The following commentary was aired on Kansas Public Radio on April 3, 2008, and published in the Topeka Metro News on March 28, 2008.
Martha Peet Wore Flowers
Folks, Here, Kansas, was blessed with Martha Peet, who every day of her life wore a flower. She grew up in There Country, where her mother grew every flower possible in the hot, dry climate of Kansas. She knew the name of every bloom. When she walked our streets, we noted her comings and goings. “There’s Martha,” we’d say. We knew it was Monday, because that was the day she wore blue: an iris in the spring, an aster in the fall. Sunday was always a white lily. Each day of the week was a different color, and a different flower. Some days we had to ask her the name of the flower she wore. Most of them she grew herself. During the winter, they were delivered to her from Wichita. We did not know why she insisted on her custom, at what must have been some expense.
When her husband Fred was alive, he called her his flower, and often wore her on his arm. And why not? She was a small woman, slender as a stalk, but strong. Her face was radiant, glowing pink as any soft rose. She raised her children with the same love, care and attention she gave to her flower garden, which was modeled after her own mother’s. Her garden attracted all of us of an evening walk. When our kids came back to Here to visit, they’d soon slip out to pass the Peet house, where the whole yard was a bed of flowers, something always in bloom. Nobody could imagine her effort to create such beauty, but she was always outside, as though she, too, needed sunlight to bloom.
When her husband died, Martha gardened less. But she still wore the beauty she’d accustomed us to, and instead of walking by her place we walked by her when she was out, blessing our streets with her radiance. When Martha Peet died, we’d never seen such flowers. Everyone tried to give back to her what she’d given. I was nearly overwhelmed at the door of the There Funeral Home by the scent alone. When I walked in out of a grey day, I felt like Dorothy opening the door of her tornado-swept Kansas house to find herself in Munchkin Land, such was the full Technicolor of flowers. As we left the service, we did not yet know how much we would miss her flowers.
We also did not know that Martha was a drier of flowers. Each day she pressed into a book the wilting flower that had spent that day pinned to her hat, or her bosom, or just carried along with her purse. The daily blossom marred the texts of the volumes of There County histories her father published. Therein, the portraits of the founders of the county were streaked by yarrow lace, creating jaundiced faces. Her Bible stored the miracles of roses, dahlia, and lilies
Even her diary, her son discovered when he came to close up the house, was not the language and story of the past, but a journal of days spent carrying beauty. And what was her past anyway? It was something that grew each day as she tucked away the flower. Her son showed us the withered flowers—stamen, pistil, petal. We breathed in dust, but we smelled honeysuckle, jasmine, rose. We smelled Martha Peet.
Listen to this commentary via Kansas Public Radio.
The following commentary was aired on Kansas Public Radio on March 5, 2008, and published in the Topeka Metro News on March 14, 2008:
Folks, Mabel Beemer, the best gardener in Here, Kansas, came into the Co-op last month with a stack of seed catalogues. “I know what to celebrate, and I know how to celebrate it!” she announced. None of us interrupted our sips of nickel coffee to ask what she meant. We already knew what she was celebrating. You know how some people just will not let something go? We watched Mabel thumb through her catalogues, preparing, as she does each spring, for the garden she will soon plant—some seeds outdoors after danger of first frost, some in the egg cartons she uses for flats, to sprout on her sun porch. While she thumbed, she hummed the K-State fight song.
I couldn’t help myself. I hummed “I’m a Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay Jayhawk.”
“Doesn’t this look nice?” she interrupted me. She pointed to a heritage plant, the Purple Cherokee tomato.
“Just perfect for your Willie Wildcat,” I said.
“My whole garden will be purple,” said Mabel. “Do you see these purple potatoes, this royal kohlrabi? How better to celebrate . . .”
“Isn’t it a little sad,” I interrupted, “when all you have to celebrate is the snap of a 24-game losing streak at Bramlage?”
Mabel went back to her seed catalogues. “Isn’t it sad when you get so old you can’t celebrate the future?” she asked.
Folks, planning a garden is planning a future. Whether planting a purple garden will help the future of a basketball program, I can’t say. But Mabel did not tire of circling ruby chard, purple cabbage, beets, radishes, radicchio, turnips and red onions. Seems everything called red is actually purple. “And those are just for my spring garden,” she said. “See what I can start in my flats. She pointed to pictures of purple basil, purple snap beans, red and purple chiles, amaranth, eggplant.
“And you already have grapes,” I pointed out. “I’ve seen your hands stained purple with juice, as though you were bleeding purple.”
“Would you like a turn with the catalogues?” she asked. “You could plant a red and blue garden.
“Blueberries don’t grow in Kansas,” I said, “and I can’t think of any other blue foods.”
“So your garden won’t celebrate your Jayhawks.”
Folks, I opened my mouth for a huge yawn. “When you’re a Jayhawk, you get tired of celebrating,” I said. “You almost get tired of winning. Kind of nice when the Wildcats stir up a little defeat.”
“Do you get tired of eating?” asked Mabel. “Because next fall, when K-State beats KU in football, my garden will be ripe. You and Iola can come over for borscht, followed by a basil, radish and purple chile salad. Main course—a Wildcat ratatouille of eggplant, purple tomatoes, beans and red onions. Served with grape juice.”
“I’ll put it on the calendar,” I said. “And I’ll bring blueberries for dessert, just in case.”
The following commentary was aired on Kansas Public Radio on February 29, 2008, and published in the Topeka Metro News on the same day:
The End of Winter, The Call to Spring
Folks, these grey days at the end of a grey month are deceptive. If you go out in your garden, you’ll see little hints of green, ready to thrust themselves skyward when they feel the change in the air that announces spring. Even we old Hereins, gathered at the Co-op, may have grey hair and grey beards, but we’re ready for a change.
Seems like the country might be, too. Everywhere I look, folks are waking up. We had a caucus at the Neither Here nor There Consolidated School. All eighty-seven Democrats showed up. The older the Democrat, the more likely to stand for Hillary—that was seventeen of them in their nineties. The younger folks, Hereins and Thereins in their sixties, seventies and eighties, stood for Obama. There County went about like the rest of the state. We are ready for a change.
Of course what people want and what they get can be different. Take the coal-fired plants near Holcomb that will pollute not only Kansas, but the entire region. The Department of Health and Environment wanted to go green, so they said no to the expansion. At first, a poll said that the majority of Kansans agreed with this green decision. But the legislature, in its grey-haired wisdom, is working toward not only approving the expansion, but without any caps on the pollution it will spew. They don’t see why the state should have a higher standard than the federal government does. Of course it turns out the federal government has no standard at all. If they can’t get a veto-proof vote, our green governor will win in her opposition.
When California, another green place, decided to limit carbon emissions, the federal government took them to court. So green governors meet the grey of the Bush administration, which will keep skies as grey as February until next January.
Folks, from where I sit in the Here, Kansas, Co-op, it looks like the Republicans might well nominate John McCain as their candidate for President. If so, he’ll be the oldest candidate, as grey as the last day of February in a leap year, ever to run for the office. He has had a long and distinguished career in the United States Senate, and I wish him well. But his mind is overcast with the hunched brow of militarism. He will be clouded by his, “Bomb, bomb, bomb. Bomb, bomb Iran.” He will wander through the mist of Republican fiscal policy that has created what some are ready to call a recession. In this election year, it will be: Iraq, stupid. Health care, stupid. And, of course, the economy, stupid. I don’t know who the Democrats will nominate. But after eight years of George W. Bush, their policies will try for the new, for the green.
