Larry Banman: Searching for happiness? Visit your inner Kansas
November 17, 2008
Have you had a three-day smile lately? No? You need to go to Kansas.
From the time that I enjoyed a free cup of coffee at the Kansas border last Friday to the moment those sun-kissed plains faded in my rearview mirror on Monday, I had a smile plastered to my face.
During my stay in the Sunflower State, I enjoyed a fabulous family-style chicken dinner in Abilene, a seven-course meal served by a Mennonite youth group in Hesston, my mom’s chicken casserole, my brother-in-law’s mint chocolate ice cream dessert and my brother’s barbecued hamburgers.
Lest you think I can’t see past my stomach, I also enjoyed an afternoon watching wind-whipped whitecaps on Marion Reservoir. While driving the byways of Kansas, I saw various migrating water fowl sail the prevailing northern breezes and I also burned a pile of elm leaves in the briskness of an autumn afternoon.
I had wonderful conversations with my parents, my siblings and friends from my days in school. There is something about reconnecting with old friends and spending time with family that keeps getting better as the days and years slip by.
My quest to garner respect and appreciation for Kansas, I realize, is a task for a person with the qualities of a modern-day Don Quixote.
Where some people see thousands of acres of featureless terrain, I see the breadbasket of America, a place where each farmer provides the food for nearly 100 people, beyond those in his or her own family.
Kansans are stereotyped as “hicks from the sticks.” I see them as survivors, with a self-effacing sense of humor and the wonderful ability to not take themselves too seriously.
Kansas doesn’t have the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon, an ocean shore or the mountains. Its features included things like the world’s largest ball of twine, fence posts extracted from limestone quarries and the world’s deepest hand-dug well. Even the state’s tourist attractions point to a people that “makes do.” As an aside, if the economic downturn in our country continues, I would suggest that the Kansan from Dighton may not struggle as much as a second home owner from Aspen. While the Aspenite is bemoaning his or her misfortune on 60 Minutes (and asking for a bailout), the Dightonite will be planting a vegetable garden and canning peaches and beets.
While I was watching the sunrise this past Monday morning (another thing that Kansas does better than anybody else) I found myself basking in the glow of yet another “Kansas moment.”
It was an early morning in late November. I was sitting outside at a rest area near Alexander, Kan. Currently located on U.S. Highway 96, the town of Alexander peaked in 1872 when the Sante Fe Railroad reached Dodge City. The supply route that had run from Fort Hays to Fort Dodge was no longer a viable route. Alexander is located at the spot where that trail had crossed Walnut Creek.
While enjoying the historical significance of Alexander, I looked around and saw a herd of Angus cattle grazing across the gully. A row of limestone fenceposts stretched over the horizon and the unmistakable creak of a windmill reached my ears. There were several birds chirping and I felt as if I was in a place that I didn’t want to leave.
As often happens in those situations, I felt compelled to share that moment with somebody. After scaring an elderly couple (turns out they were from Ohio) I realized that very few of the people I know would agree to drive the 10 hours it would take to reach this spot.
It caused me to reflect on why I love Kansas so much, and why so few others want to share that emotion about a place that boasts of its barbed wire museums. I thought about the reasons I hadn’t stopped smiling for three days. And I realized that practically all of my good feelings about the state come from memories or from relationships with people, primarily family.
I know that few share my love of the people of Kansas. There are those who will say that Kansas is a great place ” to be from. I can’t convince those who hate the state to visit. But, I can point them to the “Kansas” they have within. That special place of residence for fond memories and people who love them.
Visit your “Kansas” and know what it feels like to have a perpetual grin on your face.
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