The weather home in Kansas City has turned nasty, and the tendrils of the Winter blow extended to us in Caprock Canyon. No snow, but with predicted lows in the 20’s we elected to head south. It was a good call. About 175 miles took us to Sweetwater Texas where the skies cleared and the thermometer suddenly added 10 degrees to the mercury. Winds gusted to 35 mph throughout the day, but our good fortune held as they pushed us from the rear, giving us great gas mileage.
Most of our 260 mile drive was on Texas Route 70, a well paved two lane country road that often featured a 75 mph speed limit! There wasn’t much traffic and there weren’t many towns of consequence. In fact, for 175 miles there were no Walmarts, no fast food, and damn few gas stations.
Driving days do not usually provide much opportunity for a “travelogue”. However I made the conscious decision to stop and take pictures of anything “interesting” that we might encounter. I missed the opportunity to take pictures of a few abandoned homesteads that seemed icons to the dustbowl days. Same with the sentinel like Aeromotor windmills that once dotted the Great Plains States. These ubiquitous inventions of necessity pumped water into cattle troughs where no electric service existed. A few that we passed were still in use, a testament to their ageless reliability. At times we could see huge electric wind generators juxtaposed in the distance, the 21st Century replacements for the 19th Century Aeromotors.
Now for the experiences preserved by images:
There was Galvan’s Cafe in Turkey, Texas. This was the second time that we have eaten here and for good reason. The food was plentiful, hot, tasty, and cheap. My eye was drawn to a wall of pictures. Icons of the 1950-60’s television Westerns. Just to mention those with autographs: There was Dan Blocker of Bonanza, Clint Eastwood and Eric Fleming of Rawhide, Steve McQueen of Wanted Dead of Alive, James Arness of Gunsmoke, and Clayton Moore of The Lone Ranger.
Literally in the middle of nowhere (which describes much of Texas 70) is the Midland Drive -In Theater. It’s faded marquis declares, “Between Turkey and Quitaque… New York and LA”. It also displays “Closed for Winter”, but which Winter remains a mystery.
We came upon a series of Historical Markers, the reading of which left somber overtones of past glories and tragedies.
We drove through the center of Dickens (pop. 286), seat of Dickens County (pop. 2,444). The town and county were founded in 1891 and named after J. Dickens who died at the Battle of the Alamo. The County Courthouse and Jail were both built in 1892 and remain in use. They were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. There is a $25 fine for anyone talking to inmates through the barred windows of the jail!
We passed by the City Park in Spur, Texas…
Cotton fields and bales were evident as far as the eye could see…
And passed a number of the Quanah Parker Trail Arrows which mark sites where the Comanche Indians and their last Chief, Quanah Parker, lived, traveled, and fought. The artist, Charles A. Smith created this network of 22-foot-tall steel arrows in tribute to the Comanches. There are over 70 of these arrows found in 52 counties. Quanah Parker died in 1911, and the sculptor Smith passed away March 3, 2018, 3 years after the great-granddaughter of the Chief adopted Smith into the Comanche’s family. Smith was given the name “Paaka-Hani-Eta”, meaning “Arrow Maker”.
We arrived just before closing at San Angelo State Park, made camp and immediately drove 7 miles to the Zero One Alehouse where I enjoyed excellent craft beer, a stunning Chief’s victory over the Colts, and the company of my Wife. Life is good!
The weather favored us today. Although the temperatures dipped, the rain skirted us to the north. Temps are predicted to fall while the winds are increasing. They have conspired to encourage us to move further south in the morning. Whether we will continue south in Texas or head south west is up in the air right now. Current predictions are for more moderate conditions next week. We don’t mind playing this by ear as we are accustomed to planning on the fly.
Donning an extra layer made for good hiking… the scenery made for great hiking! Cap Rock Canyon is part of the Palo Duro canyon complex, 120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide it is the second largest canyon in the United States after the Grand Canyon.
Towering red buttes surrounded us and conjured up images reminiscent of the Egyptian monuments of Luxor. The near dry creek washes made for near level paths. There was evidence of Bison everywhere (big poop!) that demanded attention to one’s steps.
