June 5th marks 9 years you and I have been together. To honor this ‘almost a decade’ anniversary, I’m thinking it’s time to finally come clean about my feelings toward you. Brace yourself. It might get ugly before it gets surprising.
I’ll start by first admitting we have had a rather rocky relationship, you and I, although that comes as no surprise to you. The years have been full of ups and downs, dips and curves that really haven’t been your fault.
From the beginning, my primary issue was that you didn’t feel like home.
Home to me was 8 long hours away in a dusty west Texas town. That’s where my People were, my church, my Target, my sunsets and mesquites. You had your own churches and you had Walmart, which really doesn’t count. You had pits instead of tanks, fried chicken instead of Tex-mex, a ‘hall’ instead of a mall. All of your Kansas people already had their own people and suspiciously wondered what Texans were doing sniffing around their hood.
It felt like we had traversed international waters instead of the red dirt of Oklahoma, which justifiably could count as a foreign country. It was a shock and a sting when your dwellers looked at us like creatures from another planet.
At least that is what it felt like to me. At the Mall Deli and the YMCA and even in church, where they should know better for crying out loud.
So it has taken some time. A slow and gradual opening up of my heart to yours. We’ve circled each other warily like two mutts in an alley. Maybe that is just the way it is sometimes, especially with a girl who’s only lived in two other towns her whole life.
Let’s go back over the way we met, shall we? In June 2005, we packed up a U-Haul and caravanned the 8 plus hours in our truck and minivan filled with three children, a goldfish wedged between the front seats and a cooler filled with 1/2 a bottle of mustard, 3 apples and some cheese.
At the end of an exhausting travel day, you graciously welcomed us at the Oklahoma/Kansas border, just past the creepy town of Picher with tornado sirens, green skies and rain that blew sideways. Slightly odd hospitality if you ask me. Remember how we slid into our driveway, digging a trench in the swampy lawn that remains there today?
Obviously, we WERE in Kansas and watched for Dorothy’s house go flying by on our way into town. “Holy Cow, WHAT HAVE WE DONE?” was the oft-repeated phrase from that night forward.
Perhaps it was the novelty and not your character that I should blame on the long adjustment period that ensued. You were only our second move in 38 years, the first being the move to college, which was a welcome and lovely affair.
Being responsible for the settling in of not only myself, but of my three babies and husband, was rock hard. I blamed you, Kansas, because it seemed like there were only frost and cold walls to be found. Culture shock and crippling homesickness was something I wasn’t prepared for. I know it wasn’t your fault, but it was nice to have someone to pour out frustrations and anger on. So I guess, thanks for that.
But gratefully things have long begun to smooth out between you and me. I need to finally ask forgiveness for a few early episodes that I blame on my longing for home. Remember that time I sat with the windows rolled up in the Walmart parking lot and screamed curses at you til your ears bled? Yeah, sorry for that. Those bitter emails and conversations to my Texans? Please accept my apology.
Over the years you have slowly wooed me, you big lug. You have taught me to embrace the beauty within this little corner of the world and have offered up your people on a platter of grace.
Isn’t time a strange thing, the way it can heal, revealing truth and perspective? We always KNEW you were the right thing at the right time but our hearts were torn and it was easy to resent you. And your people. Especially your people.
So here it is Mr. Wheat State. I’m writing this letter to grudgingly admit that you finally feel like home. Your people are my people in a way I never dreamed was possible those first couple of years and there is so much I’ve grown to appreciate about you.
There is something very salty that you provide in a world that feels artificially sweet, a certain back-in-timeness that echoes your hard-working immigrant roots both in the land and people. The air here in your southeast corner is still perfumed with coal dust, powdering the skin of polka dancing generations.
Your earthy beauty is what first sparked a softening of my heart toward you: four distinct seasons, infamous and passionate storms, the lushness of spring, the harshness of winter. You are all about such details as owls and geese, peonies and fields of hay, lush gardens that fill the farmer’s market.
Wild adventure is a spice for life and your wildness comes in the form of honeysuckle and funnel clouds and blackberries and hedgerows and critters and so many Italians. You show off with creeks that flood their banks in the spring and the occasional white out blizzard in the winter.
You are one of those ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of guys, Kansas. You are not one bit pretentious. Fancy is not in your vocabulary and I really like that about you and the ones who live here.
I understand that when we moved here 9 years ago, our relationship was a blank page. We had written no stories together. All my stories were shared with other places. It took some time, but I need to confess that some of the best stories of my life have been written in the past almost decade with you, a shaky but adventurous walk on the water.
Your People. I dare to share that their beautiful brokenness is what brought me over to actual love for you. You baptized me in the quirky and gloriously messy stories of your people. These folks that I’ve gotten to know in the church parking lot and on committees and bleachers and at the gym. That’s when the journal pages started filling up. When I started choosing to become a part of the fascinating stories taking place around me is when our relationship became Facebook official. A list of names grows like a memorial in my thoughts of those you’ve given me to do life alongside. Thank you, thank you for all the introductions. Your timing over the past nine years has been impeccable.
I wish I had realized when I moved here that storytelling and storyjoining takes time and patience and a whole lot of grit. You’ve invited me into a place to grow my children and marriage that at first seemed a little, well…boring. The only real boring part was me and my one little story. You knew I needed to time to be drawn into the greater story being written all around me. And in the meantime you offered meals on wheels and the PTO and a job and a church plant and soccer practice to make space for that to happen.
I’m a small town girl at heart and you made short work tapping into the part of me that delights in watching the UPS guy in his brown shirt play hopscotch with his daughter in the driveway before school. In handing out water and conversation at the park on fourth of July, driving down McKay street lined with flags, picking out familiar faces in YMCA dance recitals, watching summer movies in the parking lot of the Colonial Fox theatre.
And when the small town feeling got too claustrophobic, you gave me the miraculous presence of Starbucks, which many times was the only normal feeling place in town, its cups of coffee shared with the even more precious gift of new friends. My proximity to the Plaza in Kansas City helped alot too.
It took a measure of faith beyond my ability to stick it out with you, dear Wheat State. Oh the grace. I wonder about the stories that lie ahead. I want them to be as good as the past and hunger for more of your stories’ lessons.
Within your borders I learned to see with the eyes of Eucharisteo. You taught me to love and appreciate people who are very different from me, all these characters that could be taken from the pages of Mitford. I learned how to survive the goodbyes to our daughter leaving for college and to my best friend, whose presence with me here in your place was one of the most outlandishly generous things God has ever given me.
I learned to appreciate bluegrass and ‘chicken and noodles’ and spiderwebs and gorillas and snow days and trains in the night.
You are secretly awesome, which is my favorite kind of people. Consider this letter my open armed invitation for a bear hug. I want to quietly whisper in your ear that you feel like home and that I love you, Kansas.