Chapter 46 — The Winds of Change

April 5, 2012

The GWSBAS (Greater Walnut Shade Bike Around the Square) was a great success again this year, with forty-six riders. Over $18,000 was raised for Main Street/Pride committee projects and for new lounge furniture at Walnut Rest, this year’s designated charity.

The Main Street/Pride committee met on Wednesday and discussed uses of their share of the money raised in the GWSBAS. They also considered some of the new slogans suggested for Walnut Shade advertising.

The municipal election results were announced Tuesday evening about 7:30, after the poll closed. There were 212 votes cast, from a pool of 227 eligible voters. The results are as follows: for mayor — Grant  Combs, 212 votes; for four at-large council seats — Les Derby, 212 votes; Sandy Cramer, 212 votes; Thomas Miller, 212 votes; Billy Thornton, 0 votes; Ralph Thompson, 0 votes. Since neither Billy nor Ralph received any votes (!?!), the seat will be filled by the council at a special meeting next Tuesday.

We were sad to hear that Delores Gilbert’s aunt, Betty Franks, passed away last week. She had been in failing health since her husband, Tommy, died in November. Craig and Delores flew to California for the memorial service.

Bill Heath’s “water retention structure” is at capacity and he said he will be stocking it with bluegill and channel catfish.

Sally Ryan wants everyone to know that The Garden Center is well-stocked with bedding plants and spring annuals. Tickets for the Master Gardener tour are also available.

An information and training session will be held next Thursday at the ASCS office, Lorene Roberts reports, to acquaint farmers in Miller County with the Ag Census, which will conducted later this year. The session begins at 10:30 and lunch will be served afterwards.

Parents and friends were treated to a performance by Daphne Wolfe’s piano students at the First Baptist Church on Sunday afternoon. There was a consensus by the listeners that are a number of budding Lang Langs and Vladimir Ashkenazys among Daphne’s pupils.

Stephanie Barnett will be interning at WIBW this fall as a meteorologist. She says she is looking forward to working with Jeremy Goodwin, who is a graduate of Mizzou and has been at the station since 2001.

Jim Fillmore and Melody Watkins have been living in Jim’s house since they were married New Year’s Eve, but last week they put an offer on the old Crenshaw house, across from the park. Listed on the National Register, it has been vacant for several years.

Larry Long has been promoted to principle bassist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Guess that means he won’t be joining the Dixieland Stompers now that Randy Humphreys has been offered a job with the Branford Marsalis Quartet, which will become a quintet when he joins them in New York for their latest tour.

Nathan Crane, Extension Agricultural Agent, will be presenting a session on apple cultivars at the spring regional meeting of NACAA in Chicago in May. Nathan has become recognized as an expert in the grafting and pruning of apple trees.

Betty Watkins, Lois Hawkins, Mary Franklin, and Lois Adams attended a statewide VFW Auxiliary meeting in Topeka on Tuesday.

Ilene Wick heard from her nephew, Curtis Reynolds, on Sunday that he and his cousin, Valerie Adams, will be visiting friends in Manhattan this coming weekend and will stop in to see her on Sunday. Curt works for Verizon in Denver and Valerie is a sales associate for REI there.

Hank Stanford, Ruth’s brother, was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital in Blue Springs, Missouri, after suffering a fall from a ladder while he was cleaning the gutters on his house. Ruth says that he only has bruises and cut on his hand from grabbing the gutter as he fell. “That kid has always been accident-prone,” Ruth said. “That kid” is seventy years old.