The red rock canyon cuts were laced everywhere with veins of gypsum. Gypsum is best known as the principal material in the wallboard of most homes built today. Less well known is that it is also a main component in most toothpastes and many cosmetics!
This region has been continuously inhabited and hunted by humans for upward to 15,000 years. The first people known to call this home were of the Folsom Tradition. Hunter-gatherers who were quick to adapt to the changing environment, they were a resourceful and inventive people. As we hiked it was easy for me to imagine the first peoples who claimed these canyons as their own.
It has long been a dream of mine to find an ancient flint tool that has lain undisturbed since it left the hand of its creator. I imagine my touch creating a direct link bridging thousands of years to the hand of another person. It hasn’t happened yet and it might never happen, but If it did happen upon Federal or State lands I would be legally bound to return the artifact to its original resting place. Nevertheless, I would contemplate how we each shared a moment of our lives in that place. How we might each appreciate the skill and “technology” invested in the creation of that simple tool.
Technology. It seems a strange word to apply to the fashioning of a stone into a useful implement. Yet the techniques that improved these tools advanced much as our electronics improve with each iteration. It is just that the leaps of ancient technologies advanced a millennia at a time rather than from week to week.
Millions of years ago a pre-human grasped a rock and at the same time mentally grasped that the power of his fist was thus magnified. Many thousands of years later an insight resulted in the fashioning of the rock to better fit the hand… an edge was found to lessen the effort for its use… a handle was lashed that further extended the power of the rock and had the additional benefit of distancing the user from the prey or adversary. Nearing the time of the Folsom people the handle had already grown long enough to make an effective throwing implement and a monumental improvement then followed in the form of the atlatl, a device that extended the throwing arm to release the spear with great force and effect. Social “technologies” concurrently developed that improved hunting strategies. Of course what followed was the bow and arrow, gunpowder, cannon… technology accelerating to the creation of civilization destroying capabilities.
It is easy to underestimate the impact of the early simple advances in the creation of tools. However, each of those technological leaps improved the odds that the strange creatures who had neither fangs nor claws might survive to avoid extinction.
Will the technologies that we have harnessed remain our salvation or instead be the agent our demise? If I ever find that ancient tool and then return it to its resting place, the person who next discovers it may know the answer.
We are in Texas. I know this for the obvious reason that a big sign with a “lone star” told me so. I also know this for the less obvious reason that waitresses and female cashiers automatically know me by one of a number of sobriquets… “Sweetie!”, “Dahrling”, “Sugar”, “Honey”… this could go to my head. Back in Missouri I might be “Sir”, or “Mister”… usually just “Hey You!”
We traveled to Caprock Canyon State Park which is about 10 miles north of Quitaque Texas and 100 miles southeast of Amarillo. This is reached solely by secondary roads which at times were long, straight, and very lonely. The countryside presented some of the most beautiful nothing that we have seen in quite a while. In the middle of “nowhere” we passed through Altus, home of a thriving US Air force base. There is no doubt that the economy of Altus is dependent upon the base given the array of car dealers, a big Walmart, and such entertainment options as a motel that proudly advertises “Fantasy Rooms”. I wonder what the hourly rate is?
Onward through more open spaces we found ourselves in Turkey Texas, hometown of country singing legend Bob Wills. A downside to the extensive travel we have enjoyed is that we sometimes forget that we have been somewhere before. Such is the case with Turkey. It took seeing Bob Wills’ tourbus which is displayed on the main drag to refresh our recollection.
Caprock Canyon State Park is spectacular! The campgrounds are first rate with level pads, sheltered picnic tables, water, electricity, and fire pits at every site. The shower house is heated and spotlessly clean. Best of all we have this all to ourselves with the exception of 3 other campers. Actually, let me back up a second. The campground is also inhabited by thousands of prairie dogs and a large herd of very large Bison. I missed the opportunity to take pictures of the Bison… tomorrow for sure.
The Canyons present myriad opportunities for hiking. After making camp, Christine opted for a solitary rest while I headed out on foot for few miles of reconnoitering. SPECTACULAR!
With luck the weather will favor more hiking tomorrow. We are committed for two nights and it won’t take much of an arm twist to make it three. Enjoy the images!
