Monday, June 6, 2011

What's Blowing 'Round In Western Kansas

Did you know that "epic" is currently a hot word among teenagers? When something is amazing or wild it is not bitchin', radical, gnarly or awesome, it is "epic."  As in the epic wind that came up in western Kansas last Wednesday night. You gotta understand, it hadn't exactly been calm before that. The wind had already---well, what I thought was real wind --had been whipping at us all evening, throwing our hair in our face as we played tennis. But then, around 10:30 or so, this big gust came blasting into town. Except it wasn't a momentary gust --it held steady. The livingroom curtains blew like a movie set with a wind machine. All the placemats were whisked off the kitchen table. The back door rattled, and the fast-moving air made swirly whistling noises as it came through the window. But there wasn't any tornado or thunderstorm to worry about. It was just a lot of wind.

I can't say I mind the wind out there. The way the air keeps moving, a body feels light and shaken free of all cares. There is no sticky, oppressive feeling to bring you down.   

It's been awful dry though, so the wind picks up dust and blows it at you. One night at the tennis court, we could see dust clouds above the trees. Mom said because of the drought, the harvest isn't worth shit. Well, she didn't exactly put it that way. But that's what she meant. In a conversation with an aunt and a cousin, I heard that most farmers will either spray their sorry wheat or disk it, to get rid of it and make way for planting milo.

It might be the drought too, that has made the stickers extra bad this year. Every night after we played tennis, we carried them into mom's house on our shoes. Getting down on our knees for a closer look, we'd find them laying in wait on her carpet, or we'd step on them and find them that way. We tried clearing our shoes of them before we came in the house, then we took to leaving our shoes at the top of the back stairs. No matter. The stickers made it in anyway, invasive little buggers. Hard as rocks, and pointy as sin. Lilah counted 32 one evening.

Now it was awful hot the day we drove out to Ness City. We weren't surprised, driving past Cedar Bluff Dam, to see lots of motorboats in the water, and a few water-skiers besides.  The bank clock downtown said 102. When it is that dry and hot, on a Sunday afternoon in western Kansas, there is only one thing to do. Drink beer! I like to sit on the front porch with a cold one, even when my brother is toiling out back to fix a rotting fence. But I had forgotten that you can't just roll up to the liquor store in Ness City, if it's a Sunday. Well, you can, but there won't be anyone there to let you in the door. So we went to Butterfields, just to get some pop, and then I saw a sign that said you could buy beer at Butterfield's on Sunday from noon to 8:00. My heart was gladdened. But then I saw their selection and I was downcast again. It was all Bud, Miller and Coors. I don't wanna be a snob, but I like a brew with some depth and flavor. Mostly I like ales. I finally settled on a six pack of Corona.

This is not to say you can't get good beer in Ness City. They sell Sam Adams and Kansas City's Boulevard brand at both liquor stores in town. Yes, Ness has two liquor stores, but they lost Duckwalls, the little discount store next door to JD Spirits. Mom says the town is trying to start up their own discount store, and is looking for investors. Lacrosse already has their new store up and running. When Duckwalls pulled out, Lacrosse said they would have their own store up in two months, and there it is, the Post Rock Variety Store, right next to High Plains Karate. We stopped at the variety store on the way home from mom's cataract surgery. The girls were thrilled, because they found packages of off-brand cosmetics for a dollar each.  They walked up to me with fistfuls of mascara and eyeshadow. "Mom, can we buy these?" Annabelle hasn't really started wearing makeup yet, but she is ready to experiment, and at a buck a pop, that's okay by me. When we got up to the counter, we also found a whole slew of Cover Girl powder compacts on clearance for a dollar each, so we went home happy.

It's funny how thrilling those little finds are, when you're out in the boonies where you can't take goods or services for granted. The girls and I are always glad and relieved to find the Frigid Creme open. I usually have a tough time deciding between a hot fudge sundae, a malt, or a rootbeer float.

The day after mom's surgery, I took her back to Hays to have her bandage removed, and while driving from the hospital to Wal-mart, we passed by a little coffeeshop on 27th street, called Mokas. Well, naturally I had to check it out. There was a bakery case with pastries and a sign board offering  a whole line-up of espresso drinks. The interior was cool and dark and flirting with funky. The walls were covered with abstract Kandinsky prints. And they had WiFi. The two men in the back drinking and talking were wearing tight latex biker outfits.