Folks, I have a suggestion. Instead of Red States and Blue States, why doesn’t the media do Green States and Grey States? At no time that I can remember is the future more important. I’m looking for the green among the grey, in my garden and in this country. This year, I’m hoping Kansas, with the example of its green Governor, would be a green state. Happy Spring!
The following commentary was aired on Kansas Public Radio on August 31, 2007, and published in the Topeka Metro News on the same day:
Oleander on Air Fresheners
Well, I walked into the Co-op after my vacation to find a lilac air freshener in an electric outlet only a few feet from the table where I drink my nickel cups of coffee and hold forth as Honorary Mayor of Here. “When did this happen?” I asked Claude.
“Mabel Beemer plugged that in, just last week,” he said.
Folks, I have no power to tell Mabel what she should smell, but that lilac was awfully strong. “And you let her?” I asked Claude.
“Don’t take offense, William,” he said, “but maybe she likes the smell of lilac better than ...” he trailed off.
“Better than what?” I asked.
“Depends,” he said.
“Depends on what?” I asked.
“Depends,” he said flatly.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “I take no offense. But that smell, stronger than any flower, plugged into an electric outlet, isn’t much better.”
“I agree,” said Claude. He sat down next to me. “We used to live with smells, didn’t we? Honest smells.”
Folks, I miss those smells. Used to be a person could sit in the Co-op blindfolded and know who had just walked in the door. When Claude pumped gas, that thin acrid odor lived in his clothing. Barney Barnhill, of the Demolition Derby Museum, always carried rags stained black with the redolence of thick, musty oil and transmission fluid. Old “Bill of Rights” Liedicker, the last of us to quit smoking, wafted Albert in a can, a thick tinny richness that made us envy him. Mabel Beemer smelled of the rose sachet she safety-pinned to her purse, except during canning season, when she could hardly wash the pungent smell of tomato vines from her hands. Iola Humboldt favored talcum powder. Elmer Peterson of the Drive-thru Pharmacy and Car Wash was a walking whiff of the iron of an old vitamin. And me? “William,” Claude said, “on a good day you smelled of fresh cut hay. On the weekends, more like a tackle box.”
“I could bring my old tackle box,” I suggested, “put it next to my chair. Counteract that nuclear lilac bush plugged in over there.”
“Nope,” said Claude, “or we’d have everyone competing for how this place smells.”
“And what’d be wrong with that?” I asked.
“My Matilda would catch wind of it,” he said.
“Her favorite smell is liver and onions.”
“That stinks,” I said.
“Enough to keep it at home,” he said. “Sit down. I’ll make you a fresh cup of coffee.”
“That’d smell nice,” I said, happy to be back from vacation.
To listen to this commentary via the Kansas Public Radio Archives, follow this link and click on Fragrant Familiarity.
The following commentary was aired on Kansas Public Radio on June 22, 2007, and published in the Topeka Metro News on June 8, 2007:
Well, folks, Iola Humboldt handed me the phone, so I put down the newspaper for a polite, “Hello.” Seems it was a call from the State Troopers. “You’re not in any trouble,” a young man reassured me with one of those half chuckles, half sneers that must have been part of his script. I hate that implied intimidation.
“Have you heard of the new law?” he asked. “The one that requires you to move to the outside lane when you pass a State Trooper stopped at the side of the road?”
“I have,” I said.
“And isn’t that just common sense?” he asked.
“It is,” I said.
“It’s going to save lives. And the life of a trooper is very important, wouldn’t you say?” I didn’t answer because I didn’t think he expected me to. But his script required me to say something. “Mr. Oleander?” he asked.
“Common sense,” I said. “Why, I think they ought to take everything that’s common sense and make a law for it. When I was a boy, we had an ordinance against public spitting. And it’s common sense not to litter, so we have fines. Common sense not to run out of gas. Ought to be a law, ‘cause no doubt that wastes Trooper time. Yes, sir, I’ll move to the other lane just like I did before the law.”
He told me he’d send a bumper sticker that’d remind people of the new law. In exchange, he asked, how much money would I donate to the Troopers?
“Don’t send me a bumper sticker,” I said. “Last one of those I stuck on my International Harvester truck said, I LIKE IKE, and by the time I scrubbed it off, my fingers were raw. Didn’t much like IKE by then. Wouldn’t want to feel that way about the Troopers.”
“Can I count on you for $25?” he asked.
“You can’t,” I said, “what with the Social Security not stretching like it used to. Why,” I told him, “I might just call you tomorrow and get you to raise funds for retired farmers. We’ll make us a bumper sticker—I SUPPORT 128 FARMERS AND YOU.”
“Every little bit helps,” he said, still on script.
“I’ll say,” I said. “I saved gas money by not driving yesterday. I have it in mind to test the minimum speed limit. Common sense to have a minimum speed. But will a Trooper pull me over?”
“I don’t know about that one,” said the young man. He sighed. Finally, he was off script.
“Let’s say a Trooper pulls me over going 35 in a minimum 40. I’ll roll down my window. ‘Officer,’ I’ll say. ‘I’m not in any trouble, am I?’” Folks, after my little sneering chuckle, I heard the click on the other end of the line.
“Hang up on you again?” asked Iola Humboldt.
I nodded. Folks, I don’t really have anything against the Troopers, the Police, the Firefighters and the rest. But these are taxpayer services. If their professional organizations want money from me, they’ll have to go off script. They should start without intimidation, tell me three good things they do, then let me suggest a contribution amount. Otherwise, I’ll perfect my rambling until they give up.
To listen to this commentary via the Kansas Public Radio Archives, follow this link and click on Telephone Solicitors.
The following commentary was aired on Kansas Public Radio on May 25, 2007, and published in the Topeka Metro News on the same day:
Folks, we used to have a public radio in Here, Kansas. Yep, an old Zenith we all chipped in to buy. Anyone could listen. Farm reports, country music, talk radio, you name it. It was a public radio, but it wasn’t public radio. Especially not the Kansas Public Radio we have now.
My grandson gave me his old computer when he bought a laptop to take to college. I donated it to the Co-op, then we chipped in on an Internet connection, and now we stream Kansas Public Radio all the way from Lawrence, Kansas. Especially on Fridays. Because we love Kansas trivia.
We love it so much we’ve started making up daily quizzes for each other because once a week isn’t enough. Barney Barnhill, of the Demolition Derby Museum, asked us what town boasts the Walter P. Chrysler Boyhood Home and Museum. Elmer Peterson, of the Drive-thru Pharmacy and Car Wash wanted to know in what Kansas town Mentholatum was invented. Mabel Beemer, our best gardener, made us name the town near where George Washington Carver established a land claim in 1886.
Of course, if we have Internet to stream KPR, we can also search that same Internet when we’re stumped. Chrysler’s home town is Ellis. Mentholatum was invented in Wichita. Carver farmed near Beeler.
