Tuesday, July 27, 2004

JUNE 14, 2004

My first morning in town. I went down to the Second Cup Cafe for breakfast and to catch the "As the Bladder Fills" club at their 8:00 a.m. meeting. I had the large order of biscuits and gravy - $2.69; plus a cinnamon roll and coffee. And I had no sooner finished wiping the grin off my face than I heard Ivan Burgess coming in - "There's Tom Montag." He got me seated at the Club's usual table and started introducing me to the guys who were coming in too - people like Jim Fetters, the county attorney, and Linton Lull, who used to be one of Smith Center's bankers, Jack Benn and Claude Gripp, Raymond Osborn and Stan Hooper and a whole mess of other fellows whose names I didn't get written down.

When one of the fellows came in, the waitress asked him about his weekend. He said, "When you're retired, it's hard to tell when your weekend begins and ends."

Ivan thought I might go out and visit some grain elevators and told me who to talk to. "Just tell them I sent you," he said. The fellow in the next chair told me to be careful, though, because there are a couple big fellows who'll throw me out if I mention Ivan's name.

"These are the brightest minds in town," Ivan said of the fellows gathered for coffee. When I mentioned to Linton Lull that I'd seen his name in Ivan's Echo Echo, Linton confided that Ivan had been "short of material."

We saw that Jim Fetters was starting to grow a mustache. He had been fishing up in Flin Flon, Manitoba, for a week and came back with a smear of whiskers under his nose. Ivan asked him: "How come you're cultivating on your face what grows naturally around your ass?" You can see just about how nice they are to one another, this bunch.

Someone said the county is pretty solidly Republican. A fellow quoted ol' Chot Burt on the subject; Chot had said "I'd rather have a sister who works in a house of ill-repute than a third cousin who's a Democrat."

Ivan said: "We don't vote for people here, we vote against 'em. If they don't make any mistakes, we'll keep them."

They're talking about the death penalty down on that end of the table. One is for, one is against. One is saying "I can't believe that Terry Nichols didn't get the death penalty. I can't believe the people of Oklahoma did that."

Ivan has a copy of his Echo Echo opened up to a long list of names of the people running for public office. "That's an indication that the economy is bad under Bush - all those people looking for jobs."

"Did you get here last night in time to hear the storm?" someone asked. Yeah, I said, I heard the thunder but I didn't hear it rain. "That's the way it has been going," the fellow said, "we get the fireworks and someone else gets the rain."

"We're gonna get a new sheriff, a new county attorney, and a new judge," Jim Fetters is telling the fellow down at the end of the table. Fetters is not running for re-election.

Someone else is back to talking about the wheat harvest. Over at Colby to the west of here, he indicates, the harvest is so poor that "they cut their wheat in road gear. A fellow was out there driving down the road at 55 m.p.h. and the combine in the field was keeping up with him. The wheat harvest is pretty barren out there."

"I'd settle for what I got last year," the fellow next to me said. "It was the best year for wheat in Smith County history. Rain came just at the right times." He'd heard some pretty reliable sources that they'd gotten a hundred bushels to the acre last year on high, dry ground. "I didn't get anything that good, closer to seventy to eighty bushels an acre."

Down at the other end: "It's a good thing these farmers like to gamble - they do it every year."

Maybe it was Jim Fetters who said "Yeah, people are moving here by the hundreds." Someone else wanted to make sure I understood that was meant as sarcasm.

"Like Yogi Berra said," Fetters added, "if they aren't gonna come, how you gonna stop 'em?"

"You could get a pessimistic view sitting here," Linton Lull cautioned. "There are some good things happening - a new airport is being built; the Chamber of Commerce has the 'Come Home to Smith Center' promotion to get folks to return to Smith Center now that they've retired; there's the new Wellness Center; there's the library; people gave money to move water from the water treatment plant to the golf course, to water the fairways."

Then I overhear someone saying "... yeah, we're gonna make the women do without. We're gonna get all the men together and cut the women off." He's talking about sex, yes; and he adds "we'll probably have too many scabs crossing the picket line."

