Be Kind, Bleeding Kansas, Chicken Annie's, Coping, Growing up, Happiness, Home Sweet Home, Kindness, Passion for Living, Respect, Uncategorized, You can't go back again

Thankful for Small Town Roots

Last week I learned of the death of another childhood classmate from my hometown in Kansas.  It seems like there’s been so many…..I’ve actually lost count.  For a small class, it’s been a lot.  These are the people I grew up with, and even though I moved away before graduating with them, they still mean a lot to me, and we share so many of the same experiences of growing up in a small town.

There is so much anger and hatred in our world right now. and the loss of this classmate has made me yearn for a simpler time, and a time when things seemed easier.  Growing up in a small town in the Midwest had it’s pros and cons, but I hold so many wonderful memories from that time.

My hometown, at one time, truly did feel like Mayberry.  It was an historic old railroad town in Southeast Kansas, about an hour from Kansas City, and an hour from Joplin.  It was divided down the middle of town by a highway and railroad tracks….the division having racially motivated reasons dating back to the 1800’s, and the time of “Bleeding Kansas” and the John Brown raids.  It had a dark history of racism (for more on this, look up the author/poet/photographer/director Gordon Parks, and the movie “The Learning Tree”). Yet, in the 70’s, I wasn’t aware of that dark past so much.  I had both black and white friends.  They were restoring the Fort from the 1840’s, had beautiful old Victorian homes, brick streets, and a quaint downtown.  It still has one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen, Gunn Park.  It had two elementary schools (one on the east side, one on the west), a junior high, which sat prominently in the middle of town, and a big old high school, which is now gone.

The town was a bit run down in some areas, had it’s nicer neighborhoods, but it was safe just about everywhere you went.  It was safe to ride our bikes, go for walks, and explore. One of my friends and I used to walk to the end of our street, which was a dead end, and we would climb down the embankment to play at the river banks while our parents were at work.  I could walk to my father’s office at the church where he was a minister, only a few blocks away.  My mother’s office was a block from his office.  I could walk downtown to the library, to stores, and to the movies.  On Saturdays, another friend and I would meet at a certain corner, and we would walk to the library, then go buy a lot of candy with our little bit of allowances we had. In the summer, I would walk or ride my bike to the swimming pool.

The people in our church were wonderful.  Because my father was the minister, we were invited to so many homes for Sunday dinner, on trips to Kansas City, or to our favorite chicken restaurant, Chicken Annie’s (Southeast Kansas is known for it’s chicken restaurants!).  My sisters and I had babysitting jobs for many families in our church.  Our doctor and dentist both went to our church.  My piano teacher was our organist. Everyone knew everyone, or had some sort of connection to them.

Going back there today is different.  My parents and almost all of their friends are now gone.  The church is closed.  It isn’t safe in a lot of areas.  The old homes are in disrepair.  The brick streets are not in great shape.  The downtown is empty and sad.  Most of the manufacturers are gone.  Walmart is the biggest store in town…….

Even though I know we can’t live in the past, and I’m glad I don’t live there today, I do miss a lot of that innocence today.  People really cared about each other.  Small towns are not for me at this point in my life, and I’m glad my parents showed me that there was a world out there through travel and books, but growing up in a small town in the 1970’s was special.  I didn’t realize then what a wonderful thing it was.  I raised my own children there too, but it was already changing, and it wasn’t the same.

Life was easier then.  Times were easier, or seemed to be.  Maybe it was just easier for parents to protect their children from the cruel world without the influences of 24 hour news and social media.  Sometimes I really miss the days when I had no worries, plenty of friends, my parents, a kinder, safer world…….  We can’t go back, and we can’t bring back those we’ve lost.  We can only be more appreciative of each other, treat each other with respect,  be kind to each other, and not take anyone or anything for granted.  Life is too short to not appreciate who and what we have in front of us.  It might not be there tomorrow.

 

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European Vacation, Home Sweet Home, Misconceptions, Respect, Sweden, travel, Uncategorized

Home Sweet Home

I’ve been on hiatus the last few weeks due to travel, fatigue, not feeling the greatest, studying, and just trying to reflect on our trip to Europe.  The trip itself was not bad.  A couple of our flights were fine, two others a little stressful.  Since we flew out of Miami, we had an 11 hour drive on either end of the trip too, so we were also more exhausted from this!  We aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore, and we do get more tired than when we were 20 or 30!  We had plans every single day we were there, and I wasn’t feeling well several of those days, but kept going as much as I physically could.

We were able to stay in Al’s old apartment, where he lived for 17 years, so that saved us a ton of money!  We could cook our meals and not eat out all the time!  Plus, we stayed in shape by climbing the 53 steps each day! We were also able to borrow a friend’s car for part of the time, and took public transportation (trains, trains, and more trains), and walked a lot.  Any time you are in a city, you will spend a good deal of time walking, and I love that about any metropolitan area.

We didn’t see as much of the country and tourist areas as we wanted, but that was ok, because we got to spend time with people.  Since Al lived there for 30 years, there were a lot of friends who wanted to see him.  We squeezed in a little bit of sight seeing the last couple of days, and the sun came out, so that was nice!  We toured the Nordic Museum, which is housed in a beautiful building, and we were treated to a free boat tour through the canals around Stockholm.  We tried to tour the Vasa Museum, but the lines were way too long, and we had a short time frame due to plans later that night.  We also spent the day with friends at their house on the water (a finger of the Baltic Sea), and it was gorgeous!  So much of the landscape, countryside, and customs reminded me of living in Northern Iowa on the Minnesota border.  I understand now why so many Scandinavians settled in that area.  The weather, food, customs, foliage, scenery….even the people felt very familiar.  While living in the upper Midwest, I remember many times having to wear jackets in June!  Brrrr!  A lot of people think I’m from Florida, and can’t handle cold weather.  I handled cold weather (blizzards, white outs, ice storms, -80 windchills) my whole life until the last few years.  I handle it just fine.  I just don’t like it.

