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Midwest From Home - Day Four
July, 2001
Otherwise known as, "What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part I"….

DAY FOUR
Tuesday, June 26, 2001
Final destination: Topeka, KS

Our first goal of the day was the Little House on the Prairie, of course, but THTM had suggested, for our Next Adventure, that we drive down to Oklahoma City and check out the bombing memorial. Because we figured Oklahoma City is on the way back to Milwaukee via Kansas… or something. Well, heck, as long as we were in the area (if by "in the area" I mean "within a several-hundred-mile radius"…). Onward! ROAD TRIP! Adventure! Woo hooo!

So we were up early, wanting to be at the LHOTP no later than 9, so we could get to Oklahoma City around noon. But because we were running late as ever, we crossed the Verdigris River a little after 9; we were further south than Mr. Edwards had been, and, instead of blizzards, it was warm, sunny and fragrant outside. We ate pretzels and apples for breakfast. THTM drove, and I read another LHOTP chapter out loud to him.

Finding the Little House took a bit of doing. It was off some wonky, rural, Hanfordian road. But we managed to follow the two signs, and got there about 9:30. No one was around. The place was deserted. "Don't tell me they're not open today!" I wailed like a spoiled child… but a check of the signs informed us that the Little House opened at 10. Okay, we could hang out for a half hour! I wanted to check out the scenery, anyway.

Laura had described the prairie often enough, and in beautiful, sinple language. Now, I could understand first-hand what she had been talking about. "The wind sang a low, rustling song in the grass. Grasshoppers' rasping quivered up from all the immense prairie. A buzzing came faintly from all the trees in the creek bottoms. But all these sounds made a great, warm, happy silence." (LHOTP, 49)

As I perched on the split-rail fence, thinking these things and gazing at the tiny, TINY log cabin replica, I heard a noise… a distinct "MrOW! MrOW! MrrrOWWW!" A huge blue jay swooped at something coming around from the cabin, but that attack didn't stop the progress of the black cat who was making a beeline for us, chirping greetings, his tail straight up in the air. With only a slight ducking motion away from the blue jay, Black Kitty came truckin' our way as if we were just the folks he'd been wanting to see. "This must be the welcoming committee," I said as Black Kitty wound his way around our legs, then rolled around in the dirt and grass and chirped some more. He purred like an old VW as we petted him and fawned over him. If we dared to move away from him, he was right there, mrrowing as if "Hey! Don't forget about me!"

Sitting there in the sun and playing with Black Kitty was pleasant way to pass the time until, at last, a car turned in the drive and a woman got out to unlock the gate. She smiled as she saw Black Kitty, in an ecstasy of lovin', rolling and purring in my arms. "Does this belong to you?" I asked her. Oh yes, he did. The guide, whose name was Glenda, introduced us to Doc the cat. Yes, Doc, named after Dr. Tann, the black doctor who came to treat the Ingallses when they had malaria. "If he'd been a girl," she said, "we would've called him Black-Eyed Susan." (Black Susan, for those not in the know, was the cat in Little House in the Big Woods, and black-eyed Susans - tiny daisy-sunflowers - were growing everywhere around the Little House on the Prairie.)

As she lead the way to the Little House on the Prairie, Glenda cheerfully informed us that she'd been late because there'd been a bad traffic jam on the Highway. THTM and I, all-LA, fought snickers over that! Doc ran on ahead of us, obviously anticipating something, and as Glenda swung open the Little House's door, he darted in and took a running leap onto the table, sprawling across the guest book for a morning snooze. Clearly this was his regular routine. Awww!

The Little House was re-created carefully after Laura's descriptions… and did I mention it was LITTLE? THTM, 6'3, had to duck his way through the doorway. Our teeny New York apartment was almost three times bigger than the Little House! I can't imagine a family of five - three of them children under age 5 - living there throughout a winter.

There were some framed things on the walls - mostly maps and info stuff I already own - and a few bits of farm stuff and tools. I grinned with delight at the china shepherdess on the mantle.

Next to the Little House were a couple buildings moved to the site from town: an old schoolhouse and a Post Office, both with screen doors that banged shut behind us. There was also an old farmhouse on the property… built on the foundation of the Original Little House. Obviously, the family who lived here for several generations had no clue about the Ingalls family, and, after Laura wrote her books, they were surprised to discover they now lived on Pa's original claim in Indian Territory. Nothing original remains from the Little House itself… but behind the farmhouse, there's a concrete cover over a hole in the ground: the well that Pa dug with Mr. Scott!

CLICK PICTURES TO ENLARGE!

