Chapter 19

All the News from Walnut Shade, KS
September 29, 2011

Sherri Brown wants to let everyone know that fifteen copies of Destiny of the Republic have arrived at the library and can be checked out for a week by people signing up for “Walnut Shade Reads.”  Candice Millard will be in town on Saturday, October 22 to discuss the book and do a book signing.

Because Destiny of the Republic was delayed in getting to the library, the Excelsior Book Club read Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias as its September selection.  Alice Amory says she was so inspired by the book that she’s going to see if she can find her old golf clubs and start going to the Country Club for more than just lunch and bridge.

Phyllis Dane reports that everything looks good for the Miller County Garden Tour tomorrow and Saturday.  The cooler weather has really helped the gardens revive.  Phyllis says that the wildflower gardens at St. Brendan’s are spectacular and the sunflowers, asters, mums and hydrangeas in gardens throughout town are beautiful right now.  Tickets are available at Ryan’s Garden Center and the Extension office in Fremont.

Jeff Barnett has two tickets for the KU-Texas Tech game on Saturday, if anyone wants them.  Jeff was very optimistic about the season after the games against McNeese State and Northern Illinois, but last week’s drubbing by Georgia Tech brought him back to earth, he says.

Ruth Stanford hosted Ilene Wick, Anna Brady, Lori Mendenhall for Mahjong on Tuesday at Walnut Rest.  Afterwards, they all went to Bach’s Lunch for Panzanella.  The tomato harvest has been “bumpers,” according to Susan Hall and she’s been using heirloom varieties and Jeff’s Tuscan bread for her salads.

Alice and Pat McManus report that Roxie, the puppy they adopted from Dr. Cramer, passed her Canine Good Citizen test at the Extension office and she is enrolled in the therapy dog program through the Delta Society.  The program runs for six weeks and the McManus’s hope that Roxie can begin visiting Miller County General by Thanksgiving.

Don Norman has gained five pounds on his new “I’ll eat anything I want to, thank you” diet.  Dorothy said she had to let his pants back out (she had taken them in a couple of inches while they were on the vegan diet).

Mary McCready reports that here are now fifty artists registered for the Miller County Art Fair.  She has exhibitors from Kansas City, Omaha, Des Moines, Dallas, Manhattan, Topeka, Lawrence, and St. Joseph.  Keep your fingers crossed for good weather; last year, the Fair was cancelled because of the cold and rain.

Sally Oswald is looking for volunteers to help with “Halloween Howl.”  She says that she needs people to help decorate the school gym for the dance and be parade marshals.  The Main Street/PRIDE committee is working on bringing in a top-flight band this year that will reflect the Halloween theme.  Anyone have any connections with Alice Cooper?

Me, I have connections with no one, but…
Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent


I met Stan Hawkins at his office last Wednesday to deliver my latest column and to catch up on his summer.  He’s been busy fending off a buyout offer from the group that owns the St. Joseph News-Press & Gazette and the Atchison, Hiawatha and Warrensburg papers.  When we went to lunch, he gave me the scoop (that’s a newspaper term; it also works in an ice cream parlor).

“I could have become a gazillionaire by selling, but I’ve kind of gotten used to paying my bills a couple of weeks late.  And I can’t imagine Lois would ever get used to the idea of having two new dresses in the same year.”  Stan has never been one to let an opportunity for sarcasm pass him by.  “Besides, I’d probably just spend the money on my arthritis medicine.”

“Is this something new?  The last time I saw you, you were running the bases pretty well at the ballgame at the Fair.”

“Yeah, it’s just been diagnosed.  RA, the doctor calls it.  Kind of snuck up on me, but so far it hasn’t been too bad.  I probably won’t be hitting clean-up next year, though.”

“What are you taking for it?”

“Right now, just aspirin, but one of these days I’ll probably go on one of those drugs that causes you to have night-sweats, pain in your earlobes, dreams about giant crabs, and cravings for peanut butter and jelly on roofing shingles.”

Stan and I have joked a lot about the drug ads you see on TV late at night, the ones whose side-effects usually seem more severe than the disease for which you take them.  And those ads are usually followed by ads for attorneys who will happily sue the drug companies for the pain, suffering and/or death you experience because you took the drugs in the first place.  I wonder if the pharmaceutical companies and the big law firms are working together somehow?  Maybe the big settlements are tax deductible and everybody wins in the end?  Except the guy who actually does eat the peanut butter and jelly on roofing shingles.

“Well, enough about me.  How’s the painting coming?”

