A DIARY OF KANSAS: BY ONE OUTSIDER
*Includes Eight General Impressions in One Tell-All Feature that’s Long enough to be Rude
1. KANSAS CORNFIELDS:
…which apparently, there are none. This was my one of many faux pas. I, not being a native to Kansas, addressed the student giving me a campus tour:
“So, yeah, there are just a lot of corn fields around here, I guess?”
“Wheat. We grow wheat here.”
I mentally kicked myself. Seriously, Esther, how could you mix up the two? Ohio grows corn. Not Kansas. Kansas grows wheat. The bread-basket and all that.
I should have remembered.
Not that I’m a farmer or anything. (Though everyone at my college assumed I was. In all my biology classes, the instructors would ask,
“Now, who’s involved in agriculture?” and then they would have everyone raise their hands in order to ask them questions about how much cattle a certain amount of land would support. I think my instructors kind of expected me to raise my hand and talk about living on a farm. But I didn’t and I don’t. My dad isn’t a farmer. He builds caskets. Sorry.)
There were, though, several “agricultural” experiences that I happened upon in Kansas.
The first “farm-y” thing I noticed was this odd crop I would see in the fields. It was yellow, orange, and red, and it was a little taller than beans. It had a funny cone shape, and I had never seen anything like it before in my life. I found out that it was “milo,” and they feed it to animals.
Another field phenomenon was sunflowers. I always knew that Kansas was famous for them. I never knew why. Apparently, they grow them. At least, I passed a field of them on my way to school every day in the fall. They weren’t yellow, (rather, brown and withered) but I imagined that they could be yellow, and it would be very beautiful.
Another farm experience was one of my first encounters with my (lovely, faithful) youth group. One Sunday evening we went to someone’s house for games. It was my first Kansas social encounter. It was a carry-in. Nobody told me. There was so much food. And I had already eaten supper. I had no idea there would be food. And we, like, sat down at a table. For a full meal. Burgers. And sandwiches. And potato salad. And green salads. And desserts. The table was fully-laden with several different kinds of the same dish! It was incredible. I was a bit astonished. I was not expecting all this food just for a game night. But it was great! Sunday nights would become my favorite night of the week. Day, actually.
That night after playing games, we took a walk on the dirt road. (Dirt roads. Another aspect of Kansas. I guess Ohio has them, too. Just not near where I live. Perhaps we’re a bit too metro-country, ha ha.) The whole group. Walking. Well, it wasn’t exactly the whole youth group. Most of them were in Mexico for a mission trip. The “leftovers,” however, were walking under a starry, breezy Kansas sky. We walked down to the neighbors and weighed ourselves (the group) on the giant farm scales. I smiled smugly to myself. Oh, so this is what they do for fun, I thought. At that time, I certainly still clung to my “country” stereotypes. J I did not know that I would come to love my Kansans!
In thinking about stereotypes, I certainly had some about Kansas. I remember one of my first descriptions of Kansans to my friends upon returning home to Ohio: “Everyone there listens to country music, lives on a farm, and drives a big truck, and basically, they’re all Republican rednecks.”
Kansans will forgive me, because, obviously, a stereotype is just that. A mask, which we must remove. We must see the individual. (At least, that’s what I learned by reading The Invisible Man and a hundred other whiny academic narratives.)
Rednecks? What was I supposed to think when, on the first day of second year, three cowBOYS showed up at school wearing daisy dukes. I think, that, they didn’t think that one through. I’m sure that it was funny very late at night when one of them thought, “Hey! We should totally wear teeny-tiny daisy duke shorts to the first day of classes! Ha ha! Wouldn’t that be SO funny! Ha Ha!” But, I’m pretty sure that, even they lost a little of the humor as the day wore on. And most assuredly, ALL of the spectators certainly did.
This little post is supposed to be about impressions of Kansas, not necessarily stereotypes, so I will continue with… impressions.
