Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Road Trip No. 2 is Over

We returned last night from southwest Kansas, 1067 miles after starting. The main purpose for the trip was my wife's high school reunion, but I scheduled much more around that. We had time with aunts and cousins. We visited two family cemeteries. We attended the old home church. We went to the county fair. We took late evening walks of more than a mile, after the temperature dropped below 90, and marveled at the clarity of the Milky way. We visited the hometown museum, which is much changed since I last went in it thirty years ago.

And we visited the old homestead where Charles and Zippy Thompson lived for thirty years. No, Zippy is not a nickname. I've often wondered why Isaac and Sarah Chappell named their second daughter Zippy Ellen Chappell, but they died about a hundred years before I knew her name was Zippy, who herself died in 1962, fourteen years before I married in. Lynda's mom was with us for the homestead tour. In fact, she's the main reason I wanted to make the trip. Well, I wanted to see it too. Thirty-four years of trips to Meade and no one ever suggested we try to find the place where the sod house was built into a hillside, and the spring house kept the meat and produce cool. No, the fixation was always on the Cheney family and the last stop of the wandering 49er.

But Esther had spent much time at her grandparent's farm/ranch on the Finney/Haskell county line. She helped tend the vegetable garden, pick flowers, slept on a mat on the earthen floor, used the outhouse, and spent a rustic week of enjoyment with grandma and grandpa. Esther enjoyed the visit most of all, carefully stepping over a variety of critter holes, abandoned farm equipment, and building debris with her 85 year-old legs, and getting Texas tacks on her slacks, recalling what she experienced seven or eight decades previously. Lynda enjoyed it too. Her cousin Trish carried off a souvenier, an old over cover.

We also visited a scene of less happy memories, where my wife's two aunts perished in the blizzard of 1948, the year before my wife was born. Esther and Faye, the two remaining sisters who were not with the others for that fateful car ride, showed where the car got stuck, where Louise's body was found three days later at the bottom of a ravine, where Phyllis died, and where their friend Marvin apparently tried to make it back to the car but failed in hie attempt. That visit was harder than the other, which is likely the reason we never did that tour before. We drove that road maybe thirty years ago, but no one asked, "Where exactly did the girls die?"

One other unhappy but necessary visit was with Lynda's cousin Bobby, from Cimarron. His 33 year-old daughter committed suicide a year ago. We talked with him a couple of months after it happened, but this was the first time to see him. He explained how nothing helped with the healing. I hope something we said did, though. Bobby keeps up the Cheney plot in Fowler Cemetery, and was driving down on Sunday to do so when we suggested we drive up to see him. So we met at Aunt Rosa's house in Fowler and again at the cemetery. One lighter moment came when he pointed out that a man buried right next to the Cheneys was named Jerry Garcia. Bobby says he has a lot of fun telling people he mows Jerry Garcia's grave, and they think him a celebrity of sorts. Not being a Grateful Dead fan that went over my head until Bobby explained it.

Many memories made, and recalled, on a good six-day trip, concluded by meeting up with other cousins at Baxter Springs, Kansas, as we returned home yesterday, and dining on old Route 66. May there be many more such times and trips.

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