I’ve never cleaned the gutters on my house. That’s a job for the professional and probably why I am whole and in one piece…

And why I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

Elections in small towns are usually perfunctory affairs. If someone really wants to be on the town council, it’s a foregone conclusion that that person will be elected. Often, no one runs for a seat and so it is filled by appointment/coercion: one of the “prominent” people in town gets talked into serving and does so reluctantly. Those who do make the decision to run on their own seem to have a couple of reasons to put their name in front of the community: they see something that needs to be taken care of, such as a street corner needs a stop sign where a bunch of kids cross going to school, or pot holes aren’t getting fixed and the street superintendent needs someone on the council to goad him into action; or, he or she has aspirations to a political career beyond the town and sees the council as the stepping stone to the county commission or legislature. To be honest, the latter is the reason least used around here. While there are Walnut Shade residents who have gone on to higher office, mostly they have just jumped straight into the fray and gone for the office they wanted without preliminaries. Grover Harris, Inez’s grandfather, comes to mind. He had never held an elective office before moving into the Governor’s mansion in Topeka in the 1930s. It was an unusual happening to say the least, but the late ‘30s was an unusual time. Harris ran as a progressive in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt and won over the more conservative Republican and Democratic candidates. Funny, but there’s to historical marker commemorating his victory here. The Main Street/Pride committee needs to work on that.

The municipal election this year was a very, very strange one indeed. Flossie Wentworth, who had held a seat on the council for sixteen years decided not to run, citing her desire to spend more time with the Excelsior Book Club, thus leaving an open spot on the ballot for the first time in eight years. The last time a new face was added to the council was when Les Derby stepped up to replace Marie Green, who had been elected to the Miller County Commission the previous November. So, with an opening on the council, the buzz around town for a few weeks was who would want to become a candidate. As it was assumed that no one in town was currently thinking about higher office, the question was who in town had an problem they though needed to be corrected. Who had been attending council meetings to talk about something that needed to be done in town? Who had been complaining about something over pancakes or cheeseburgers at Shirley’s? Who had been occupying one of the red molded plywood seats at the Stop and Go, giving advice about town issues to anyone who would listen?

Well, two people fit the bill: Billy Thornton and Ralph Thompson. Billy, when he and Dorothy returned from New York, began to tell everyone who was within earshot that what Walnut Shade needed was a public transportation system! The Main Street/Pride committee was the primary target of this harangues, suggesting that they buy one of those trolleys that he had seen in lower Manhattan so the tourists would be able to get around town easier and for free. Now, unless you have a sprained ankle, you can walk from one side of Walnut Shade to the other in about ten minutes and while we do have a considerable number of visitors on the weekends and during our several celebrations during the year, no one has complained about needing to ride around town to see the sites. He found a less than receptive ear when he talked to each of the current council members, so that’s why he decided to run, in hopes that he could persuade them from inside “the establishment,” as it were.

Ralph Thompson, on the other hand, had no particular platform on which he was basing his candidacy. He apparently told Sandy Cramer that he just had the sense that something needed to change. What and how were not specified and knowing Ralph, he wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint them if they tapped him on the shoulder. Since it was pretty obvious that his only opponent would be Billy, he put all his efforts into beating him. At several venues around town, the two discussed the issues, although neither could specify how there was any difference between their views, other than Ralph though a trolley might be a bit too expensive and suggested golf carts instead. His “debate” with Billy in the Courthouse Square was like a contest between a boxer and someone playing checkers. Punches were thrown and moves made, but it seemed that each participant was on an entirely different plane of existence. It was sort of like “Waiting for Godot” without the urgency. As I reported before, the audience was negligible and so the event concluded rather quickly.

The campaign was blessedly short, also, and so the two went into the election with no clue about what would happen. What did happen was a shock to everyone in town and to anyone who has the faintest familiarity with voting. When people say that “every vote counts” and “one vote can make a difference,” they were never more correct. One vote would have decided this election had either candidate receive even one! From the beginning, Dorothy Thornton and Connie Thompson thought their husbands’ campaigns were silly and so when it came time to vote, neither voted for them. That was pretty much the feeling around town, also. Most people thought the contest was a joke and just left the boxes next to Billy and Ralph’s name unchecked.

Billy and Ralph, being friends, didn’t vote for themselves, of course, but as competitors, they didn’t for vote for the other one, either. The election thus ended in a 0 to 0 tie! According to state law, when an election ends in a tie, it will be decided by drawing lots. So, it will all come down to who gets the slip of paper with the X on it. My guess is that it will be the one playing tic tac toe.

