After a sleepless night and a very emotional send-off from a small committee of friends Wednesday morning, we drove across beautiful and stormy plains to our first stop in Newton, Kansas. We parked at my great-aunt Edna’s house, and before long were enjoying a meal of burgers, beans, coleslaw, and cherry pie around the dining room table with Edna and my cousin, Larry.
The house sits across the street from a National Guard armory, next to a high school football stadium, and a city park with a canal running alongside it. It’s a really beautiful and interesting place. I haven’t been to Newton for at least a couple of decades. It’s a railroad town that was largely settled in the 1800s by German-speaking Mennonites from Russia. I had never realized it could be the setting for a Mellencamp song. Or Springsteen. Or Miranda Lambert…whatever. It’s quintessential Heartland America.
Last year, Larry left his Colorado law practice to move home and take care of his mom. Edna celebrated her 90th birthday a few weeks ago, but she doesn’t seem like she needs much from anyone else. She’s a pretty amazing woman.
While we were there we followed Edna’s house rules: No alcohol, no sex, no cussing, no owning taverns (long story), and no dogs. These all applied to the house itself. I took the dog for a couple of walks, but I did not buy a tavern. Edna is a sweetheart and has a smile that lightens your load, but had another rule she made clear – we weren’t going to talk about politics. She sees my political posts on social media, but admitted she rarely finishes reading them, and never “likes” them. Larry said he had unfollowed me on Facebook, because my posts made his blood pressure spike. But, it was all okay, because we’re family and we love each other.
Actually, we had lots of conversations where I was reminded of a truth I expect to see confirmed over and over…that we are more alike than we are different.
On yesterday’s journey from Newton to Denver we stopped in Salina and worked out at Planet Fitness. On the road, we listened to the podcast, “Shit Town” (sorry, Edna). Wow, what an amazing story. One of the characters said, “Trying to understand a new person is a worthwhile thing to do.” Indeed.
This morning we are in Denver, at the home of our friends, the Wienses. Later today we will head up to Twin Lakes, near Leadville, to camp for the weekend.