Visiting my stepfather this week for his 86th birthday meant a trip to what I reluctantly claim as my hometown. It is about two hundred miles, one way. It is always a long road home because I have traveled that route countless times since I graduated from high school there in May of 1970. (That date seems as if it should have B.C. tacked on it now, even to me.) It is a long, boring, familiar drive.
Over the years I have found the absolute shortest route possible to get there. No matter what was going on in my life, I would go home. My past is inextricably and forever linked with every mile. Each trip home is a trip to the past. Three hours of driving is ample time to thoroughly mull things over. My memory unwinds unavoidably on that drive home, so speed is of the essence.
There are perennial bright spots on that long trail that bring a smile and fond memories. One such place is the berg of Portis. I can never drive through that town without recalling the Christmas Eve my husband, a New Jersey transplant, came through Portis, Kansas for the first time. The citizens had made an honest effort to decorate their main street by stringing a single wire of "Christmas lights" across the highway which bisects the town. They were not even genuine Christmas lights, but a half dozen or so regular red light bulbs, and two were burned out. That was the full extent of the Portis Christmas decorations.
At first, my husband could not believe his eyes, then he started laughing. By the time we passed under the string of lights, he was laughing so hard that he had tears in his eyes. He kept trying to say something, but he was laughing too hard for me to understand him. He was laughing so hard that I began laughing/weeping too.
Since that season, the little town has done far better with their decorating efforts. Sometimes they have nothing at all, which is infinitely better than the single string of red bulbs.
A rather more infamous landmark is located on the main street of Cawker City, Kansas. It is the world's largest ball of string. For decades it was on the south side of the street in the center of the town, sadly sagging toward the ground, uncovered and unkept. We never passed by without someone in the car remarking on it. One year we noticed someone had apparently tried to burn it down.
The townsfolk have grown in their appreciation of their tourist attraction, and over the years they have made changes. It was eventually wrapped in sturdy rope, and reshaped into an actual ball. Then a new sign, then a formal sign. Some years later a roofed shelter was erected over it. Now there are contemplation benches so a person can sit, meditate, and consider the efforts to collect such a large ball of string and why. There are other "world's largest" balls of string, so Cawker City has made a more discerning designation as the world's largest ball of sisal twine.
If you are ever through Cawker City, look for it right there on main street. You can not miss it.
For even crazier Kansas stuff, visit here: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/location/ks
Select a Kansas town from the right hand side of the page. Read'em and weep.