We like complicated trivia, too. Last week, I gave them a stumper, seven questions, with eight answers. “Listen up,” I said. “Because if you take the first letters of the eight answers, you’ll have the letters that spell a state whose official state song spells out their state name.
“OK,” I said, “are you ready?”
“Yep,” they all said.
“O …K …,” I repeated, giving them a hint. And now the trivia questions:
* Name two importance industries in Kansas that both start with the same letter.
* Name the Kansas State insect.
* Name the first official Kansas State March, composed in 1935 by Duff E. Middleton.
* Name the title of the poem that later became “Home on the Range.”
* Name the Kansas folk song about a bachelor stuck “out west in the county of ____?"
* Give me the first name of the first woman, a Kansan, to fly over the Sea of China.
* Name the candy bar, invented in 1919 in Arkansas City’s Peerless Candy Factory, that was later sold to Curtiss Candy of Chicago, which gave it a permanent name and home.
Folks, my quiz sent the Hereins to the Internet. I hoped it would occupy our time for several days. But those old folks pushed each other out of the way for turns at Google. Solved the quiz in less than an hour. Yep, they did OK.
If you think you’re so smart, you can solve my Kansas trivia and send the answer to the e-mail address of a certain professor at Washburn University. Why not prove you’re as educated as the old folks in the Here, Kansas, Co-op? Or at least just as trivial?
And your prize? Well, same as at the Co-op. Bragging rights.
To listen to this commentary via the Kansas Public Radio Archives, follow this link and click on WJBO: I like KPR and Kansas Trivia.
The following appeared in the Topeka Metro News, to answer the Kansas Trivia questions above, on June 22, 2007:
Kansas Trivia Answers, Okay?
Folks, since nobody who reads this paper was as trivial, or as quick, as we Hereins, and since questions deserve answers, I’ll help you out. Here was the Kansas trivia quiz I gave to those gathered at the Here, Kansas, Co-op a couple of weeks ago: the seven questions, with eight answers. Remember, I told them, “If you take the first letters of the eight answers, you’ll have the letters that spell a state whose official state song spells out their state name.
“Okay,” I said, “are you ready?”
1. Name two important industries in Kansas that both start with the same letter. I had in mind Agriculture and Aviation—‘cause it sure as heck isn’t art, architecture, or apiaries (that’s bee keeping, if you didn’t know). Which brings me to the second question:
2. Name the Kansas State insect. Answer: the Honeybee.
3. Name the first official Kansas State March, composed in 1935 by Duff E. Middleton. Not many people know this one, even though it’s an official state symbol, and try as hard as some folks did to replace it, the “Kansas March” still lives in the law books, if not in the repertoires of local bands that play in gazebos on hot summer afternoons all over the state. Remember it this way, the Kansas March follows the Kansas February.
Okay, for another state symbol: 4. Name the title of the poem that later became “Home on the Range.” Folks, this is one of our exciting stories. “Home on the Range,” which regained popularity in the 1930s when FDR counted it as a favorite, was traced back to the Smith County Pioneer of the 1870s, which first published Dr. Brewster Higley’s “My Western Home.”
Okay, folks, so far we have two As, an H, a K, and an M. Another song: 5. Name the Kansas folk song about a bachelor stuck “out west in the county of ____?" The man singing that song of despair on the plains is Frank Baker. In one of the choruses he laments, “Hurrah for Lane County, the land of the free,/ the home of the grasshopper, bedbug and flea./ I’ll sing loud its praises and tell of its fame,/ while I’m starving to death on my government claim.” That gives us an L.
I’m sorry the next one is a trick question: 6. Give me the first name of the first woman, a Kansan, to fly over the Sea of China. But folks, you’ve got to get past Amelia Earhart and remember that Osa Johnson, of Safari Museum fame, was also a pilot, and set many “first woman” records.
Finally, we need another O. Hence, 7. Name the candy bar, invented in 1919 in Arkansas City’s Peerless Candy Factory, that was later sold to Curtiss Candy of Chicago, which gave it a permanent name and home. Oh, boy, you should have known about Oh, Henry!
Now, since I’ve led so many sentences with Okay, you’ve probably figured out that the state whose official state song helps spell the state name is Oklahoma, as in the musical. Osa, Kansas, Lane, Aviation, Honeybee, Oh, My, Agriculture.
Okay, so it’s only trivia. But at least it’s Kansas Trivia! If you know some of it, you’re on your way to owning up to being a Kansan. If you don’t know it, perhaps you should take a minute, at least memorize the state symbols, or the second verse of “Home on the Range.” Now there’s a challenge few can rise to, unless they’re Hereins.
The following commentary was aired on Kansas Public Radio on April 5, 2007, and published in the Topeka Metro News on March 30, 2007:
But folks, before I begin, let me warn you that I'm exercising my free speech rights, and if you don't like the word "butt," the one with two t's, just turn down the radio for a few minutes.
Why, you might ask, would I want to use my free speech to comment on the word "butt"?
Well, folks, someone has to put his "you know what" on the line. You see, I read about the legislative researcher with the bumper sticker that uses the "f" word in front of the word "war."
And, of course, I read about House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, who objected so strenuously. He was especially concerned about the "ladies" who might see such a word as they walk through the Capitol parking garage on their way to and from work.
Now the word "war," I agree, is an obscenity. Think of what it represents. Especially our current war in Iraq. Have you noticed all the ribbons on cars that purport to support the "troops"? I have yet to see a bumper sticker that says, "Support the Iraq War." People don't like the policy, or the word.
About the "f" word, well, everyone already knows it's so obscene a fellow can't even say it on the radio. But, free speech is free speech, no matter in private or public space, and everyone agrees with that, from the Governor on down.
So what does this have to do with the double-t "butt," as in "kick butt," and "butt head" and "headbutt"? I'll get to that. But first, let an old man gripe. Many of us saw the famous Zidane headbutt in the final game of the World Cup. That was followed by a headbutt in Big 12 play. Okalahoma State University suspended Mario Boggan for the aggressive action.
"Kicking butt" is a phrase once used only by bullies and immature sports fans. Nowadays, a boss is likely to use it to energize his staff in a morning meeting. Folks, the first time my grandson told me about "Beavis and Butthead," I told him to watch his mouth. He said he was watching it on TV.
Politicians on the opposite sides of the aisle once butted heads over legislation. Now, they butt heads over the "f" word when it comes before "war."
But I read it's all over now, and Representative Merrick welcomes the opportunity to get back to a substantive legislative agenda. As he put it: "We get accused that we're not doing anything. We've been working our butt off to get tax cuts done."
Folks, I didn't know the legislature had a collective butt to work off. But if they do, perhaps they should take their collective heads out of it, forget about the "f" word, and, as Merrick said, try "to get policy done."
To listen to this commentary via the Kansas Public Radio Archives, follow this link.
The following commentary was aired on Kansas Public Radio on February 27, 2007, and published in the Topeka Metro News on February 16, 2007:
Packing Heat on the Prairie *
Folks, when I walked into the Here, Kansas, Co-op the other day, Claude Anderson came from behind the cash register to greet me. I was stunned. But I remembered that old Mae West line, "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"
"Both," said Claude.
"I’m happy to see you," I said. "But not the gun."
We all knew Claude had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. He paid his fee, took a safety course, had his background checked. After all that time and money, we knew he’d pack his heat sometime.