Everyone has houseplants. A lot of them. Is it because of the lack of trees (outside)? It seemed like every home I visited had an indoor tree or houseplants… like aloes and cacti… or even flowers (like impatiens)… My hostess even was trying to grow tomatoes in her living room. (Now, Maria does try some extravagant things. And, the tomatoes never quite worked.) But nearly everyone had an abundance of houseplants. Even my professor did in his office at school. He grew aloes by the dozen. He even gave me a little potted one to take home. (Which, by the way, I named “Ellen.”)
Another peculiarity is that in nearly every home I visited, I was served pickles. I’m not sure why I noticed this. Or why it even happened. Maybe it’s just an easy food to serve along with youth group-y type fair (like chips and dip, for example). Maybe it’s because it’s a food common in the Anabaptist heritage. You know, “Amish heritage” and all that. In any case, I ate a LOT of pickles! It was fine. I like the occasional pickle. There were just so many of them!
4. THE FOOD CHAPTER:
I have been WAITING to write this chapter! One of the delights of Kansas was its food.
I’ve never necessarily been such a foodie. Perhaps it is that I’ve never noticed food as much because my mother has always cooked. She has always prepared food. Right next to her is my sister who bakes. I, apparently, have been too busy working (away from home) or messing around or reading or something to help in the kitchen much. That is NOT to say that I don’t know how to clean it up. I have spent MANY hours in the kitchen cleaning up their dishes. But as to actually working with food, well… let’s see. We have an espresso maker, and I’m the only one who knows how to use it. I make scrambled eggs, but they still don’t taste like my moms. I have tried a recipe from my Spanish class at school. And I make herbed artichoke cheese tortellini. That’s it. So when I moved away from home, I began to notice food more. It was not my mother’s cooking. Repeat, not my mother’s cooking. I pretty much ate granola and bagels for breakfast. With nutella. Lots of nutella. And I packed cheap rabbit food lunches. (This was the plan. I wanted calories and fiber on the go. I did not want to take a lunch box to school, because seriously, have you seen how big my backpack already is? And I was really trying to budget my spending since I was doing the whole college thing. So I packed yogurt. But how to keep it cold? I froze it the night before. I would keep the frozen yogurt in a little compartment in my backpack and pack string cheese right beside it. Then I had some sort of fiber bar, and either nuts or a banana. All very portable. And fiber-y. But I really began to miss sandwiches from high school days.) For dinner, I was privileged to eat dinner with my “houseparents.” Since I was not the one cooking I rarely complained, and I ate very well and was very blessed to be cooked for nearly every evening. (Try not to hate me.)
But really, one can only eat string cheese before too long, and the cravings come. For chicken. For chicken and rice. And lunchmeat. And cheese. And tossed salad. And tomatoes!
So I started to notice “real” food. And I ate it with passion. It became my passion.
“Real” food also quickly became associated with my Sunday evening youth group meets. Food and fellowship go together, and always have, where the church is concerned. But, as I was not prepared for the food at the first game night, I was not prepared for the food at Sunday night singings.
At home, we have youth group Bible studies in homes, too, with a snack. But there are only so many “snack” variations. Usually there is a dip and a “to-be-dipped.” Chips and salsa. Veggies and dip. And something like cookies and ice cream.
Kansas was a different story.
Let me first describe to you my weekly youth group experience. Every Sunday night, they would have a “singing.” Not like “Amish,” or anything, but it could certainly be a left-over from that, as fifty years ago, their church would have been Amish. But the youth continue to get together on Sunday evenings and sing. Sing! Forty-plus kids. Piled into farmhouses, singing hymns. I loved it. I love singing, and I love hymns, and I love choral music. And they sang GOOD hymns! Not the old 1920’s repetitive camp meeting ones, but the real hymns, the “new song” hymns, the meaningful hymns that unite music and message in a beautiful way. They continually chose the better hymns and sang them over and over. (And they sing well, I might add… meaning they were musically inclined.) Between songs, kids shared. They commented on the morning sermon. They would share a verse or some insight from the Bible that tied in with the song they chose. We would pick out our favorite hymns. Some of us picked out only ONE hymn, and it was sung at nearly EVERY singing (lol Darryl). We sang spirituals. We sang kids songs. Once we got out choral music and sight-read. Sometimes we sang for old people at the nursing home. Other times we gathered around the campfire. Each evening was ended in prayer. We had prayer requests and special prayer groups. Such sweet fellowship with some of the most sincere young people I have ever met. I absolutely loved Sunday night singings.
