We got on the road about 9am and by 9:17am we’d already made our first stop. What else are you going to do when you see a sign for Walt Disney Hometown Museum? We headed south three miles to Marceline and parked in front of a beautiful brick building surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. It was situated right next to a railroad crossing, so that made Dani inimitably happy. The museum was closed so we ran around the centerpiece fountain, sat on the benches, grabbed our requisite photo op and headed back out on the road.
Over the next couple of hours we drove through rolling farmland. This was not what I expected Missouri to look like. I’m not sure what image I had, but it wasn’t of verdant countryside and rows of corn broken up by windbreaking stands of tees. We made animal sounds and learned Italian (“pelouche” is stuffed animal, by the way) and sang along to Asia’s “Days Like These”. We discussed “hysterical” markers, which are plaques and signs marking spots that have questionable historical significance.
As we neared Kansas City we decided to stop for lunch at the ubiquitous Cracker Barrel. Despite the availability of several dishes with gravy we actually chose salads. If you’ve been to a Cracker Barrel, and if you’ve been on a road trip in the midwest it’s likely you have, you know they have a store before you enter the restaurant and rocking chairs along their front “porch”. On our way out we happened to find a cow, a pig and a frog whose eyes bug out if you squeeze them. (Those, let me tell you, have provided hours of entertainment for Joanna and me. And, of course, Dani, too.) Before heading back out we had to stop and rock for a spell, and then we were on our way again.
With Moe, Larry & Curly keeping us company we made our way through the intersecting highways in Kansas City and somehow found our way on the other side. (Navigation can be a little challenging when you give two women with much to say and normally very little time to say it the opportunity to let out all of that stockpile of STUFF.) As we neared the western side we were amazed by a train that must have been pulling 100 tanker cars. What did they contain, we wondered? Ethanol? Gas? Cow pee? What?
Just like Missouri, Kansas surprised me. The last time I’d been through the state I was 14 years old and stuck in the back seat with my icky brother while my parents listened to classical music. Now, of course, that’s a fond memory but at the time I was just happy to see a gosh darn TREE. This Kansas was beautiful and lush, with farmsteads and dilapidated barns that seemed to be returning to the earth and herds of roaming, free range cattle.
We were getting closer and closer to Hutchinson, so while we wanted to keep going we needed to make one more stop. We pulled off the road at what we thought was going to be an “hysterical” marker. On one side of the road was a hill with nine trees and on the other an arced path of asphalt that carved a swath out of the prairie. There seemed to be nothing of historical significance until we read the text on the memorial and realized that in Kansas, the land itself is the story.
The rolling pastures and the grazing cows were part of the Bluestem Pasture Region, or the Flint Hills. It’s the “last large segment of true prairie which once stretched from the forests of the East to the Great Plains” and feeds almost a million head of cattle every year on tall grass prairie-land two counties wide and covering four and a half million acres. We left with a sense of what our country might have looked like when the first settlers came through and before the land was carved by the crops and farms that feed us today.
That led to a discussion of the displacement of the Native American tribes, which led to Manifest Destiny, which led to the atrocities people can perpetrate on each other in the pursuit of their goals. This conversation was to unexpectedly hit home with a surprising ferocity the next day.
As we neared Hutchinson we moved to lighter topics. It’s hard to continue a conversation with a two-year-old in the car anyway, but one of complexity is even harder to sustain. We passed the Salt Mine and the world’s longest grain elevator, finally arriving at Joanna’s dad’s around 5:30pm.
After unloading the car, stretching our legs and getting situated in the Wolcott House (promise, there will be more on this house later), we started our official visit. The first stop was Bogey’s with Joanna’s grandmother, who seems to be a part of the very fabric of Hutchinson. Bogey’s was a must-stop because it offers just about any combination of milkshake you could possibly want. Next we headed downtown for Third Thursday, when the shops stay open later and there are musicians on the street. Joanna’s father, Doug McGovern, is like the Ken Burns of Hutchinson history and lore, so we had to stop into Smith’s Market, whose owners happen to live across the street from him. Established in 1933, the original fruit market is still family owned and still stocks fresh fruit as well as vegetables and various sundries, candy and toys.
After a quick walk down Main Street we finally decided that was enough for one day and headed back for a good night’s rest. We were going to need it!