But I didn’t realize how much heat he’d create. When Mabel Beemer heard he was carrying a gun, she hand-delivered a note. "Dear Claude, I no longer feel safe at the Co-op. I will shop for incidentals elsewhere."
Elmer Peterson hung a sign - a pistol in a red circle with a line drawn through it, downloaded from the Attorney General’s website - in the Drive-thru Pharmacy and Car Wash window. "If Claude wants his medications," Elmer said, "he’ll do it unarmed."
I looked up the regulations on concealed carry. No guns allowed in government buildings. Well, I am honorary mayor. I do my business at my table in the Co-op. So I downloaded a sign to stick on the wall.
Our other Claude - Hopkins, down at the Mini-Mart - heard about the fuss and put a sign in his window: "SAFE SHOPPING–no guns allowed!"
Then Pierre Small, President of the International DENSA Society, walked into the Co-op with his hands up. "Don’t shoot me," he said to Claude.
"I ain’t going to shoot you. I have a weapon for the same reason as 3,000 other Kansans. So we feel more secure."
"I’ve read up where you can’t carry that gun," Pierre said. "And the DENSA Society has posted signs at the abandoned library, the failed bank, the closed school. Oh, and Mabel sent me one for the Co-op."
"Tell Mabel the Co-op is my business," Claude sputtered.
"She says you’ll have to remove your checkerboard, then," said Pierre, his hands still in the air. "Law says you can’t carry arms at sporting events."
"Oh, for God’s sake," said Claude.
Barney Barnhill walked in. He looked happy to see us, too. He’s among the 3,000. I stood up. "You can’t have a gun in here," I said.
When he instinctively reached for his pocket, I did, too. Took out my pocketknife. "Go ahead, make my day," I said.
He laughed, as I knew he would.
Folks, Mabel's campaign means Claude and Barney can carry their concealed weapons only behind the Co-op counter or at the Demolition Derby museum. At those places, they can feel secure. The rest of us Hereins can feel secure everywhere else.
* This commentary was first place winner in the Nonprofit Radio Editorial/Commentary category, Kansas Association of Broadcasters.
To listen to this commentary via the Kansas Public Radio Archives, follow this link.
The following commentary was aired on Kansas Public Radio on
December 6, 2006, and published in the Topeka Metro News on December
Keeping the Ten Commandments Holy
Folks, with this Kansas winter weather, we in Here haven't had much to do but shovel out and go for a nickel cup of coffee down at Claude Anderson's Co-op. But if it's cold outside, you'll be glad to know we have plenty of heat inside. You see, Claude decided to post the 10 Commandments in his business. Now This is America, as Claude is fond of saying, and Claude's is a private business. I suppose he has just as much right to post the 10 Commandments in the Co-op as he does to switch brands of coffee, or raise the price of his gasoline at the pump. So there it was, a placard, right above what I usually think of as my table. I sat in what everyone in Here knows to be my chair, and read:
Thou shalt have no other Gods before me
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy
Honor thy father and thy mother
Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor
Thou shalt not covet
"Kind of a short version, ain't it?" I asked.
"Where'd you get it?"
Claude showed me the Victorystore.com catalogue. "You have to agree with this, don't you?" asked Claude. The catalogue copy read: "While some are trying to drive the Ten Commandments out of public view, you can show your support for them. This lightweight sign made from corrugated plastic is shipped with a frame for easy display."
"Lightweight, huh," I muttered.
"The sign, not the message," Claude said. "No, sir, the message is the foundation for all our laws in this great country. And I support them."
"But there's separation of church and state, too," I pointed out. "And you've hung your 10 Commandments . . ."
"The Lord's 10 Commandments," Claude interrupted.
"You've hung them above my chair and table, where I do all my business, such as it is, as Honorary Mayor of this town. Besides, they're the 10 Commandments. They'll live with or without your support, Claude."
"They'll live on my wall, right where I have them," said Claude.
I walked home. The Declaration of Independence opens, in part, with: "All men are . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
I marched right back to the Co-op to ask Claude to compromise to at least move the sign away from my Honorary Mayoral table. "You see," I argued, "we may have a creator, but we're endowed by that creator to institute our own laws. Of the commandments up there, only four bear any resemblance to state or federal law: murder, adultery, theft and libel. The rest are religious. So you're not even batting .500 with your corrugated plastic."
"They're still the foundation, William, and you shouldn't be afraid to acknowledge that."
"Let's acknowledge it somewhere just a little bit farther away from the government of Here," I pleaded.
Claude shook his head, but he took down the framed commandments. For now, they're propped up next to his cash register. Not bad, I thought. Another foundation of our great nation.
The following commentary aired on January 20, 2004:
Oleander's State of the State
Folks, Kansas is due for an auspicious year
of celebrations. In 2004, we denizens of the Sunflower State
have a lot to look forward to. Unfortunately, all we have to
look forward to is in the past.
We will acknowledge the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition. We will celebrate the 150th year since the opening of Kansas territory. Likewise, we'll be there for the 150th birthday parties of some of the territory's earliest towns like Kansas City, Topeka and Lawrence. And we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka. This bold and necessary move ended the separate but equal (actually completely unequal) racial segregation of school children in the United States.
You know, I love celebrations and anniversaries even the hard-to-say sesquicentennials. These time markers of give us reason in the present to be proud of the past.
Why not brag about our contributions to the United States? Historically and culturally we're probably one of the most important states carved out of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Lewis and Clark explored us in 1804. We took over in 1854, and what other state has in the forefront of such movements as Abolition, Prohibition, Populism, Progressivism, and Public Health like Kansas was? Did any of the other states invent the flyswatter? I rest my case.
Why not celebrate our Free-State past, born 150 years ago? Our oldest towns and cities courageously played out their role in the Bleeding Kansas struggles that eventually led to the Civil War and the end of slavery in this nation.
Why not educate towards the positives in Brown v. Board, namely that Topeka was one of five places in the nation with enough people of courage-black and white-to organize and bring suit against racial segregation.
Yep, folks, we have a lot to celebrate and a lot to learn, and so I look forward to 2004. But I also want to look forward to what's ahead of us, and I'm not sure 2004 will be one of those years we end up celebrating in the future.
We heard the State of the State speech, for example, with the governor's Education First plan. But we heard no details. Those were given to the press so we could read about tax increases the next day. If Education is First, why not educate Kansans in the State of the State speech? And the Republican response was no better. One party says we ought to think big, but without specific details. The other party, in the person of the Speaker of the House, says we ought to think small, but without specific details. Both want time to wrangle.
That's all well and good for the present. But the future demands something to celebrate. Let education come first. We must acknowledge that a well-educated citizenry is one of the top natural resources a place should have. But what of our other resources? For example, if we're so hell-bent on gambling in Kansas, let's take a real gamble on organic farming and renewable energy technology. If we're so worried about our economic future, let's remember our agricultural base and agree to tougher zoning and environmental laws to restrict the pillage of arable land- those acres deemed prime for farming, grazing and timber. In other words, let's be certain we have a physical state worth celebrating in 100 or 150 years.
Details on that, of course, to come later.