And there was food.
Outstanding food! Amazing food! A lot of food. “Food” is such a humble word. It was supper. It was dinner. It was a fellowship meal.
We got everything. There was always lots.
And it was “soooo gooooood.”
I continue to be amazed at the feasts that families from church would prepare for the youth in their homes. For one thing, it was an actual dinner. No “dips” here. We had meals. Mexican meals. Grilled meat. Breakfast foods. Pizza, soups, sandwiches, salads, taco salad, haystacks… lasagna and breadsticks… the occasional carry-in (with every home-made snack food under the sun.) I was a little starry-eyed at all this cookery. I just couldn’t get over how there was a full meal every week! These people (in the evenings) were preparing full Sunday dinners for forty kids! Everything was always home-made. Never taken for granted, and certainly always appreciated. Which I think drove some of them to go even farther. My one friend one night made cream puffs. Do you know how many cream puffs she made? Enough so that we wouldn’t run out. Can you imagine how many cream puffs it would take to feed over forty people who were meandering in and out of the kitchen? It was incredible.
I guess these meals written down don’t necessarily seem that special, but they were to me.
And these were just the main dishes. There was always a vegetable, starch, and bread (and probably pickles). Dessert was normally served later (completely delicious), with coffee and hot tea. As you can tell, I certainly admired every effort.
I was also very intimidated. I remember one of my first impressions of some of my Kansas friends. One girl’s mother had a birthday, and she and one of her friends organized a birthday party for her and invited not a few women, and they cooked them a whole meal, and there was chicken, and everything, and I mean, maybe even courses and things, and I was so surprised and aghast and impressed that I kept my little scrambled eggs secret to myself. I was terrified that at some point I would find myself in some Kansas kitchen and someone might ask me to actually, you know, “help.” So I clearly stayed away. Sipping coffee and thanking the host seemed the appropriate thing to do. (I mean, I’m the girl, who at sixteen years old, was babysitting and called home to ask my mother how to make macaroni and cheese. Mom said, “Well, can’t you read the box?” And I said, “Well yes, Mom, but… boil… water…. ?” That same day I managed to put a metal kettle in the microwave. One of the young girls pointed at the flames, “That’s a big fire!” … Sigh.)
My little group of Kansas friends are very industrious. And accomplished. I don’t know. Maybe everyone cooks like that. Maybe I’m the only one who can’t.
As time went on, though, my little secret came out. And some dear friends gave me some nice culinary-inspired grad gifts. One of my friends (she’s sixteen) designed herself and sewed me my very own apron. (Ugh. And that’s another thing. Sewing. Don’t even get me started.) It was beautiful. And she’s made other amazing things, too. Like a velvet elvish cape. And a cream tunic. It’s fantastic. Anyway, she and her sister also gave me recipe cards. Another dear friend gave me fun drink recipes and some syrups to try. (Yes, they all are so very helpful and encouraging.)
Oh. One of my *favorite food memories was one evening this spring when I was feeling particularly sad and vulnerable. I was babysitting, and my friend asked if she could stop by. She said she had made some soup and would bring me some dinner. “Aw, how nice!” I thought. I should have known. Again, I was not prepared. She came in with an entire tray… outfitted with a cloth napkin… There was meat… turkey, and soup, and a delicious salad, and a cinnamon roll. All freshly prepared. I was so touched. “Oh, the turkey?” she said, “Yeah, my brother shot that this morning. We put it up today, and I made the soup.”
You all now see now how fresh I mean. I couldn’t stop smiling. And she brought this for me! It was delicious. It was a labor of love.