I didn’t meet many Swedish people.  Most of Al’s friends are American, Australian, British, etc.  However, the wives of his friends were Swedish, and they were all very kind to me.  If you’ve ever been in a foreign country, and don’t speak the language, you can understand how excluded and isolated you can feel.  It’s understandable to speak your language in your country, so I didn’t mind….I was a guest in their country, after all.  It just felt awkward a few times.  On two separate occasions, there were friends who announced that they would be speaking only English for my sake.  I really appreciated that!  It really made me feel accepted and respected.  I thought that was very kind of them.  Another thing I loved was that Sweden is a very dog friendly country!  I usually enjoy dogs more than most people, so it was great to see dogs EVERYWHERE.  They are treated extremely well!

There were a few misconceptions on both sides, I think, about how America/Americans are perceived, and how Sweden/Swedes are perceived.  I had heard that Stockholm is very clean, and knowing what I know about the descendants of Scandinavians, I was expecting very well manicured landscapes, no litter, no graffiti, no weeds, etc.  However, I felt that it was like a lot of cities in America, with those same issues.  Definitely cleaner than New York, but very comparable to Kansas City, Minneapolis, Denver, etc.  I had also been told that there aren’t overweight people in Sweden.  Well, there were.  Also, I was told that Swedes don’t eat a lot of fast food…..maybe not like America, but there were plenty of fast food restaurants, and many of the meals we were served had fried food and a lot of pork and sweet items.  This may be a more recent trend, as corporations become more global, and everyone seeks convenience…a sign of the times. I had also expected no racism, but one evening in a train station, we experienced a bit of that. There are also homeless people, and drug addicts…..very common in American cities as well.

A few misconceptions I had to clarify were that all Americans are not on “Obamacare,” not all Americans voted for the current president, we do have vacation time and sick leave, and we are not all stupid, ignorant, or racist (even those of us residing in the South).  Actually, defending my country got a little old.  I didn’t mind explaining the health care situation, and that I have my summers off (plus sick leave, personal leave, two weeks at Christmas, a week at Thanksgiving, a week at Spring Break, Good Friday, Veterans Day, President’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Labor Day, and Memorial Day….plenty of time off!).  They seemed to think we are all working our fingers to the bone with no time off, and no benefits.  I have pretty decent benefits through my job. But defending myself, my intellectual abilities, and that of my friends and family was frustrating.  Hearing some of the jokes and comments made about Americans was at times, hurtful.  I realize this is the information they receive, but thanks to reality TV, Jerry Springer, and the Kardashians, many Europeans think that is the way all Americans are.  Those are the images that are put out there, and speak the loudest, unfortunately.  It made me sad and embarrassed.  Mind you, not everyone was like this, but I heard these comments enough to get tired of them.

I know that the United States has its problems.  It always has, and always will.  It’s a very vast country, very diverse, and has a huge population.  It has a violent past.  But it’s truly fascinating!  There are very intelligent people here (even in the South….), and a ton of good things happen to be “All American.” In fact, for all of the mean or negative things I heard about my country, I noticed just as many NY ball caps, and a lot of American brand clothing.  They may not like us, but they want to be like us! As much as this country struggles, it is still my home, and I do have pride for the good people and good things that go on here.  I also love the vast landscapes, and all it has to offer.  I love the wide open spaces.  I love the promise of the “American Dream.”  I love our fascinating (yet violent) history, and how my family played a part in it.  I love the friendliness and acceptance I feel here.  I love the beach that is 10 minutes from my house.  I love that I can go to the mountains, desert, beach, forest, or prairie, and still be in my country.  I love the accessibility to affordable housing (housing, or lack of available/affordable housing, was a topic of conversation in nearly every circle we were in).  I love our movies and television shows.  I love our music.  I love the accessibility to affordable groceries and retail items, and a variety of places to shop for these things.  I love that even if my neighbor and I don’t agree on religion or politics, we will be there for each other, any time we need each other….trusting each other to keep an eye on our houses, pets, or plants, or to help with a project or a car that won’t start.  I love the helping hands that are there in times of need…..sometimes from complete strangers.

Sweden was a nice, beautiful country, and it is home to approximately 10 million people.  Most of the people were beautiful, and asked educated questions about our lives here, looking for informed answers.  The United States is home to approximately 320 million people.  Naturally, with more people, there will be more (or different) problems. We do have a few ignorant people here (as every country does).  I do wish we had the healthcare system Sweden has.  I loved the open air markets with all of the produce and flowers.  I loved the history and the architecture of Old Town in Stockholm.  But America is my home.  I am proud of it for so many reasons, even with all of it’s problems and divisiveness right now.  I have had so many opportunities in my life here.  My parents raised five children, who are all college graduates and beyond.  I’ve been able to travel to 40 states and now 6 countries.

Everyone should be just as proud of their country, but have respect for other countries and their citizens as well.  It’s great to explore and learn new things about other countries, their citizens, their history, and their culture, and I can’t wait to do it again.  It broadens our minds, and helps us to understand each other better.  Traveling and learning about each other, and having mutual respect for each other could solve so many problems we face today.  Education, travel, broadening our horizons, and embracing our differences can only make this world a better place.

Be proud of your country.  Be proud of your roots (my roots are mostly European).  Be proud of your flag…..and respect all others.  We love to travel, but as Al said the night before we headed home, “It will be nice to be back on the other side of the Atlantic again.”  Home is home.  To honor my 26 years spent in Kansas, I will end with this…..”There’s no place like home!”