The following commentary aired on October 2, 2003:
Folks, my grandson has made it clear: I'm not to die
in Topeka. I can come visit my great-grandchildren. I can take
them to the World Famous Zoo-although the orangutans are dying from a virus
given them by a rabbit, for goodness sake. I can attend performances
at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, or the Civic Theatre-even
buy a nearly nude calendar to help TCT raise funds and blood pressures.
I can even come to Topeka to take advantage of good medical facilities.
But I'm not to die in a Topeka hospital, unless I want to pay, and
pay a lot, to have people know about it.
You see, the Topeka Capital-Journal has given up the newspaper's classical role as historical record. If you want your obituary published, you have to pay for it, just the same as if you were having a garage sale or renting your house.
You can still get in the paper if you're part of a fancy cat show. Of if you participate in the Sunflower State Games. Or if you're selling homemade lemonade out of your Kansas City barber shop. You can still get a line in the Daily Record if you call the fire department. Marriages, divorces and births are all still free. But, irony of ironies, death costs you. Or it costs your family. My grandson talked to a friend whose family would have felt guilty unless they printed a notice of their loved one's passing. So, they ended up not only with a death in the family but a $350 newspaper obituary bill.
Folks, you'd think the high price of obituaries in the capital city would make for short notices. Not so, from what my grandson tells me. In another irony, once people are paying, they make sure to say exactly what they want to say. A matter-of-fact obituary used to read something like this: "Maude Parsons is survived by her husband Robert, of the home, and two sons, Robert, Jr., and Bobbie, of Houston, Texas." The language of the paid obituary tends away from concision towards inflation, something like this: "The dear and gentle deceased, Maude Parson, a homemaker and knitter beyond compare, is survived by her grieving and mournful husband, Robert, in their lovely home in southwest Topeka, and by her distraught sons, Robert, Jr., and Bobbie, of Houston, Texas, who flew all the way home to be at her bedside, and to hear her final wisdom."
Folks, I spoof the florid because you shouldn't have to pay for the historical record. But when you do, the temptation is going to lean toward personal quaintness. For my money, I'll stay in Here. Or if I die in Topeka, I'll do it famously, like the orangutan at the Zoo. My grandson said they ran that article as news, and for free.
The following commentary aired on July 25, 2003:
Summer Garden Giveaways
Folks, last February I was paying attention.
When all the other old coots at the Co-op were drowsing through
the cold, or standing at the window listening to the sleet skitter
along the glass, or contemplating their next move in checkers, I
was watching. Because I knew exactly what would happen in July.
You see, besides weather and checkers and naps, February is the month of the seed catalogue. There's always a dozen of them at the Co-op, and in that cooped-up, sun-deprived season, we old folks plan our gardens. Our eyes are always bigger than our vegetable plots, and our needs always seem huge. After all, when you've been eating squishy pink tomatoes that have all the flavor of soggy styrofoam, why wouldn't you order enough Big Boy and Early Wonder seeds to meet all the tomato needs of Here, Kansas?
That's exactly what happens. February is a time of hope, of filling a garden with the imagination. I see Barney Barnhill circle the purple green beans. As a K-State graduate, he calls them, "My purple prides." Their stems are purple. The beans are, too, until cooked. Then, they turn as green as the envy of a Wildcat watching a KU basketball game.
I watch Mabel Beemer with her organic seed catalogue, going for the heirlooms, the variegated colors and textures of squashes--zucchini and crookneck in particular.
Elmer Peterson goes for varieties in corn--dwarf, white, shoepeg and so on.
Folks, if I pay attention in February, I'm prepared for right now. Because if gardens are filled with imagination in the middle of winter, believe me, they are filled with vegetables in July, and since no Kansan likes waste, midsummer becomes the great giveaway season. What's wrong with giveaways? you might ask. Well, I just said Kansans don't like waste. Here I am, my garden meeting all my needs, proud to be using everything as it comes into season, and suddenly I find a big bag of "purple prides" on my doorstep, left there by "you-know-who" Barnhill. What do I do? I have plenty of green beans of my own. Since I paid attention in February, I march the "gift" right back to the giver.
Mabel Beemer is the same dang way with her stealth squash. You'll wake up to find some striped zucchini on your back porch, a rumpled crookneck on your glider, both as lonely as stray animals, only these strays are begging to be eaten rather than fed. Again, I refuse. I have planned so well I have just enough squash. I'm not even tempted by the recipe for zucchini bread that Mabel has taped to her overgrown green giant.
Elmer Peterson doesn't fool me when he has his annual Garage Sale and Giveaway every summer when his corn comes in. I go over, browse his usual junk, then head back to my truck. I look closely in the back and on the seat. Sometimes he's clever last summer his extra corn was under the seat. When I find the bag, I take it back to him. "I'm up to my ears in, well ... ears," I tell him. "Planned ahead. Planned carefully," I brag.
Folks, don't think I have a bad attitude. I just don't like being overwhelmed by the abundance of others. Maybe you know how I feel. Maybe you have a neighbor who comes up the drive with a grocery bag stuffed full of what you can't eat either. On the other hand, if you need some tomatoes, give me a holler and don't tell Here, Kansas. In spite of my planning, my Big Boys produced beyond expectation. I'll have to work that out next February, if I can plan and keep an eye on my overly generous neighbors.
The following commentary aired on June 3, 2003:
Reading my Kansas Gideon: William Stafford
Folks, like a weary traveler checked into a
motel might turn to the Gideon Bible for comfort, when I weary of
the craziness of current events, I turn to my Kansas Bible, the poetry
of William Stafford. This Hutchinson-born National Book Award winner
kept Kansas and the simple lessons about life he learned here close
to his heart, and, right now, I can use all the heart available to me.
For example, we at the Here, Kansas, Co-op didn't much like Saddam Hussein. But we were skeptical about an aggressive foreign policy based on the fear that someone else might have the same weapons of mass destruction we do. We weren't sure we should start initiating regime changes just because we perceive evil in the world. I made a few calls to my Senator, thinking all the time of William Stafford's poem "Aunt Mabel": "Our Senator talked like war, and Aunt Mabel/ said, "He's a brilliant man,/ but we didn't elect him that much."
Then the war began. I watched TV, and thought of Stafford's poem, "Our City Is Guarded by Automatic Rockets,"
Breaking every law except
for Go, rolling its porpoise way, the rocket
staggers on its course; its feelers lock
a stranglehold ahead; and-rocking-finders
whispering "Target, Target," back and forth,
it freezes on the final stage. I know
and then the power. Power is not enough.
I wish, like William Stafford, we could celebrate life without soldiers and battles and monuments, as he does in his "Un-National Monument" poem:
This is the field where the
battle did not happen,
where the unknown solider did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.
. . .
No people killed-or were killed-on this ground
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.
Then, if the war wasn't enough craziness, we
Hereins read about William Bennet's gambling habit. Morality Czar
Bennet commanded huge speaking fees, and I thought of a stanza in
Stafford's "Things I Learned Last Week": "A man in Boston has dedicated
himself/ to telling about injustice./ For three thousand dollars he
will/ come to your town and tell you about it." Bennet not only preached
at us, he put himself above us. We Kansans tolerate everything but pretension,
as Stafford pointed out in "Religion Back Home": "The minister smoked,/
and he drank,/ and there was that woman in the choir,/ but what really
finished him-/ he wore spats.
