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)
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
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
but behind the farmhouse, there's a concrete
cover over a hole in the ground: the well that Pa dug with
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
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.
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;
yes, offended and annoyed and bothered,
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.
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
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.
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
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.