The farmhouse is now a gift shop, and a pretty sparse one right now, with two racks of books and a small assortment of pencil- and postcard-type souvenirs. We poked around, chatted with Glenda, and petted Doc some more, as he'd decided Morning Snooze was over and he really really really wanted to play with us instead. Glenda told us about the plans for the Little House site… hayrides and a small farm-animal display. "Just don't let them turn this into Lauraland!" I begged. Across the street from the Little House was a field of prairie flowers, just as Laura must have seen them; the thought of that authentic, real prairie setting being lost to parking lots and hokey hayrides and a pen of goats and sheep for screaming children to pet- No! Please! NO!

Before we left (and after saying goodbye to both Glenda and Doc), I wandered through the prairie grasses and flowers, enjoying the smells and the sounds. There were the black-eyed Susans, and what looked like Queen Anne's lace, and little blue flowers that I called "cornflowers," only half-sure whether that was what they really were, and small-scale sunflowers, and, of course, the prairie grasses, tall enough to reach my knees and higher. All waved in the wind, and bees hovered above, worthy of a descriptive scene from the Little House books themselves. Whee! I couldn't resist picking a few blossoms to take with me, pressing them in my journal (after first brushing away the microscopic grass-green bugs that crawled off the petals).

After that, we made the long drive to Oklahoma City. THTM took the wheel, and I read to him some more from LHOTP, and read to myself from the Little House cookbook. We toyed with the idea of having a Fourth of July Cookout next week for our families, and had a spirited menu discussion. Inspired by the LH Cookbook, we decided to try making baked beans with salt pork. Mmmm mmm!

As we journeyed deeper and deeper into Oklahoma, we switched from CDs to local radio. (I think I mentioned, we like listening to local news in new cities, to hear what's what and where's where.) Autoscanning through the available FM and AM stations provided us with a wealth of Christian talk shows, c(o)untry music, and Rush Limbaugh/Rush Limbaugh-like programs. Perhaps that informed us more about the area than any local news could've….

Approaching from the north, Oklahoma City seemed to squat out yonder before us. We headed directly for the downtown area, and spent about a half-hour playing "Right Turn/Left Turn" around the one-way streets with our feeble little Rand McNally US Map's page of Oklahoma's little inset map of downtown to guide us. We finally found the site of the memorial, and turned into a nearby parking garage. There was no attendant in sight, and the garage was crammed full, it being a downtown workday and all. After hesitatingly parking in the three-cars-deep rows, we poked around in search of an attendant to pay/get a ticket from/make sure we were parked in the right spot. We finally found him in a closet-sized office all but obscured by pipes and whatnot, watching a tiny portable TV. He greeted us cheerfully, and, the second we opened our mouths, he laughed a little. "Y'all from up north? 'Cos I can tell you ain't from Oklahoma City!" Heh heh heh… wonder what gave us away? :) He talked to us for a few about Los Angeles; he'd never been, and had all sorts of questions (predictable beaches and weather and stuff) before giving us our ticket for the car.

It was a pleasant summer day outside, and there were well over a hundred tourists wandering around the memorial site. I had no expectations about the memorial; I'd only seen one or two pictures. But as we walked in, I was surprised at how… effective it was: stark, simple, incorporating the shell of the original building (still bomb-scarred), with a huge, opaque reflecting pool in the middle. The pool was striking; set ground-level, with an almost imperceptible boarder for draining, there's little "running water" movement. Instead, the expanse of water seems to shimmer like oil, and, while the sound of running water can be heard as it seeps into the drain-fracture, no one can see it running . There are also two open grassy areas, one of which is the "field of empty chairs" (some adult, some child-sized).

Outside the memorial is the chain link fence that has become the tribute area, I guess. Lots of fake flowers, stuffed animals, notes, pictures. I walked the length of it, slowly. While I felt the consequence of realizing how many individuals had been lost in this attack, I also felt… put off, I guess… by the displays. So many Jesus-related messages and accouterments. So many poems of the Susan Polis Shultz variety. So many heart-shaped things and teddy-bear things and angel things and- I walked slowly, hating myself for my cynicism and for being even slightly offended by others' honest feelings and emotions, but every time I came to another angel ornament or ribbon-tied stuffed animal, my skin crawled anew.

But as I walked back up the length of the fence, almost back to where I'd started, there was a small child's shoe, hanging a little lower than eye-level. A small sign showed a picture of a little girl, about 2, with her name, and her birth- and death dates. A handwritten message on the flyer said "I miss you, my baby, and will love you forever." Oh, man…. Not far away, two ribbon streamers fluttered, attached to a school button or badge of some kind. Thirty-odd classmates had signed someone's middle-school graduation ribbon from an out-of-state school and brought it to the memorial. Heartbreaking.