Linton Lull tells me about the Shrader Foundation. The community helped out Milt Shrader during the Depression when his circus was in trouble. He'd been broke and couldn't get his railroad cars home and the community took up a collection and bailed him out of a tight spot. He remembered them in his will with a million dollar bequest to the community. Some nephews had contested the will but the courts upheld it. Money has been wisely spent - the library was built and named for Shrader, the community hall was renovated. "One of the nephews came back here and was amazed that we'd built the library and named it after his uncle and had more money left than we had originally," Lull indicated. "He had a change of heart about it - we'd done all this, we'd honored his uncle, and the money hadn't been squandered."

"Most of our successful people have moved away, unfortunately," someone was lamenting. "But," he added, "they haven't forgotten us. Our graduates have all these scholarships available."

They'd like those people to come back to Smith Center when they retire. "We've got good doctors here," someone said, "we've got the golf course, great fishing, great hunting, the Wellness Center." 

To be continued....
(501 W. Third #12, Smith Center, KS 66967)  
"I heard a high school girl tell another high school girl that the Fourth of July was on the the fifth this year," Ivan said.
"At the time I'm talking about," Ivan wrote, "a couple of older fellows in town, Art Nelson and John Scott just came out to the golf course and played a couple of holes and then puttered around. One day Ivan Phetteplace said to John Scott, he said 'John, how can I improve my putting?' John said, 'Get the ball closer to the hole on your approach shot.'"
"It don't matter what part of town you live in," Ivan said, "it is not a high crime area. It don't matter what part of town you live in, you are less than twenty minutes from a doctor. It don't matter what part of town you live in, you are less than twenty minutes from a grocery store. It don't matter what part of town you live in, you are less than twenty minutes from a library that has talking books and talking CD. There are enough soap operas on TV to satisfy the most discriminating adult taste. Don't make no difference where you live in town, you are less than twenty minutes from church. And nearly all the churches have someone in their congregation who will pick you up and take you home."
"That ol Stan Smith is quick with the quip," Ivan noted. "I don't know if you know what kind of equipment that Stan, by choice, farms with. Stan walks very carefully on the conservative side. Someone asked Stan the other day, up at Paul's Cafe, how his wheat cutting was coming. Stan said he was all through cuttin' but now he had to sneak the combine back up to Pioneer Village before they missed it."
"Phyllis Tucker says her boss, Jim Fetters, keeps his office cold enough to hang meat it," Ivan said. 

"Before all the young people had cars," Ivan said, "the Old Mill and Park was a trysting place for young lovers. Vandalism was unheard of when a young swain was chewing a hickey on some nubile young creature's throat. This is not first hand information I'm giving you. I learned this from classmates bragging about their amorous conquests of the night before. I never had any success stories to tell along those lines."
"I don't know how the subject came up," Ivan said, "but it did. Last Friday morning about mid-morning the subject of getting up early in the morning came up at Paul's Cafe. Carl Stepp said he always got up at five o'clock in the morning. Bill Barretson said he did too, but his problem was he couldn't remember if he flushed or not when he got back to bed."
JULY 27, 1998

We know way too many people who have killed themselves - last week, the daughter of a friend. Before that, a friend, a couple of co-workers, a writer from Milwaukee, other acquaintances. May my grace be the gift to see the silver lining, to recognize that not every question Why? has an answer. Sometimes you have to run on sheer momentum. If you don't have that momentum built up, sometimes you cannot leap the gap.

Fifteen miles west of here the corn has given up. It no longer begs for rain. Its tightly curled leaves scream for release. The wind kisses the corn and moves on. Here, we had barely enough rain during the night to wet the street. If a similar rain fell west of here, it would be only enough to tease the farmers, not enough to do any good at all on that sand country. The corn cries out to an empty sky. The wind passes on.

Blue sky and sun. Wind ruffling the surface of the pond. Another day like every other day. The grass just wet enough to look like there's dew on it, not rain. The sun is already drying the streets.

In the field where the canning factory sprays its waste water, the hay has been taken now. Stubble reaches for the sun.

A woman and her dog walk west on Watson Road, south of Sina's pig farm. She is power walking. It is a large red dog and it has no problem keeping pace.

There are soy beans, I think, coming up now in the two fields where peas had been taken. I can see rows of green receding into the distance.

Flowers at Five Corners - red, white, and purple, orange and yellow and pink. They are an exclamation point at this intersection, if you ask me.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?