Folks, as so many Americans are pledging allegiance to money and power, but are so afraid and insecure, I turn to William Stafford's poem "Allegiances":
It is time for all the heroes
to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
we live by.
. . .
. . .
Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler's ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.
As we say at the Co-op, "Nuff said." Thanks to William
Stafford, Chapter and Verse.
The following commentary aired on April 11, 2003:
Pierre Small Becomes French
Folks, you might remember Pierre Small, the current president
of the Here, Kansas, DENSA Society. He's not always been the
brightest bulb in town--who is, in the DENSA Society?-- but he's
a good bowler, and we love him. Pierre came to Here, Kansas,
from France, a war baby adopted by J.W. and Minnie Small at the end of
WW II. There's not much of the French about him now, except for
his ever present beret and the way he says "Non."
Pierre eats all his meals at the café over in Near Here. Just last week he was forced to order what they called "victory" toast. For lunch, they served him "freedom" fries. For dinner, they wouldn't let him order anything but Chicken. "We've got one with a nice yellow stripe of mustard down it," the waitress taunted him. For dessert, they forced him to eat what they were calling "I hate the French-vanilla ice cream on his pie a la mode. Pierre wasmystified.
"You're being haunted by your Frenchness," I told him.
"It ain't un peu fair," said Pierre. But after that, he started researching the attitude inthe United States towards the French. "Don't they have enough to make them mad in Saddam?" Pierre asked me.
"We seem to have plenty of anger to go around," I said. "Comes with our fear these days."
"You mean you believe in this war?" Pierre asked me.
"I don't much believe in any war," I told him. "As the French would say, this war is a crepe shoot."
"Wars make victims," Pierre said. "And now I'm one of them. I can't buy champagne at the liquor store in There. Dry cleaner won't clean the wool beret I've been wearing all winter. Vet won't look at my poodle. He told me, 'Poodles've been biting the hand that feeds them.'" Folks, the last straw came when Pierre read about the Kansas legislature. Those of us at the Co-op saw him throw down the local paper. Seems our representatives listened to and clamored their approval when Rep. Larry Powell, a Republican from Kalvesta, added a measure into a proposed budget bill that would make certain no state pension funds will invest in French companies, or companies with affiliates or subsidiaries in that recently- reviled country. The measure moved forward even though nobody knew if the state has any French investments. "Mon dieu, it's just blind hate, combined with blind ignorance," said Pierre. And with that, he stormed out of the Co-op.
For a few days, Pierre was holed up, feeling like a target, as isolated and alone as an enemy. Americans, he said, like to find targets. They're good at target shooting," Pierre told me over the phone.
Then he read about the legislative misfire. Seems the $150 million in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System is just too much money to reinvest in this scary stock market. "Voila!" said Pierre. And this after the French were accused of not supporting the Iraqi War because they had too many economic ties with Saddam Hussein. Pierre is thinking of introducing a resolution condemning the Kansas Legislature during the very next meeting of the DENSA Society. It ll be called The Pot Calls the Kettle Black.
Pierre's a brighter bulb than we thought. If we aren't careful, he'll graduate from DENSA. Maybe some Kansas legislators can take his place. Non?
The following commentary aired on February 25, 2003:
Folks, those of us from Here, Kansas, are meeting
with folks from There, and from Near Here and Almost There.
The topic is school consolidation. We meet at the Neither Here
nor There High School, home of the Unicorns, the school we built in
a cornfield between Here and There during the consolidation push of
the 1980s. We're no strangers to the challenges of bringing two
schools, educational traditions and sports teams together. Take
our mascot. Here High School had always been the Hopping Horned
Toads. There High was the Mustangs. Put them together and
you get a horned horse, the Unicorns. During the transition, some
fans cheered, "Go, Must...uh...corns," or "Hop em, Unicorns."
But eventually, the students became used to the long bus ride-an
hour and a half a day, for some in our part of the state-and we saved
money on teacher salaries, administrative duplication, and building
Now, of course, the Kansas legislature is talking consolidation again, and Near Here and Almost There are targets. They might be forced to join us at Neither Here nor There High. They're mad, but willing to talk. Will we change the mascot again? The Near Here Mountaineers seem odd to Central Kansas-no mountains, trapping, exploration. The Almost There Armadillos came from a random sighting of that creature during the building of their small school back in 1909. They'll argue that Unicorns have no connection to Kansas- no sightings, and as imaginary as mountains. Who knows, we could end up with Neither Here nor There, but Near Here and Almost There High School, home of the Armed Mountain Unicorns.
People hereabouts fuss and fume about the seemingly trivial. How else can they voice their real concern? School consolidation further erodes their sense of the local, of being who we are in a given place. After all, we know that rural Kansas is shrinking. We've heard the proposal for 105 school districts, one for each county. We're practical people. We realize governments, local and state, must avoid duplication to save money. But we also wonder if people know how hard it is for us to give up our identities, small as they might be. Folks, did you know that over 60% of our population now lives an hour's drive from either Wichita or Topeka? Perhaps we should have only two school districts: Wichita Central West and Capital City Perimeter. Sound appealing?
And if we're going to save money cutting duplicate administrative costs, why stop with school districts? Look at those 105 counties, each roughly a 30 x 30 mile square. Early organizers wanted Kansans of the 1800s to be able to get to the courthouse and back in a day if they had business. If that's the standard, we could consolidate at least half our counties, making for all kinds of efficiencies. But I can hear the outcry. Why would six Southwestern Kansas counties-say, Stevens, Stanton, Seward, Morton, Grant and Haskell-want to be one big S.S.S.Mor-gran-skell?
Come to think of it, if we have consolidation fever, why stop with state boundaries? We could put old animosities and identities to rest and cut costs by merging Kansas with Missouri, Jayhawkers with Bushwhackers. We could call the new state Missouri-Kan, as if they ever could. Or Miss-Kan, as in "I miss Kansas."
Folks, I'm being facetious, but we rural Kansans feel for our schools. We will miss them if we're forced to consolidate. The issue goes beyond economic savings, to what makes us who we are, where we are. Think about yourselves. How many of you want to end up Jay-whackers? Bush-hawkers? You'd miss Kansas as much as we miss the old Here High School, home of the Hopping Horned Toads.
The following commentary aired December 5, 2002:
Folks, we're halfway through the shopping season,
and I'm ready to quit. Used to be that Here, Kansas, had
about all a body could want-the groceries for Thanksgiving, the simple
gifts for Christmas and Hannukah. That was before the IGA closed,
before the Co-op and the Mini-Mart and Elmer Peterson s Drive-thru
Pharmacy and Car Wash became our only stores. These days, all us Hereins
hit the road, ice in our veins, fear in our stomachs. Why?
Because the art of shopping is not for the simple, the weak, the inattentive.
In the old days, my wife sent me to the grocery with a simple list: meat, butter, eggs, potatoes, coffee, some vegetables, milk. Now, Iola Humboldt annotates her list with so much fine print I need a magnifying glass. It's not just milk, it's skim milk-a half gallon, watch the expiration date, and remember that now it's labeled fat-free. Next on the list is low-fat margarine-one of the kinds made with plant sterol esters, if you can find it. Then it's popsicles-little Billy likes sugar ones, but get fruit juice ones. And so on.
