Driving to Kansas

50 East

50 East

June 30, 2016

DRIVING TO KANSAS

We are camping our way from Sonoma, California to Beaumont, Kansas.  To the family homestead and cattle ranch my great-great-grandfather founded some 150+ years ago… It’s a humbling thing, driving towards such heritage, out across a wide expanse of the nation in a truck, with “Bumbelina” (our Airstream), through one of the more severe summer storm patterns experienced in recent history.  Lots of rain, gorgeous atmosphere, lighting, and thunder.  In short, wet desert asphalt steaming for hours at a time.  A scent I hope burns into the psyche of my children.  And one I remember deeply from my childhood self making this same journey every summer: that of driving to Kansas.

Dida (& often Mima) loaded us Palmer cousins up into the “Big Red” Suburban and hauled ass across the southwest.  Pasadena to Witchita took two days, not three.  Eating 0.99$ “Grand Slam” Denny’s breakfasts every stop, unless it was New Mexico. For there in that gorgeous of regions, the Hatch green chili grows and Dida freely imparted his love for that mildly spicy, earthy green pepper (and puffy/sweet sopapillas) before hitting the road again. Stopping rarely –but gratefully– for panoramic American views, pee breaks, and turquoise found in once remote outposts like Hubbel Trading. Mile after mile, windows cranked down — unless we were listening to Garrison Keeler — kids’ hair whipping in sandy sunshine. Warm winds filling that old Suburban with the smells of ever changing landscapes.  One gleeful night spent somewhere in a neon-lit Best Western with a chlorinated pool and clean, but scratchy sheets. Driving from the Los Angeles basin, through the wide open, burnt Deserts. Between rocky buttes and along mountain passes. Before sailing down into the flat, flinty grass plains of the midwest. To Kansas.

Salty, desert flats along Interstate 80.

Salty, desert flats along Interstate 80.

Mima and Dida passed “into the sunset” this past year at 99 and 100, respectively.  She thought she saw her mother days before.  His last words were “I’m going to see Peg now.” And died minutes later. Funny how the vast expanse of an Open Road unfurl recent and dormant memories.  My husband and I both love to travel. Sharing a deep, soulful appreciation for destinations unknown.  Embarking on this road trip with our kids, we had no set plans nor reservations… Just a due date when we were expected at the Ranch. Driving mile after mile, state after state… I thought often of my grandparents.  Wondered where they are now… Obviously together.  Such a life they lived some 75 years of marriage! True Loves building family, business, and artistic legacy…To give rise our delightfully smart, oft elegant, and slightly motley clan of Palmers.

July 4th: fireworks, cocktails, and a spread of leftovers served from the back of a flat-bed truck.

July 4th: fireworks, cocktails, and a spread of leftovers served from the back of a flat-bed truck.

Hot and Humid: the Palmer Girl Cousins (Hannah, me, Sarah, and Kate).

Hot and Humid: the Palmer Girl Cousins (Hannah, me, Sarah, and Kate).

Though this road to Kansas is beautiful, it sure is long.  I am grateful for the time to unpack my memories and share them with my husband, Dean, before we arrive.  I have a feeling, I may become a puddle at the end of this road… Driving in the front ranch gate.  To say final farewells to my grandmother and grandfather.  She who taught us what it meant to be truly Woman, Wife, and Mother much because He lived so strongly as Man, Leader, and Patriarch.  The Ranch is a place of lessons learned and grit. Dida wanted to be sure we city kids didn’t end up sissys.  But come 6 o’clock, it was time to fish, walk the creek, shoot, and play dominos.  As a Family.

Porch time.

End of the day: Porch time.

We left after too few days at the Ranch.  Loaded up Bumbelina and strapped in still-sleeping kids.  Hugged my Mom, brother, Uncles, Aunts, Pappa Will, and Ranch Manager Don Nelson & wife, Connie.  Two of the most trustworthy people I have ever met.  People whom my grandparents trusted implicitly.  And who are intertwined with the viability and continued heritage of our family cattle ranch.

I admit, I quietly cried for about an hour after driving up and out through green pastures.  Hearing our Beefmaster cows bellow “good morning!” Remembering so many summers of my youth astride a horse at sunrise. Trying to keep up with Amanda (Nelson) chasing down wayward calves and cattle with my family.  To “bring in the herd.” Learning to pull our own weight.  Dida sitting in the truck giving directions, working the calling horn and making notes with Don.  Presiding over a seemingly endless Flint Hills cattle ranch left to him and built by his Grandfather’s bootstraps when the West was still Wild. Mima back at the ranch house making lunch (tuna fish sandwiches) or riding right next to him. Always.

Driving home.

Driving home. Planning to return…

Little Hands

I sat at the DMV yesterday, reading my book.  Waiting.  An older man walked by holding a little boy’s hand.  They sat down one chair over. The child looked about the age of my son. He pulled himself up onto the plastic chair and his little boy fingers looked exactly like my son’s…sweet traces of baby fat and solid little hands holding onto whom I assume was his grandfather. The flash of child pride that he’d gotten himself up onto the chair himself.  “Like a Big Boy,” as my son says.  I discreetly looked at his faded clothes and very worn shoes, the oversized hat that his grandfather took off and put into his lap with kind words.  They both waited very quietly until their turn was called and walked away to their assigned window.  I didn’t see him again.

I came home to host a play date for four little children in the bright sunshine, on our green grass, while their mom and I sipped a little bit of very cold, very crisp white wine in the shade.  Watching a joyful summer afternoon in Sonoma unfold. And wondered where that little boy was now.  And what it would be like to have such little ears hear how unwanted and dirty you are by pretty much every TV or news report.  How a wall will be built to keep you away from family or a better life.  How your grandfather teaching you to not wear a hat inside is really a raping Visigoth in disguise.  And wonder deeply what has happened to us a Nation.  How far down the rabbit hole of ignorance and bigotry have we fallen that candidates like Trump have not just national viability for elected leadership but that many acquaintances we know personally are thrilled to vote for them.  What kind of future are we paving for that little boy? And my little boy? Two little people of the same age, with the same little chubby hands, learning their ways in this world but with two very different messages being taught. This is not the America I’ve known and loved.  And it makes me very, very sad.

Sunset

Sunset here at home.