Home is Where the Heart Is

A story about the old home town, on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday when I was growing up. I called a small town in Western Kansas home for most of my childhood years. Leoti still occupies a special place for me. I lived there for 11 years, til I was 14. Now that my grandparents have passed and dad moved to Colorado, I have a hard time thinking of it as 'home' anymore. But I know every square inch of the place intimately.

...or rather, I did.

A small town is a great thing when you are a child. You can ride your bike in the street with little or no concern for car traffic. Everybody knows you, knows who your parents are (that can also be a detriment) nearly everything worth doing is within easy walking distance, so there is no need to drive, at least not with any sort of hurry required.

My grandparents (on dad's side) lived 4 blocks away, just past the old City Park. My family had lived in the area for several generations.

[My Grandfather's uncle had bequeathed his property to the state (after his only son died) for the purpose of turning it into a state park. It still is a state park, featuring one of the few natural springs in the area. I still have a map Grandpa drew for me showing how the homestead was laid out]

There were (and probably still are) at least a hundred Steele relatives in the area, as well as a good number of Heims (Grandmother's family) so a family gathering was a massive affair, something to really look forward to.

Grandmother loved Thanksgiving. She loved to cook, and there would be pies baking (she had a grove of cherry trees in the back yard just to have the cherries on hand to make the pies) a week in advance in preparation for the family event. Everybody brought a dish of their own, in addition to the massive turkey that would be cooking at Grandma's house.

You never knew who would show up for the event from year to year. The same old regulars would generally be there; Uncle Jake, Edna and Ted, Uncle Russ. But there also seemed to be a varying cast of additional characters that you never really got to know, but you knew were related somehow. They'd explain it to you if you asked, but I could never keep it all straight.

A little after noon the feast would commence, and it didn't stop for the rest of the day. After the initial round, the adults would break into groups and play cards or watch the football game, with the occasional return to grandmothers massive cherry banquet table, just to make sure that you were indeed no longer hungry. The children would go out and play in the croquet court (Grandad's pride and joy. concrete curbs and leveled bare earth) or just wander around town. It was a very relaxed affair.

I can remember those times as clearly as if I was sitting in the old house right now. But the town has changed from what I remember. Changed and yet is still the same.

A friend of mine works for Broadwing (a fiber optic cabling company) and was working in Kansas a few years back, when her tire blew out. It was Sunday, she had no car, and she needed to be someplace else. When she called me, I asked her where she was. She said "Leoti".

I told her to hang on, and made a call to my "uncle" Frank. Uncle Frank was Dad's best friend, and owned a gas station directly across the street from my Dad's (Grandad's before him) gas station in Leoti. The only two fueling spots in the entire county, at the time. While I hadn't spoken to Frank in several years, I knew he would remember me. Sure enough, we dropped right back into old times, and as soon as I mentioned my friend's problems, he said not to worry about it.

She called me in amazement a few minutes later. "How did you do that? Every place in town is closed, I checked." Two guys showed up with a tow truck, took the car to the service station, and got her back on the road in a few hours. In rural Kansas, where nothing gets done on Sunday. Just called an old friend, I said. Someone I really should have talked to more frequently.

Last time I was there, Frank's son (Frank has retired) had to compete with a convenience store that they had built in the town square. They knocked down a two story brick building that had been there since the early 1900's (and had been the home of Jaeger Implement for all of my memory) and erected a split faced concrete block and painted steel wart, right in the center of town.

Dad's former station is now a bare concrete slab, and my grandparent's house was bought by the mayor. Time changes everything.

Kansas, it's a great place to be from, a saying I've heard several times. Home is someplace else now, but Leoti lives on in my memory, as fresh and clear as if I was there yesterday. A memory to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. May yours be a happy one.

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