I might come home with a jug of milk, correctly dated, correctly fat-free, but Iola finds a dent in the plastic that might, as she speculates, Cause leakage. And I've bought the right margarine, though she doesn t approve of my butter purchase.
"What if I want to fry an egg?" I ask. "You can't cook with your product."
Then there's the popsicles for Billy s visit. Not only mostly fruit juice, but, I say with pride, "I found one labeled low-fat."
"What?" asks Iola, and proceeds to read down the ingredients until she finds some artificial sweetener that'll give the boy cancer. Of course, I don t ask her to read the ingredients on the margarine I bought her-a long list that's more complicated than the back pages of a contract.
I got through Thanksgiving, each trip to the store followed by a return trip the next day to exchange purchases because of expiration dates on bread, cancer-causing popsicles and coffee-right brand, wrong something about grind or roast.
Seasonal gift shopping is worse. Sure, I can drive to Wichita and get what my extended family wants by typing their names into a chain store computer. Out comes a sheet that tells me item, price, even aisle. Most of what they want I can't abide giving them. But the opposite is true, too. "What you want to give them, they don t want," says Iola as I steer her towards some fuzzy slippers for the men of their houses. "Not everyone pads around the house most days," she reminds me. "And they don't wear hats. Nor scarves."
Simple things aren't in, folks. Too many choices, labels, brands and sizes.
"Let's please just send them each a check," I finally plead."
"That s so impersonal," says Iola.
"More than a computer printout?" I ask. "More than including a sales receipt? It was your great granddaughter who exchanged Doctor Barbie for archeologist Barbie. How were we to know which one she wanted?"
"You're being lazy," says Iola.
"Maybe I'm worn out from the trips to the grocery," I say.
"I told them to buy you slippers," she says. Come the New Year, you can stay home. For now, go warm up the car."
So off we go, to Wichita, ice in my veins, fear in my stomach.
The following commentary aired on November 7, 2002:
Folks, it's time to quit griping. Ad Astra is atop
the dome, after fourteen years of difficulties. And if I can quit
complaining, you can, too. After all, I voiced my disdain for the
project from the beginning. I was against Ad Astra, even though I
wanted more than a light bulb adorning the topmost perch of the Capitol.
After all, a light bulb is the symbol of getting an idea, of creative
thinking. Did our Statehouse light bulb ever inspire the many dim bulbs
who held legislative seats over the years?
My objection was not to adornment. Nor against reinforcing the dome for whatever might sit on top of it. Nor against having a Native American. My objection was simple. I didn't like the design. The face reminded me too much of the cover of a Big Chief tablet and I didn't believe an Indian would waste an arrow by shooting it into the air. That gesture seems more the drunk cowboy with his pistol than the Native American with his bow and arrow.
But now I've driven by for my look at Ad Astra. I can't see the face anymore, so there's goes half my objection. And about the arrow in the air-well, up that high it merely seems symbolic, as public art is meant to be. Like a lot of the Kansas public, I've been dragged towards this moment. I'm willing to let go my objections and enjoy our new look, our very public art.
Folks, we Kansans seem suspicious of art. We censor art because of its pagan roots-that was the objection to Ceres when she was supposed to crown our dome. We worry about nudity, so we slash it away-that was Carrie A. Nation's objection to John Noble's "Cleopatra at the Bath," hung in a Wichita saloon. We censor art because it doesn't look realistic to us-that was the objection to the pigs' tails John Steuart Curry painted for the Statehouse murals. We censor art because we think it represents us unfairly-that was the objection to Curry's fanatical John Brown. Better no art than controversial art, we seem to think.
Some people think of art as a frill, too, something that frosts a cake. Most of us in Kansas feel like we don't even have cake these days, let alone icing. But art is not frill. We don't do everything else and then art. We didn't when we built the Statehouse, though the same kinds of people didn't like the fancy marble, the copper, and brass back then. The Populist candidate for Governor, in fact, was so outraged he promised any citizen a bath in the fancy marble bathroom attached to the Governor's office. One voter was said to have taken him up on the offer.
I'll make an offer, too. Drive by our newly adorned Statehouse. Ad Astra is free for the looking. It's public. It's monumental, just as it should be. It offers us something to argue about, something to enjoy, something to define us, something to either live down or up to. Now that Ad Astra has a home, I'm ready to quit complaining. Hope you'll join me.
The following commentary aired on October 29, 2002:
Folks, we obsolete old folks were sitting at the Co-op
the other day drinking nickel cups of coffee, swatting flies and talking
in our antiquated way--or so says Barney Barnhill.
"Heard that Mabel Beemer drove to the West Coast on the spur of the moment," Claude Anderson said. "Rented a car because she didn't want to fly. Heard it cost her a pretty penny."
"She said she was going to travel," said Elmer Peterson, of the Drive-Thru Pharmacy and Car Wash. "And I said I'd stock up on energy supplements. Found a catalogue. I can get vitamins and herbals dirt cheap."
"I'll buy if I can spare a dime after I pay my electric," I said.
"Electric will be down, William," said Iola Humboldt. "I've been hanging laundry, like in the old days."
"Dirty linens?" asked Claude.
"Nope," said Iola, "just hanging things out to dry, like we're being hung out to dry by this current economy."
"Right," I said. "Pension funds are all gone. Will they bankrupt Social Securitynext?"
"Don't worry," said Claude, "no Congress is going to rob Social Security."
"Don't bet on it," said Iola. "I used to think they'd get it all ironed out, but not with this War on Terrorism and the talk of Iraq. Bombs cost more than spare change."
Barney Barnhill began to laugh. "The way you old folks talk," he said.
"You don't agree?" we asked him.
"I agree. I'm talking about the way you talk. Don't you hear yourselves? Mabel's car cost a pretty penny. Dirt cheap, Elmer says of his vitamins. William says he'll spare a dime. That's Dust Bowl talk. Pennies aren't worth anything, dirt isn't cheap, and anyone can spare a dime. Kids won't pick them up off the sidewalk!" He turned to me and Iola. "And that clothesline stuff--airing dirty linen, being hung out to dry, having new wrinkles. It's against the law in California to hang laundry outside. And everyone I know wears permanent press clothes."
"Are you done?" I asked. "Because I don't see your point."
"I've run out of steam," said Barney, "though where are the steam engines? I'm saying you make sense, but in the language of the bingo parlor and the Co-op."
"Are you saying we need contemporary expressions?" asked Iola. "To talk like our children and grandchildren?"
"Then I couldn't tease you," Barney said.
"And you wouldn't learn," I said. "We old folks have history even in our expressions. Pay attention. You can find out about a whole way of living that's gone. From the things we valued to the way we did our washing and drying. That's worth a pretty penny, Barney."
With that, we old folks continued to chew the fat even though we knew full well that, in these contemporary times, fat should not be part of our diet, or our speech patterns.
The following commentary aired on October 11, 2002:
Well, folks, football season under way. The folks
in Here, Kansas, have been wondering about the University of Kansas
decision to continue to allow tailgating--in other words, drinking
alcohol--in designated areas before football games. Claude Anderson
tells me that attendance is up dramatically, that school spirit seems
to improve in proportion to other spirits. Of course, when I watch football
on television, I'm told over and over by beer companies that I'd be
havingmore fun if I had a brew in hand, a nagging or invisible wife,
and lots of buddies.
