Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thoughts of my Dad

Were he alive today, my dad would be 100 years old right now. I thought about him a lot today, and I'll explain shortly. But first, a brief explanation of my day. . .

I headed for Afton Station, but my heart wasn't really in it. It's just so darn cold in there when I first arrive, and it takes hours to warm the place up. I just wasn't in the mood for shivering away my morning. However, I wanted to do the end-of-month books and the end-of-year books for 2010. I discovered after I arrived that, since almost nothing sold in December, it took me about 5 minutes to do the monthly accounting. Winding up the year barely took longer than that. I stuck it out at Afton for about 2 hours though, then felt the itch to leave. I doubted there would be any visitors anyway.

I decided to drive to Welch to visit the grave of Ma Barker, the notorious outlaw. She and her family are buried in a small cemetery on the road to Welch, and Betty W. has explained to me several times how to get to it, so I figured I could find it on my own.

The first small cemetery I passed looked right, so I drove all the way to the back, as Betty had explained, and tramped around in the cold wind for a while, finding no Barkers whatsoever. When I got too chilly to continue, I just gave up. I decided to continue on the road to Chetopa KS, as I was feeling I needed a little dose of Great Plains under my tires.

It was then that I started to think of my father. Nobody I've ever known was as avid a roadie as my dad. He was never happier than when he was behind the wheel of the family car, preferably on some small road out in the middle of nowhere. If he wasn't driving and exclaiming about the beauty of farmers' fields or lakes or silos, he was almost equally as happy driving through tiny towns, very slowly so as to take in every detail of life there. We'd often have discussions about the stores and houses in the little villages, imagining who lived there and what it would be like to live so far from civilization. These were the best times of my childhood.

My dad never had the chance to live that small-town life. He was born in Cleveland, worked his way through school crewing on the ore boats on the Great Lakes, and from there went on to a succession of high-intensity jobs that took him up the corporate spiral quickly and left very little time for dreaming. (Did you know my dad invented the Sealy Posturpedic Mattress?) But in all of his high level positions, he always -- ALWAYS -- made time for vacations. He was fortunate to have come to the point where he could get away several times a year for extended lengths of time, and he also retired at age 54.

On family vacations, we would drive and drive. My dad remained in a constant, unbroken state of wonder when he was behind the wheel. Everything was taken in and appreciated. Majestic mountains weren't any more interesting to him than little details such as the laundry on the clotheslines of passing farmhouses. He loved to visit little local grocery stores, and especially tiny 5 and 10s. He was the perfect companion for any road trip.

I was thinking today that a huge chunk of my genetic makeup comes from my dad. And he was with me as I drove through the ranchland to Chetopa, and then Oswego, KS. I've been to Chetopa before. I wrote about it here once before, mentioning that it's called the Pecan and Catfish Capital of Kansas, but on both that trip and this, I was unable to find any place to purchase either of those things. However, this time I found this restored Sinclair station which is now a variety store.

I love towns that have parking down the middle of their Main Streets. Oswego is such a town. I'd never seen that before moving to this part of the country, and it sure makes a lot of sense. I took an immediate liking to Oswego. It seems relatively vital and well-kept. There were several large Victorian houses of the type that I appreciate. My father would have liked this town, too. If he'd been with me in body rather than just in spirit, I'm sure we would have stopped and walked around a little, stopping for a bite at one of the local cafes. Being alone and not having a lot of time, I just drove around a bit.
I liked the fact that the old theater marquee was still standing, although it appeared that the building was being used as an antique auction place. That's ok, at least it's still there.

Time was getting short, so I headed for Tulsa. Back on the road outside of Welch, I passed another cemetery sign, and after arriving home I looked up Ma Barker and found out that she was indeed buried in the second graveyard, Timberhill. Oh well, that gives me another excuse to explore that territory some time!
Wrong Cemetery
Correct Cemetery

Information about Ma Barker and her "gang" here:


Ken Riches said...

You come by your love of the road honestly. Hugs to you :o)

Anonymous said...

The way you describe your Dad on vacations is idenical to my Dad and myself. Traveling on vacations is what I lived for and live for still. Your father was a very lucky man to have the oppurtuinty to be able to travel with his family. You are a chip off the old block and writing what you did has made your father the proudest block there ever was. God Bless You.

Laurel said...

Pete -- Wasn't it great, as a kid, to have a dad like that! It was almost like having a sibling in the car in my case, since I was an only child. I think sometimes we drove my mom crazy with all of our stops and excitement, but although she wasn't quite as enthusiastic about the road as we were, she was a good sport about it. Glad to hear you had similar experiences.

Laurel (another 2nd generation roadie)

Trevor Hilton said...

I love the backroads, too. I love topping a hill and seeing a beautiful vista in front of me.
Unfortunately, Lim goes to sleep if she's in a car too long.

The great, western lawman Bill Tilghman is buried in Chandler, OK.

The notorious outlaw Bill Doolin is buried in Guthrie. Right beside him is Elmer McCurdy