Still on the Road

I’m blogging this morning from the Hilton at the Wichita, KS airport – there was a coupon for a deeply reduced rate in one of those travel guides you pick up at rest stations, and we decided (well, I declared) I couldn’t face a Super8 or it’s ilk. Besides, they’re not that much cheaper.

Yesterday, we were up at dawn, having kicked our niece E out of her room. (She was fine with it, having a slumber party in the living room with our other two nieces K and C). At eleven, E looks fifteen, and it’s only her very very protective parents who are keeping her from growing up too fast. Blushingly, she admitted yesterday that the biggest reason she’s excited about her grandparents moving to Brandon (the next town over) is that a boy she’s liked since second grade just moved there. Ah, the optimism of eleven-year-olds.

In an earlier conversation, however, she confessed that her sheltered upbringing has isolated her a bit from her peers. “They wear makeup to school (AT ELEVEN???) and know all this music and stuff that I don’t.” Between church, dance, piano, violin, and soccer, she doesn’t have TIME, but she recognizes, in some way, that her load of extra-curriculars is also protecting her from becoming jaded. Not that she expressed it that way. In any case, she’s becoming an original and unique person, and it’s interesting to see her acting with poise and presence and so “adult” in one moment, and then (after we presented her with earrings), squealing, “Oh! Dolphins! I Love Dolphins!” the next.

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While I tease Fuzzy about his rural farmboy roots, the truth is that I have family in South Dakota as well. Granted, they moved there about the same time we got married, and I tend to forget they live there, as they were in California when we first met, just as I was, but they do live in the same town, and, indeed, attend the same Baptist church, as Fuzzy’s brother, so when we knew we’d be in the area, it would have been rude not to call them.

Aunt P and Aunt G are my grandfather’s surviving sisters. Aunt P turns 90 next year – she doesn’t look more than 75. Spry, funny, and a total charmer, she keeps a running tally of her great-grandchildren in her head. Aunt G is more aloof, with a mouth on her that rivals a sailors, but she has a wicked sense of humor and tells amazing stories. B is actually my mother’s cousin, and is Aunt P’s daughter. She’s warm and funny, her new husband, also B, is a doll who dotes on the old ladies, and is clearly besotted with her. (Hey, in the great plains you’re allowed to use forms of “besot.”) J, my cousin, B’s son, swooped through to kiss me on the head and shake Fuzzy’s hand, but couldn’t stay, as we all shared breakfast at Kaladi, a “coffee legend and bistro” that opened in Sioux Falls a few years back. It’s a great coffee house. We arrived there at 8:30, and chatted til 11, before we all embarked on our separate journeys – the old ladies, back home for a hen party-poker game, the B’s for Vermillion and college football, and Fuzzy and I, well, we headed South on I29 for the first half of our journey back home.

* * * * *

There are two ways of getting from SoDak to Kansas, one of which involves taking the 335 toll road (Kansas Turnpike) and then going on route 75 through Nebraska and Iowa. It shaves about 65 miles from the trip, and we did that on the way north, but we opted to take I29 all the way to it’s ending point in Kansas City, which meant we were actually in Missouri for much of our ride. We stopped in Elk Point, SD to take pictures of the ducks (the woman in the gas station said that they’ll be moved to a winter pond shortly, which is near the local high school, and where, when they’re hungry or cold, they often flock to the school steps and honk til the kids feed them. Or quack, rather.) in the city park, which is also part of the Lewis and Clark trail, one of their campsites, as well as being the site of the first election held west of the Mississippi.

From there, we drove a bit in Iowa, and Nebraska, before crossing into Missouri, and despite the weather (damp, and hovering around 39/40 with alternating snow and rain), the drive was beautiful. Rolling hills, fall colors, and at the end of the highway, plus about an hour, Fuzzy’s Aunt E, Uncle V, and cousin D (his wife is ALSO Melissa) and their two-year-old boy E., the latter three of whom live near Olathe, met us for dinner and conversation, which energized us, and made the trip seem less dull.

We surfed oldies stations, mostly out of St. Joseph and Topeka, til we got to Wichita, and then crashed here for the night.

Today, we face the barren landscape of Oklahoma, which is quite possibly the most depressing state ever. I mean, you cross the state line and you can FEEL the failing economy. It’s that thick in the air. (Cousin D said the same thing.) It’s sad, just as what’s happening in the rest of the heartland is sad. This summer was the hottest EVER for much of the country, but Nebraska and the Dakotas are in their seventh year of drought conditions, to the point where the corn and soy crops are failing, and towns like Fuzzy’s hometown are dying (they’re dying for other reasons, too, like kids who go away to school, and don’t want to return to run the family farm). We were surprised to find that Super Unleaded was cheaper than the usual “cheap stuff” in all the Ethanol states, though. (Also, average price of gas on the prairie is $2.15/gallon for the cheapest – remind me not to complain about Grand Prairie, TX being $2.01 when Cedar Hill was $1.99)

If you think the droughts not important, go grab a copy of Kathleen Norris’s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, and read it, and then read it again. You can’t have ethanol without corn and soy, and you can’t have corn and soy without water. (Actually, you should read it anyway, just because it’s an amazing book. It’s not about farming or water rights, but it does a lot to put you into the culture of the plains.)

* * * * *

I’m about to jump in the shower, and I’m letting Fuzzy sleep late. We’re off to find breakfast in about ninety minutes, and then we’ll finish the trek home, and tomorrow, get up way early to spring the dogs from the Kennel. I miss them. A lot.

Catch you all on the flip side.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Still on the Road by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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