But the consensus in Here--since most of us lack the testosterone to really enjoy football, anyway--is that a person would have to be full of spirits to find much pleasure in the game. Multiply that by what has been a lackluster KUfootball program, and tailgating makes good sense. They used to say that things go better with Coke. Now, with beer.
But why stop with KU football, especially in Kansas? You see, Kansans believe in equality, and there's no reason KU should have the monopoly on tailgating. Washburn football fans have certainly had discouraging seasons. Who knows what Ichabod supporters would do if well enough lubricated? And why stop with football? K-State basketball fans could surely enjoy lifting spirits, too, given some of their defeats. I
n fact, Elmer Peterson, at the Drive-thru Pharmacy and Car Wash, wondered if the universities might eventually allow students to tailgate before classes. "Some of those courses can be as punishing as watching football," he told us at the Co-op. "Something should make class time more palatable."
"Why stop with the universities?" asked Barney Barnhill. He reminded us of a local effort to lift spirits. Several years ago, the Near Here theater league realized that theater in our part of the state would do better if patrons were offered a steak and a stiff bourbon before they saw actors and actresses singing and dancing their way to unpaid, minimal glory. The local sheriff looks more handsome, and Mary Jane, who styles hair all day, sounds better, when eyes and ears are a bit fuzzy with booze. Season tickets to the Near Here Theater League dinner extravaganzas outsold high school football passes to the Neither Here or There Consolidated School season.
Folks, if they can do it to enhance interest in football and theater, maybe they could expand it to politics. After all, lobbyists, for years, have known that the political process is well-enhanced by the flow of spirits. But why wait until after hours? Perhaps more Kansans would attend legislative hearings, even come watch the Senate and House in session, if they could tailgate on the Statehouse lawn beforehand.
In fact, tailgating could transform the entire state. Wherever interest wanes, wherever we need better spirit. Folks, we know the answer. We could even change our state motto.
How do you like: Seeing Stars Through Difficulties?
The following commentary aired on April 4, 2002:
Folks, last summer at the Co-op in Here, Kansas,
we had some heated discussions during our regular vegetable exchanges.
Mabel Beemer became angry when Claude Anderson confessed that his
bright red tomatoes were earlier and bigger than her tiny green ones
because he used huge amounts of Miracle-Gro fertilizer. "Unnatural,"
she huffed. She refused to take Claude's tomatoes, even though
the rest of us, juice dripping down our chins, seemed healthy.
"Poison yourselves, I don't care," she said, and left.
Later in the summer we got wind that Barney Barnhill was seen taking a leak in his melon patch again. "In broad daylight," said Iola Humboldt.
"Moisture and fertilizer combined," said Barney, refusing to be shamed. But Iola refused his cantaloupe, even though I scoffed at her squeamishness.
I'm thinking about our vegetable wars because I hear lots of folks are afraid of food contamination. In fact, the Kansas legislature wants to call it bio- or agri-terrorism and stiffen the criminal penalties for it. I can understand this impulse. What if someone put something in our water? In a farmer's field? In a rancher's livestock? What if bacteria or virus or disease were introduced into a packing plant? Into a feed mill? Into a factory that produces cereals? Or sausages? Or potato chips?
We've all heard the reports. We're vulnerable to this terrorism, say the experts, and we need to do something about it. And what we need to do about it, according to other experts, is to beef up security. These days, I'm told, our food travels an average of 1300 miles and is handled six different times before we buy it. Think of the security at all those checkpoints: field, elevator, plant; let's check trucker, grocer and fellow shoppers.
Nobody seems to be asking the Here, Kansas, questions: Why is our food shipped from so far away? Why is our food supply so concentrated in feed lots and packing plants and huge factories and giant bakeries? Why have we traded the quality of our food for off-season availability, breeding tomatoes for shelf-life and shipping hardiness instead of taste and texture in our mouths?
I call these Here, Kansas, questions because Hereins don't eat soggy tomatoes in the off-season: better canned from our gardens. We don't buy bread from Grant's/Pepperidge Farm we bake it ourselves. We don't buy Farmland/Tyson, we go to Near Here for local meat.
But some of us like this food security legislation. Mabel and Iola will now have grounds to prosecute Claude for contaminating his tomatoes. And Barney Barnhill will no longer be able to violate his melons with impunity. In Here, Kansas, we can rest easier: Our food supply will be secured!
The following commentary aired on February 7, 2002:
Kansas Day Weather Watch 2002
Folks, I was sitting in the Co-op in Here, Kansas,
on January 30th, feeling a bit disappointed that the people in Here hadn't
made more of Kansas Day. Claude Anderson actually had to get out a calculator
to figure out how old Kansas was. "There's a sign of age," I told him.
And Barney Barnhill still couldn't give me the second verse of "Home on the Range," even after I reminded him that it was the very worst of the lot: "Oh, give me the gale, of the Solomon Vale/ Where life streams with buoyancy flow,/ On the banks of the Beaver, where seldom if ever/ Any poisonous herbage doth grow."
And when I gave her the State Symbols quiz, Mabel Beemer couldn't remember the name of the Kansas March, even after obvious hints, like asking her who was buried in Grant's tomb. "The name of the Kansas March," I finally had to tell her, "is The Kansas March.'" She blushed. "It follows the Kansas February," I joked, to remove a bit of the sting. But you can see why I was a bit morose after Kansas Day.
Then, folks, something happened. Pure serendipity. Claude got on the computer so we could listen to public radio. Northeast Kansas was having the weather you know how we old folks like anything to do with sky and clouds, heat and cold, storm and calm so we tuned into KANU. And I received a Kansas Day gift: school closings.
Now closings might not sound like a gift to you, unless you're a child who doesn't have to go to class for the day. But to me, closings mean I get to hear all those wonderful town names that make up our great State, the one said after the other as in an honor roll. Imagine a half-dozen Hereins, listening to place names, and smiling: "Also closed, Osawatomie, Oskaloosa, Osage City, Wellsville, Tonganoxie, and Baldwin schools." Some of the names seem to describe a place in terms of hope: to Wellsville, add Pleasanton and Havensville and Fairview. Some remind us of the Native American past: to Osage City, add Wyandotte and Shawnee. To those odd sounding, like Osawatomie, add Netawaka and Muscotah. To those, like Oskaloosa, who bring their names from other states, add Princeton and Manhattan.
I love the simple names some person's first name with "-burg" or "-ine" or "ville" added to them: Pauline, Louisburg, Harveyville. And then there are those towns that seem to belong to each other linguistically as well as geographically: Corning and Goff, Whetmore and Whiting, Horton and Holton.
Folks, we Hereins sat quietly, listening to a mellifluous voice give us the roll of closings. Since everything was closed, we sat for a long time. And once the local news spot was over, and we knew we wouldn't hear anymore of Kansas, Claude shut down the computer and we all enjoyed the silence. I was the only one to break it. "Happy (late) Kansas Day," I said. "To all of you in Big Springs, and Rock Creek, and Hillsdale, and Ottawa, and . . .
Note: This commentary won first place in the Kansas Association
of Broadcaster's competition for editorial on a non-profit radio
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