Driving to Kansas

50 East

50 East

June 30, 2016


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…

Morning Echoes.

imageCOLD Weather, it seems, cloaks so much of our Country in wet, icy mists, snow, and plump downpours. Here in Sonoma, windy rains woke me early.  Streaming water down windows somehow still aglow by an almost-full moon.  Our vineyards (in barren-winter garb) presenting rippled puddles of blue rain water. And little else. While rose fields — soon to be replanted as Pinot Noir — looked on silently.

On this Farm, sometimes the loudest, most unconscious thoughts happen when there is no noise at all.  Waking your soul, and heart, but not your mind. When you only got up intending to pee.

The Mind? Takes Coffee.

I crept downstairs avoiding that creaky step.  Lit my tea pot. Pet our happily fat Lab. Flipped on my pretty lights over the sink and started another load of laundry. (We have little children.) Three scoops of coffee went into the French Press…I lit the fireplace. And chose my grandmother’s mug…

It’s now Noon. Much has happened since easing into this morning’s caffeine ritual.  Breakfast, more laundry, marketing, wrangling wee hellions into proper clothes… But here I sit once more. Slightly ignoring my children.  Sipping hot tea. In the same kitchen chair, out of the same mug, with rains still streaming.  Thinking of family, kitchens, and morning rituals past.  Of my Mima sipping Folgers Crystals instant coffee.  Dad Richard brewing drip.  Mom preferring tea at the time.  My father’s parents cooking thick ham. Dad reheating coffee brewed day before to pair with fresh baked pastry…  All with eggs on the horizon.

And all gone now.  “Into the Sunset” as we explain to the kids…

How tender and most intimate these early kitchen rituals.  How they linger. Surprising we the Living even from the lull of raindrops and starkly rich vineyards… An agrarian Life that only Mom got to see.  That only Mom got to become a “LaLa” and make new memories for my children here in this most bucolic of Wine Country.  For now, Anni with her eggs and Coltrane with his toast.image

… And I’m sure in time, Coffee.