~.~

The GWSBAS (Greater Walnut Shade Bike Around the Square) was held on Saturday, April Fools Eve as it was called this year. It was great fun for everyone. The weather was exceptionally good, with the temperature at midnight, when the race began, standing at 61 degrees. By the afternoon, it had risen to 82. When the race ended at midnight, April 1, it was down to 63 degrees. Pretty unusual, given that the average high is usually about 70. Several of the more experienced riders said that it was one of the best days they had had here. Last year, for example, a late season cold front moved through during the night, when they were out on the course, and it dropped the temperature to 28; it never got above 34 that day. Riders were fine, but the spectators and volunteers were far from comfortable and not very happy.

The ride, if you’ll remember, begins at Harris Park and heads south for four blocks to the Courthouse Square. Imagine if you can the Tour de France compressed into that distance. The first year the ride was held, there were only five riders. Now, with upwards of fifty, it can get pretty crowded. At least at the start. This is a “ride,” not a “race,” so things spread out fairly quickly. The idea is to make as many circuits as possible, not compete for time. During the overnight hours, there are frequents stops for coffee, hot chocolate, and hot cider from Lou Hawkins’ apple trees (I’m told that the cider may have some “additives” during the evening hours of the ride; just a rumor, I’m sure, never having experienced that myself; well, maybe once or twice). Daylight brings out the donuts from the Stop and Go, cinnamon rolls from Shirley’s, and this year, Jerry Hall served a full breakfast for the riders, compliments of Jason Glenn and Harry Singleton at the White Geranium. Riders got box lunches from Bach’s Lunch, of course, and dinner was served by the Altar Society from St. Brendan’s (known locally, now, as St. Brenda’s, much to the chagrin of Dorothy Westover; we love you, Dorothy).

As the ride has grown over the years (this is the twenty-fifth edition of the ride, by the way), it has turned into a major event for the town. One of the traditions that has grown up around the ride is known as the “decorating of the porta potties.” Now, everyone knows that any time people are out of their houses for any length of time, nature calls. “Nature” was accommodated the first couple of years when there were only a few riders, by the public restrooms in the park and the ones in the downtown businesses. As more riders began to take part, the sponsors decided to bring in a few portable toilets and place them in strategic locations. Those things aren’t particularly attractive and having them scattered along the route detracted from the overall visual appeal of the ride. Along about the third year, someone got the idea that the porta potties should be, shall we say, camouflaged. The first couple of years, this consisted of painting sheets of cardboard and placing them around the toilets, but like the Rose Parade floats that get more elaborate every year, the skins of the porta potties got more elaborate. In fact, believe it or not, there is now a “theme” each year. A couple of years ago, the theme was “historical outhouses,” with the porta potties decorated as privies which might have belonged to famous figures from the past, like Cleopatra, King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, and the Red Queen. Perhaps the most unique one that year was the “outhouse” of Dracula, shaped like a coffin. Apparently that one wasn’t used much. This year’s theme was “March Madness,” since the Jayhawks are in the basketball championship. There were several porta potties sporting crimson and blue; purple and silver was also used, though the Wildcats didn’t figure in the tournament much this year. Our three local Tiger fans apparently were still upset at the team’s early exit from the games, so black and gold didn’t show up on any of the portable facilities.

Beside the decorating of the toilets, the day features a parade at noon and a fashion show, the models in which wear the latest cycling togs. The parade is a chance for young cyclists in town to demonstrate their capabilities maneuvering on two and three wheels, the upper age of the entrants being ten years. This year, there were twenty-three kids in the parade, the youngest only three years old. The theme of the parade echoed that of the porta potty decorations, so there were lots of little Jayhawks, Wildcats, a couple of Shockers, and an Ichabod.

The race has grown into quite the news-worthy even and there were film crews from WDAF and KMBC in Kansas City, KAKE in Wichita, WIBW in Topeka, KQTV in St. Joseph, and KETV in Omaha, all competing for the best angles and interviews with riders, volunteers and on-lookers.

“Even though it wasn’t April 2, I sort of expected to see Bill Murray,” remarked Curt Jackson, our resident film critic, referring, of course, to his favorite movie, Groundhog Day. “All those cameras!”