“I guess since you aren’t selling the newspaper you won’t be buying any of my art at the Fair in a couple of weeks.”  Truthfully, even if Stan had become a gazillionaire, it’s unlikely that he would buy anything; his taste in art is best symbolized by the out-of-date bank calendars on the walls of his office, most of which have a winter scene by Currier and Ives, or one of the lesser illustrations Norman Rockwell did for Look.  His “appreciation” for art is probably hereditary.  I remember going over to his house when we were growing up and being struck by the lack of anything, except wallpaper, on the walls (not even a picture of JFK, and good Catholics, at that time, always had a picture of JFK).  Once, when we were in high school and about all I was doing was drawing and painting, I asked his mother if she would like to have her portrait painted.  She thanked me profusely, but said that she didn’t want to put any nail-holes in the walls because they would let in the cold air.  At the time, that almost seemed like a reasonable explanation, but I later found out that it was really because their landlord was very strict about any “damage” to the house, though a few nail-holes might have actually improved the place.

Stan and I grew up in very different parts of town; I lived in a small bungalow that was extremely modest, but still more than my parents could comfortably afford.  Stan lived in a three-room, run-down building that had once been a garage, located “across the tracks,” though there actually were no tracks that separated the two sides of town; everyone just knew that when you lived north of 10th, you lived in the very, very poor part of the community.  Ironically, that area is now a subdivision that borders the Miller County Country Club, with homes owned by the Walnut Shade and Fremont golfing and tennis-playing elite.  Stan and I became friends in the first grade when we started walking to school together.  I’d walk a couple of blocks north and meet him at the Baptist Church and then we’d walk back south to school, which was a block from my house.  After school, Stan would stop at my house and we’d talk or play board games and have a snack of peanut butter and crackers prepared by my mother.  Until I was in junior high school, I was never once in Stan’s house.  It simply didn’t occur to either of us to walk those four or five blocks north and I think I instinctively understood that there wouldn’t be any after-school snacks at his house, since his mother was probably working her second or third job of the day.

For my tenth birthday, my parents gave me a game set that included checkers, chess, backgammon and Parcheesi.  I’d take the wooden box filled with playing pieces and game boards to school and while the other kids were out on the playground, engaged in epic battles of dodge ball or baseball, Stan and I would sit in the school library and play checkers, and eventually, chess (as far as I can remember, we never attempted backgammon, and Parcheesi seemed too “foreign” at a time when Cold War Americans were playing Monopoly, Clue or Truth or Consequences).  By the weeks just before Thanksgiving, when it was freezing cold and none of the other kids wanted to go outside at recess, Stan and I had become pretty proficient at chess and a group would gather around us to watch.  We didn’t have a game timer, but as soon as one of us would make a move, the other kids would start chanting “move, move, move.”  Ah, the pressure, but that usually forced us to complete a game during that thirty-minute recess period.  The matches were not what a chess aficionado would call “elegant”; they could  more rightly be called “annihilations,” with one of us ending up with his king and queen or rook and the other with just his king being chased all over the board.

Rightly (in Stan’s case) or wrongly (in mine), we got the reputation, because of our chess matches, for being “brains,” one of the worst things a kid of ten can be called.  The ridicule (and occasional pummeling) we endured from the kids who lived to bash each other with dodge balls was almost made up for by the increasingly good grades, deserved or undeserved, we began to get.  I’ve often wondered why our teachers were so influenced by our playing a game that we learned not because we were drawn to the intellectual rigor and necessary analytical capacity associated with it, but because we liked the shape of the pieces and because, eventually, it got us noticed by the rest of the student body (sociologists say that poverty is a disease that makes its targets invisible and Stan and I were fairly invisible for the first few years of our academic careers).  By the end of the school year, we had mostly given up our daily chess matches, but we had solidified our standing as the “eggheads” of Walnut Shade Elementary, a status that we wore proudly (and fearfully, especially when forced to go outside for recess) for a couple of grades and then managed to shed by the time we were in junior high (well, owing to an increasing indifference to mathematics, science and the compulsory physical education classes, my grades became merely average while Stan maintained the mystique of intellectual prowess that, in fact, he actually possessed).

When we finished talking about Stan’s medical condition and my painting, we walked over to the Pioneer for lunch.  On the way, Stan ventured, “After lunch, how about a nice game of chess?”

“You know, every time you say that, I expect to see Matthew Broderick looking over your shoulder.  Let’s play Parcheesi, for a change.”

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
This entry was posted in Art, Dada, Observations, Painting, Serendipity, Small Town Life. Bookmark the permalink.

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