There are other various food excursions that I remember with fondness, including certain Sunday afternoon dinners with some of the most exquisite home-cooking I have ever tasted (next to my Mom’s) and other things like verenika and cheese curds and ice cream at the Mennonite Relief Sale in Hutch.
Not to mention, everyone was really smart. And educated. And pretty happy about it. I mean, okay, at home when I tell people from my church that I’m an English major, they correct their grammar in front of me, or they’re like, “Wait, so do you, like, diagram sentences all day or what?” (Yeah… yeah… that’s exactly what I do in college.) No, but, like, in Kansas, I remember arguing with a youth group guy about the proper usage of adverbs.
Kansans are very well-read. They are stinking smart. As a whole. (Not wanting to be making stereotypes again.) They are very informational people and enjoy sharing their wealth of information with others (i.e. they love audiences). A lot of my friends’ parents have college degrees. I guess at home in my community in Ohio, it is not as much that way.
Basically, Kansans are educated and proud of it. I have found that they are “word” people and have a certain toleration for literature… and learning in general.
6. JEWEL: because Jewel wanted her very own chapter and because I told her she would probably get one.
7. THE YOUTH GROUP CHAPTER:
I guess most of this has already seemed like a youth group chapter, but I have a few more comments about the Center Youth Group. Perhaps this post is more like a comparison of home communities than anything else. (Ha ha, by the way, does anyone notice how self-aware this post is? The post knows that it is a post! If I was sitting in a college literature class, I would get bonus points right now for noticing that. See, THAT is what I do all day in college.)
I would like to say that I was so impressed by the testimony of the youth group that I hung out with. Where I grew up, our youth group was for hanging out and having fun. Sadly, we rarely went deeper spiritually. And if anyone said anything about wanting to go a little bit deeper, boys with farmer tans would stare accusingly at you as if you were asking them to wear a tux to do chores or to become some sort of meditating monk. (No, you ninnies, but is it really necessary for 16-20 year olds to be playing Bible baseball? Get real!) There was a little bit of resentment about anything that did not resemble cowboy boots and green tractors, and oh please, never mention liking cities or the fact that you’ve traveled to Europe, Esther.
7b. [“Dumping Digression”]
Since I’ve hinted at a little cultural narrative, I’ll vaguely mention another. I have always said that Kansas guys dump on girls. (Yeah, okay, when I said this, all the guys started laughing because I guess “dump” means something else, but your western euphemisms can go back where they came from.) What I meant was, the guys from Kansas enjoy talking about things and explaining them in great detail and they love audiences, and (while their explanations can sometimes be extremely thoughtful, other times) they can be so needless that it is completely ridiculous. Really. We all knew that old trivia fact, and we *don’t care. Who needs a seven-minute explanation about the history of mail-order brides. We *don’t care. Certain guys would explain things in great detail as if we had never heard about them before, and I’m like, “What do you think I am, stupid?” But mostly everyone would sit patiently through their little narratives and make polite comments about the subject at hand. “Dumping” then refers to guys monopolizing group conversations with boring educational narratives. These narratives seemed to assume that their opinions or stories were very important (maybe even more so than a girl’s). Also, sometimes these guys were just downright feisty in proving their points in other conversations and arguments. This is also called “dumping.”
Now that I’ve always said this about Kansas guys, I would make a digression because the guys from my youth group were extremely chivalric, and I can think in one instance that it was especially the case: court-time at the youth retreat. Okay, I love basketball. As a young girl, I played with the boys at school. From fifth grade til eighth grade I played basketball nearly every recess. At summer camps I was the awkward child with the pony-tail who played basketball. In high school, we played it in girls P.E. Our school never had a girls’ team, though. It wasn’t until two years after I graduated that our school got a girls team. (No, I’m not bitter at all.) But I love basketball. And basically, no one else at home does. Some of my friends don’t play sports, and others of them don’t play basketball. I was always begging other girls to play basketball. But forGET trying to get any girls from our youth group to play. There was one time that I got a little game together at a church picnic one year and a pregnant mother from church played basketball with me.