It was a memorable day, one that I’m sure will be repeated even bigger and better next year. It’s just another reason we live in Walnut Shade.

~.~

This is the windy season in northeast Kansas. Not only does the likelihood of tornados increase, but spring brings what is called around here, the Mistral, which usually begins around the first of April and lasts for a couple of weeks. The Mistral is a period of cold, northerly winds that sweep down the Vermillion River valley. It usually follows unseasonably warm weather in March, but sometimes it seems like it is just the last gasp, shall we say, of winter. On the one hand, we look forward to the Mistral because it bring with it crisp, clean air that hastens the opening of the blossoms on the apple trees, but it can also put a chill in the air that doesn’t really seem to leave all day.

One of the benefits of the Mistral is that it seems to block any possibilities of tornados around here. There has only been one recorded instance of a tornado during the first two weeks of April anywhere in this county and that was not technically anywhere close to the Vermillion. The air brought by the Mistral is dry and it is said to bring good health, evaporating stagnant water and the mudflats that develop over the winter. On the downside, it has been blamed for causing something akin to “prairie fever,” what old-timers called “wind madness:” the feeling that the howling of the wind, sometimes for days on end, will never stop. I’ll admit that it does get a bit unsettling at times, especially when you wake up in the middle of the night and hear the shutters banging furiously and the dog whimpering under the bed.

There is a story from the 1870s of a family who had recently settled just outside Walnut Shade and experienced the Mistral for the first time. The winter of 1873 had been particularly brutal, with long periods of extreme cold and several blizzards that dropped large amounts of snow. For days, the family was essentially trapped in their small two-room cabin and although they had plenty of food, the uncertainty of the situation created increasing tension between the adults. The father seems to have been mentally unstable, according to neighbors, and by the time spring came and the winds blew for several days, the stress apparently caused him to become highly agitated and erratic. An item in The Ledger from that time indicates that on a trip into town to buy supplies, he got into an argument with a storekeeper and shot him dead before turning the gun on himself. Later that day, when the Sheriff went to his farm to notify the wife, he found that the entire family had been killed, presumably by the father. While it certainly can’t be proved to be the cause, the Mistral was blamed for the tragedy by people in the valley.

There have been other instances of violent and strange behavior during and immediately following “the wind.” One year, a farmer turn all of his livestock out of his pasture and drove them down the road to an adjoining farm. He told his neighbor that he no longer wanted the animals and that he was making him a gift of them. Of course the neighbor recognized that there was something wrong and gently took him and his livestock back to this farm. A few days later, the winds had died down and the farmer was back to normal, somewhat embarrassed by what had happened. An example of widespread wind madness happened in the 1950s when the families on three blocks in Walnut Shade parked their cars in the middle of the street, saying that they were afraid the “Red Army” was going to take over the town and they wanted to be able to get away as quickly as possible. As it turns out, that probably wasn’t so much a case of wind madness as watching too much TV during the Joe McCarthy era.

Lately, though, the wind has become a valuable commodity. At last count, there are eight wind turbines in the county, supplying power to the electric grid. Rodney Dane has become a pioneer in this regard, with two turbines on his farm, alone, and plans for three more.

“We’ve always been forward-thinkers in this county, and I believe that we need to become much more self-sufficient,” he said the other day while we were having a late breakfast a Shirley’s. “My grandfather had three windmills on the farm that pumped water for the livestock and even generated a little electricity before he got hooked up to the Co-op. He knew that the wind was a resource that could be used, not just yelled into. I think he would have been one of the first to sign up for a turbine.”

Rodney’s probably right. From what I’ve heard about Franklin Dane, he was a conscientious farmer and a conservationist before that word was in general use. That has been the norm around this area. I’m not entirely sure where that ethic comes from, but it was probably brought here by the New England progressives, the Philadelphia Quakers, and the “thinkers” from places like New Harmony, Indiana, and Arrow Rock, Missouri. It is a tradition that we are proud of and that we try to honor, even when the wind blows in the opposite direction.

~.~

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
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