Things like this - public displays of grief and mourning - are something I have mixed emotions and reactions too. I feel like a shitheel, because we're SUPPOSED to be deeply moved by this stuff… the notes and poems and stuffed animals. Princess Diana's death, JFK Jr.'s death, Columbine, local sites of car accidents… we've all seen the media/news footage of people putting down flowers and stuffed animals and candles and things at the shrine-sites and sobbing. I feel like there's something deeply wrong with me because I'm not moved by the poems or the songs or the stuffed animals; instead, I'm… yes, offended and annoyed and bothered, by the…almost performance-like aspect of these mourning rituals. I don't understand how a quickly-purchased bouquet of carnations or Beanie Babies at a public site for all to see HELPS anything. And then, after being all self-righteously cynical about this stuff, isn't it hypocritical of me to find the sight of one shoe, one ribbon, more moving?

Sometimes I detest myself.

I wrote several pages in my journal, struggling with my feelings, and coming to no conclusions, about this later on our Trip. Maybe my heart is just three sizes too small.

Anyway.

Those were the thoughts that preoccupied me at Oklahoma, the weird state of mine I was in, so I was already Mulling when I saw the message someone had left spray-painted on a wall of the building next to the memorial.

We search for the truth
The justice system requires it
Victims cry for it
AND GOD DEMANDS IT

God demands it? The "truth"?

I mean, isn't that the same mentality as Timothy McVeigh? Invoking God to serve one's own (human) purpose? What is "the truth" in this situation? Didn't McVeigh think God/"the truth" was on his side when he parked that truck?! The hell?!

So I was already pissed off when I got my leaflet for the memorial itself. As expected, there was no mention of McVeigh or his agenda at all. But there was a quote on the front page:

Never forget the impact of violence.

I could understand the intent, but the choice of words offended me. "Hey, look!" thinks some other stupid shit with an Agenda. "Violence is IMPACTING! I can impact the city/state/country with violence! Yeah!"

I scribbled angrily in my journal some more. Fucking A.

* [NOTE: I actually thought about taking this part out after September 11. But, upon re-reading it, I thought that, while my mixed and confusing reactions to the bombing memorial might be misinterpreted, they also 1) reflect my state of mind at the time and 2) have affected my reactions - again, mixed and confusing - to the public outpouring and media handling of this incomprehensible time in history. No, my thoughts here aren't "pretty" or sentimental or typical… but they're honest, and to take them out would be a lie to myself. I continue to struggle with what I'm "supposed" to be feeling and how I'm "supposed" to be reacting at this time, and it's difficult. I ask for you to understand that I'm not putting anyone down or denying anyone else the right to his or her own feelings…in fact, let me emphasize that. And I also encourage you to write in and share your thoughts on memorials and displays;  I value various points of view. Finally, please see my thoughts on the WTC site in NY when we were there in early November.]

We didn't stay long in Oklahoma City. We retrieved our car from our buddy at the garage and headed out of downtown. Once to the city's outskirts, we stopped at a gas station/convenience store. We are still immature enough to take a picture of its spectacular name. Then, after buying plastic-wrapped tubes of Rainblow gum to share, I took the wheel.

There is nothing striking in the Oklahoma scenery. This is what I expected of Kansas, in fact: flat as a pan-bottom and covered with short, nondescript grasses. We drove back into Kansas, listening to one of my synth-pop compilation CDs while I cracked gum a lot, and decided to stop in Wichita for dinner.

When we got there, early evening, we discovered that Wichita - at least Wichita from the 35 - is pretty small and nondescript. With nothing else in sight, we pulled over at the inevitable Cracker Barrel. For dinner, I picked the chicken-and-dumplings, and was served a meal that included canned green beans and doughy dumplings that, still, somehow, was strangely satisfying. Afterwards, we spent some Quality Time poking around the huge Cracker Barrel Gift Shop, giggling at the Kuntry Kute stuff and coveting the containers of Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, in the old, round cardboard tubs with the tin lids, no less!

We drove north for a couple more hours, fond ourselves a LOVELY Motel 6 near Topeka, and settlde down to watch us some BAD TV! Our limited selection provided us with a masterpiece called "Cla$$ Warfare" [sic] which was some absurdly silly USA thingie about this high school couple who go to a snobby rich school but the girl's dad loses his job so they need money and when this cute-but-earnest-activist type guy who sort of hangs with their group turns up with a winning lotto ticket, she hatches this big ol' convoluted scheme to get her doltish boyfriend to kill him on a hiking trip and snag the ticket so the whole gang goes up to someone's mountain cabin and there's this huge thunder storm and she gets her boyfriend to push him in the fake-hiking "accident" which freaks out the boyfriend who's all wracked with guilt but the twist is the ticket-activist guy doesn't die but shows up at the cabin so they have to kill him all over again and then kill the other friend who saw and then kill the guy's girlfriend who suspects and then- And then they find this video the activist-guy made saying that he's gonna play a trick on Nasty Bitch Girl with a lotto ticket and LAST WEEK'S numbers to test her and see her salivate over his money. Oh, cruel irony. In the end, the greedy bitch girl and her spineless guilt-ridden boyfriend get blown up in an SUV. It was ridiculousness in the extreme… and well worth staying up for.

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