Because I could rarely get a big group of girls to play, basketball normally became a guys’ game (as I got older)… which I resented (you can only imagine). So at youth functions, when basketball came up, it was usually a full-court guys’ game, and girls could watch (or knit). Maybe it was because there just weren’t enough girls who wanted to play. Maybe the small group of girls who DID want to play wasn’t numerous enough to justify splitting up that nice big court. In any case, I sat by, watching (steaming). Because, of course, “sensitive little me” always assumed that it was a gender battle of some kind. Once in high school, I particularly remember guys throwing basketballs at us girls to make us scared and run off the court so that they could have the court (instead of nicely asking us to move). I struggled greatly with that, as you can only imagine. (In other words, I did not remain silent but delivered a rather animated oratory of female martyrdom).
Imagine my surprise when I moved to Kansas, and I found an entire state that has never even heard of the sport of “football,” and girls play sports, and girls play basketball! Not only that, there are guys who let them play basketball! There are actually set times at youth functions where girls get half the court! And guys get half the court! And everything is equal! Suffrage for all! Hee hee hee! It made me soooo happy! The fall youth retreat was great for many reasons, but one of them especially were the HOURS spent in the gym playing volleyball, and the subsequent hours of basketball: girls basketball. It made me very happy. We stayed up playing basketball til 2:00 in the morning.
And I guess the point is that I can’t quite get over the fact that the guys let the girls play basketball because where I come from, that would never happen. So, even though they DO tend to dump on girls….
Beyond all of that, (because these are mostly surface impressions), I was shocked by the spirit of service and ministry with the youth at Center Church. Compared to other groups I know (especially my own) this youth group was superior. Sure we had fun. Sure we played basketball. Sure we were crazy. But the next afternoon at youth retreat, we went out witnessing. We talked to people on the street. We prayed for them. We told them about Christ. How REAL is that? (Some of the difference, I believe, was due to some incredible leadership and being peer-led.) I would like to to give praise to God for the work that is going on in that youth group as a whole. Those people were sincere, pure of heart, helpful, welcoming, and SO MUCH FUN. I love the body of Christ! As I was amazed by their cooking abilities, their abilities to wax long and lengthy, and their chivalry in court (wow, what an amazing pun!), I was amazed as my friends modeled Christ by discipling new Christians and each other, praying with each other and for others, and maintaining a Christian testimony. It put my own life to shame (so I felt at times).
I guess I met all kinds of people in Kansas, but the ones from my youth group probably had the biggest impression on me. (I mean, I certainly hung out with friends and acquaintances from college as well.)
Another impression (not necessarily from my youth group but more from my experience of meeting people in college) is how land-locked Kansas is. I seriously met some people who had never been OUT OF THE STATE OF KANSAS. In their entire lives. Now I know that I have been privileged to do quite a bit of traveling (even abroad), and I know that not everyone goes out of the country, but seriously…. never been out of Kansas? Where have you been are your life?!!! Okay, I guess the first reason one would go out of state would be to visit family. Apparently there are people whose entire families live in Kansas. My family, on the other hand, is all around the countryside and I have a ton of cousins everywhere, and basically, I grew up taking yearly trips south (to Virginia) or north (to Michigan). The second reason to travel out of state would be school trips. I mean, even in junior high, our tiny little Christian school took a week trip to an outdoor nature school in Pennsylvania. Extra-curricular can take you, too… with sports or music events. We traveled to A.C.E. Regional and International Conventions. I mean, our family has even done an “Out West” trip to the California coast and back. We’ve been in a bunch of states. And, then there’s weddings and funerals… And apart from family, school, and vacation… there’s just other countries! I mean, our little school took a Spanish trip to Costa Rica. My youth group went to Mexico. I went to, like, seven European countries on an amazing choir tour/adventure. I went to Canada to visit my friend and attend her wedding. There are simply other countries! And I met people who told me, “Yeah, I’ve never been out of Kansas before.” I honestly stared at them like they had a third nostril. Wow.