"Do you wear shoes there?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, it's just, I don't know, do they wear shoes in Kansas?"
If only I had reading glasses then, to push down on my nose while rolling my eyes over the top of the rim, but sadly I was young, maybe 25 with eyes not requiring assistance, and had only my face to scrunch up in a most contorted and disbelieving way. Head cocked to the side, lips pursed, I answered, "really?".
She, the 17 year old suburban Chicago high school student who worked evenings with me at the Coach store, nodded. Eyes open wide, yes, she was serious. Oh so was I.
"Curious that you should ask because no, not really, or at least not all the time. But the thing is, when you leave Kansas you do need shoes, as people in most other states wear them, so just across the state line, in Missouri, there are shoe stores everywhere, for everyone coming across bare footed. It's probably the same in all the border states, it's just Missouri that I know best".
It was her turn to scrunch her face, "are you kidding?"
It's been over twenty years since I left the shoeless prairie but my past continues to haunt me. Just recently someone asked how I'm adjusting to life in the big city. A few years ago a colleague asked if we could fly to Kansas, "do you have to fly to what? St. Louis and then drive?". This weekend one of my friends guessed the population of Kansas City to be about 100,000 people; there are four Kansas City suburbs with more people. Poor Kansas City, all wild and west and unknown. Which is exactly why my father, who traveled constantly, loved coming home to Kansas City: "no one knows it's here".
Recently I've been back and forth quite a bit, busy each trip with the business of my mother, and organizing her life. But next week I go back and for the first time in five years I do not have to take out the newspapers and balance her checkbook; that work is all being done by someone else and I might have hours of free time to spend in one of my favorite places. I'm plotting my days.
At some point I'll find my way through the green door of the Peanut, directly across the street from my old office. Friday at five happened here. Turn left when you come in, the table in front of you, near the wall has been vandalized: ally loves jack. She did, she does.
Before the Peanut and before Jack there was Canterbury Lane. It was here, in front of the tree on the right, that I set up my very first lemonade stand, from here that I walked the four blocks to kindergarten, from here that I started out on my own. On this trip I'll make time to wander the curvy street that ends at the park, next to the church parking lot where I learned to ride my bike; from there it's just a few more blocks to Topsy's and ice cream on Saturday night.
What I like best, that Kansas City is not Chicago or St. Louis; that
there are less than 3 million people in the metropolitan area, that
traffic is never horrible and that I can get to my mother's apartment in
the suburbs in less than 30 minutes. I love it's big winding boulevards
and it's beautiful old brick houses. I love the golf courses nestled in
amongst the houses and the huge trees that hang over the neighborhood
Kansas City is where I grew up, where I met my husband, where my family
began. I love Kansas City for what it has
always been, what it will always be to me: the place that gave solid roots to a shoeless cow princess and sent her off to see the world. I'm forever grateful.
Visit Mrs. Blandings, a beautiful design blog that masquerades every now and then as the best possible guide to Kansas City. Her blog makes me want to visit more than I do, and see things I didn't even know existed.