I wondered if they were locals, or out of town bikers passing through. This time of year, western Kansas is lousy with bikers. The Bike Across Kansas (BAK) wasn't due to start for a few more days, but there are always those renegade bikers who like to cross the state on their own terms and schedules. I had already seen a stray biker outside Butterfields, and we passed a few out on highway 96, going east. How they rode in all that wind I'll never know.

When the BAK bikers come to Ness City, they pitch colorful tents on the grass outside the high school.  They hang clothes on the fence and play frisbee. You can see them standing around the Frigid Creme in clusters of two or three, ordering limeades and soft-serve ice cream. I have always liked the feeling I get, walking past their tent city, that here is a big outdoor party waiting to happen. The night of their encampment seems ripe with potential. Would that I could be invited into their tent, I would bring my own bottle, with extras to share. There could be dancing in the moonlight, in the wee hours, on the football field. But no. The bikers are always too well-behaved. Not wanting to upset the city fathers, or to mess with their sleep. I've driven past their tents at midnight, disappointed to find them so quiet.

You have to make your own fun, in a town like this. The girls and I used to get a big kick out of going to  Ralph's and picking out individual cans of Shasta pop. The cans sold for about 30 cents and they came in all kinds of flavors, like black cherry and orange and cream soda. But Ralph's doesn't sell single cans of Shasta pop anymore. So now our new thing is going to the Prairie Mercantile, where they sell brown bags of coffee candy that tastes better than Pearson's Coffee Nips. The price Annabelle and Lilah pay for the candy is to be bored out of their minds while I browse the other items in the shop. I like the Steve Ashley pottery they sell, and have been slowly addings his soup mugs and cereal bowls to my collection.

There are a whole host of mandatory spots we have to hit, while we're in town. Traditions, Lilah calls them. The tennis courts, the pool (in summer), Aunt Virginia's...We have to go to three playgrounds. The girls still like to push each other on the merry-go-round, and climb on the monkey bars. We have found that the rocks underneath the round monkey bars next to the tennis courts are very cool and soothing to the skin. They make great beds. We scoop out a space in the rocks for our body, and pile up a mound of rocks to use as a pillow, then we lie down. It feels surprisingly good to lie on a bed of rocks. It's very relaxing. When we were there Thurday night, we buried Annabelle up to her neck in rocks (per her request.). Lilah wanted to be buried too, until she realized how dirty it was going to make her shirt, which is a delicate thing that has to be hand-washed.

The night we buried Annabelle, we had turned on the tennis court lights for something to see by. Those lights didn't carry very far though, and beyond the courts and the playground, the rest of the vast field was in darkness. Across the alley from Cokers', we could see shadowy figures on the softball diamond, continuing to play, even though they had no light at all. I don't know how they could even follow the ball. When we were ready to go back to Mom's house, Annabelle ran to the tennis court light box and punched the big metal buttons OFF, and we were all plunged into darkness. I think the ball players kept up their game, but we ran across the field to the house as if our lives depended on it.  


  1. Wow, I didn't know you guys had western K traditions! I do like it out there, but I don't think I enjoy it as much as you.

  2. suzanne, forever a kansas girlJune 8, 2011 at 12:20 AM

    i loved this little travelogue/love letter to ness city kansas! it makes me happy to know that some things stay the being able to turn the lights on and off at the tennis courts. and that the frigid creme lives on. simone, your imagery takes me there. thanks!

  3. I enjoyed your epic post! Kinda makes me wish I were there. So they really have enough rocks to bury Annabelle up to her neck with?

  4. I love the way you get pleasure out of small things! It's so great your daughters identify these rituals as your western Kansas "traditions" -- what wonderful memories for them!

  5. Yep geek, they have enough rocks. I have pictures to prove it!

  6. Outer Space AlienJune 9, 2011 at 12:40 AM

    Many hover trips up this home land. High winds place hands full of piloting. Low incidence of human units. Not a tea cup that is mine.

  7. Outer Space Alien --Lol, lol, lol!!!! "Not a tea cup that is mine" ---I'm gonna use that.