading online. Even what you see here is going the way of the dodo bird.” Well, she didn’t say that exactly, but close enough. A few of us bemoan the loss out loud. :Later, after returning from the trip, I post on the SMW Facebook Group:

“Frankly, I am rather chagrined that the school is s***canning all the books in the library. How do you put a stickie note on a computer screen, or highlight—whoops, I guess you’re not supposed to do that—or pencil in notes. What if you lose power? Books are sacred.

“Tell you what. Instead of throwing away the books, s***can the Big Brother cameras and scanners and cops. Give every incoming sophomore a hardback BOOK of Orwell’s 1984, then in order to graduate three years later they have to write an essay on how to best prevent what the author predicted.

“Too late?”

Nobody comments; I do get four Likes. Actually, I’m a little amazed the admins didn’t scrub the post for socially unacceptable anger. To their credit, they rose above the still-palpable aura of “Pleasantvilleness” that inhabits the hallways and neighborhoods of my youth. And this weekend I’m feeling “If this be Pleasantville, make the most of it.” In fact, for all the iron fist of state control in the velvet glove of posh suburban acquiescence, Overland Park has always exuded a Christian benevolence and tolerance toward the ‘different.’ I would live here again in a heartbeat.

Maloney’s and the Johnson County Museum

Let me send a nod to Richard Hite who winds up at my table at the sports bar. Service and food are quite good here at Maloney’s, which is on the northeast corner of the downtown OP ‘block.’ Richard was one of the juniors who decided to do his senior year at the new Shawnee Mission South… like me, not so much in the SMW in crowd; when I ask about wife and kids, there comes a poignant moment and would-be tears in our respective beers—she died a few years ago. Always a sadness factor as reunion anni-versaries increment. I also share the table with Navy Captain Brent Gooding, retired, and his wife, Mary. Very impressive, Navy captains are just shy of admirals; he had seven ships under his command in Gulf War 1. Another one I didn’t want us into, but I keep still.

We reflect mutually on our high school years. The tour has shown me what an elaborate SYSTEM the state schools are, and Shawnee Mission West, in particular. One has only to glance thru a yearbook, now as an adult, to realize just how ambitious and all-encompassing they were and are. As if to preempt any consideration of market alternatives as attacks on Motherhood and Apple Pie. Sigh. We have to remind ourselves that even in so controlled a system, individual expression of excellence remains possible or, in the case of my alma mater, often commonplace.

The museum is extremely worthwhile. Exhibits are laid out artistically and informatively, not shying away from controversial issues… such as what ‘we’ did to the Shawnees[1], the Civil War raids and counter raids between Missouri and Kansas armed bands, how Johnson County was basically ‘redlined’ in the 1930s and 1940s to show where the desirable (white, affluent) areas were, and, more important, where undesirable minorities  had moved in. Interestingly, I read some of the placards that I believe state how in the 1950s the government schools in Johnson County did not accept blacks… and in fact the policy did not change until, was it the 1970s?  To my knowledge in 1967, we had no blacks enrolled.

Naturally, not too many in this museum crowd wants to dwell on such depressing matters. Yours truly included. Water under the bridge. Manifest Destiny and all that. Next. [Being facetious, of course. People do care. At least, over time, the system was such as to yield to more enlightened ways.] Speaking of the 1950s, I do want to share an image of the major exhibit of the “All-Electric Home.”  Leave it to Beaver lives! Only the house is a ranch-style dwelling. Very cool. Yes, it brings back some vivid memories of the material things that the Federal Housing Administration, the GI Bill (after WW2), and hyper road construction hath wrought.Let’s leave the museum chronicle by posting one more photo of a display that stands out like something you could see from outer space: the White Haven—double entendre?— Motor Lodge sign. It’s the first thing you see as you enter the museum and the last thing you see when you leave. Obviously someone needs to restore the neon to the big W. This privately owned, non-chain motel stood along Metcalf Avenue, US 69, the main drag of Overland Park. A landmark, back in the days when a couple spending an evening together at a respectable establishment needed a marriage certificate or note from their pastor.

Final food choice for the trip, another well known BBQ joint called Johnny’s just up the street in Mission, Kansas. Johnny’s has a prosaic café look, good prices, and highly tasty assortment of finely prepared meats, sauces, and accouterments. Friendly service as well. Fitting end to a fabulous journey. And subtle invitation to the old warrior to come back sooner than the 55th reunion, which I heard some bold-soul classmate was committing to.

Egads, my thoughts at this point in our scary world: what’s the point in planning five years down the road? But okay, perhaps the seas will part and the skies will open, all the toxic and menacing realities will subside. Someone in the next year or two will stuff the bad genies of TSA and Homeland Security back in the devil’s cauldron, and I’ll take a flight… to meet up with my renewed pals, Warren and Mike and Jack, and others from the old home town. By then perhaps I’ll be ready once again for stacks of exquisitely sauced red meat. And, of course, always ready for the grand company.

[David Garner’s spreadsheet on attendees shows that roughly 100 classmates out of a class of roughly 500 were with us this time. With even more advance notice and planning, there’s no reason we can’t nudge that sterling performance up a notch or two.]

Sunday and Monday trip home

Just to wind things up, let everyone know I arrived safely and soundly, adding a few newsy notes along the way. First, the Ramada did not disappoint, giving me a few parting scenes of refuse in the walkways. I made sure to grab a receipt from the front counter to attach to my polite letter requesting my money back in return for documenting the conditions for Wyndham quality control leaders to hammer flat. Otherwise a smooth getaway in perfect weather.

As you can see, always a light and highly organized packer.

Here I want to put a plug in for the west-to-east US highway 36 through Missouri—which turns into Interstate 72 at the Illinois border. This is one well-maintained and hassle-free country highway. Sure a bit on the boring side if you don’t like farms, pastures, agricultural equipment, grain elevators… but I’m in Highway Heaven just leaning back, setting the cruise control at 67, and taking in the neverending open expanse of scenery. Also thinking that it’s time to move 90% of our corn fields and wheat fields to agricultural hemp, restore the health of the American economy via a multitrillion dollar per year industry! Including family farms in the millions. Fortunes will be made, by Main Street, who needs Wall Street.

Bit of reverie, there. Because I’m driving only six to seven hours per day, I’ll have time to stop and see the Mark Twain commemorative parts of Hannibal, Missouri, where he grew up. Few of my internal photos of the museum there turn out, but you can grasp the magnitude of his work and person from a review of the Wikipedia link. Really, knowing very little about the man, I nonetheless take the exit, feeling a strong tug toward him now and his highly independent yet childlike approach to life, and toward Hannibal, similar to the feelings I’ve had this week-end about my own home town.
A good place to say so long.

[Link to Episode 11]

[1] The Shawnees were a settled, nonhostile, agricultural nation initially treatied with a set-aside of 1.6 million acres in 1836. Eighteen years later the feds said, “Whoops, just kidding. We need all that land back now. But, hey, we’ll build you a mission.”








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1 thought on “Shawnee Mission, Hail to Thee

  1. Wonderful narrative! Great pix and memories of your hometown and classmates; kudos to all those who made it happen 🙂

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