We are continuing our journey southwest through Oklahoma with plans to overnight at Great Plains State Park. A weather event is predicted for Friday, rain to the south, a snowy mix to the north. We are choosing rain. (The pictures interspersed below are from our drive through Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge and our camp this evening.)
During long drives my mind wanders like a rat in a maze. But where a rat seeks its reward at one destination, I find rewarding thoughts at each turn… even at the dead ends. At one such “end” I recalled a phrase from ancient history, “Know Yourself”. It was attributed to Socrates who was said to admonish his students nearly 2,500 years ago to seek to know themselves before seeking knowledge of other things. The maxim actually predates Socrates and is found as one of 147 Delphic aphorisms (kind of an expanded 10 Commandments). There are also equivalents found in Egyptian temple hieroglyphics.
Know Yourself… There is what I know, a product of education and life experiences. The “physical me” is pretty straightforward. A genetic role of the dice where my parents were each a die largely determined many of my obvious and hidden physical characteristics. Except for the intervention of fate (as in an accident or outside agency) my life expectancy is even influenced by my genes. But what about WHO I am, the personality that is me.
We are products of natural selection (recent events in China may herald a change is coming). However, it may be instructive to examine what can be accomplished through “intentional selection”, as in the controlled breeding of animals. Selection can focus not only on physical characteristics but also behavioral ones. Great Danes are big and tall, Dachshunds are small and short. Similarly, Dobermans and Rottweilers stand at one end of a behavioral spectrum while Labradors and Cocker Spaniels inhabit the other.
What behavioral and personality characteristics within each of us may have a genetically influenced predisposition? I seem driven to travel. I derive deep satisfaction in bringing people together. I am a ponderously slow reader with abysmal spelling skills. These are just 3 of the traits that I have made a directed self examination.
If there is a “travel gene” I probably inherited it. My mother’s parents were immigrants from Lebanon, leaving everything known and familiar for adventure and the speculation of opportunity in America. My father’s parent were Germans from Russia, part of two mass migrations. The first occurred in the early 1800’s where hundreds of German families moved to the Ukraine at the invitation of Catherine the Great, and then again in the early 20th Century to America seeking escape from the oppression of the Bolshevik Revolution. Most of my ancestors remained in Lebanon, Germany, and the Ukraine. Not my grandparents. My mother and father each left their homes and families in pursuit of higher education, meeting at the University of Wisconsin and establishing their home in Illinois, far from their West Virginia and North Dakota roots. When I was offered my first job out of college the placement options were St. Louis and Kansas City. I chose Kansas City solely because I had never been there before. Genetic predisposition?
I have always tested well, except in spelling. I hated spelling bees because I would always be the last person chosen for a team… for good reason. No amount of tutoring seemed to help. Spellcheck and a wife who “spells for me” have been my salvation. I have to occasionally force my memory to recall the directions that b, d, z, and s face. I learned to read at a very early age, hearing the words as if spoken in my mind. I still read that way for pleasure, but not when reading was required in my professional work. Learned behavior? Genetic? Perhaps a combination.
Finally is there a social gene. A dear friend brought this to my attention saying that the “social gene” was strong in me. This caused me to reflect upon my past… childhood, gathering neighborhood children for group play… College, starting the Undergraduate Administration of Justice Association… Our return from the 2013 Camino, founding the Kansas City chapter of The American Pilgrims on the Camino… 2015, starting the Kansas City Metro Casita Owners group. And of course the delight in sharing our travels and “seeing” you cross-talk with one another in the comments to my posts. Genetic? Socrates would likely have castigated me for focusing on the irrelevant. What is important is that we can all be part of a larger family when we embrace what binds us rather than what divides us.
Peace Everyone! Pete
PS. We are in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma, among the oldest mountains in North America. Driving through the National Wildlife refuge we were surprised to see that the campground was open and fully functional! We continued on to Oklahoma’s Great Plains State Park with intentions to proceed tomorrow to northern Texas and then on to El Paso. We are the parks sole occupants… except for the coyotes.
PPS. If you would like to read the remaining 146 Delphic Maxims, here they are. #66 is especially profound! (from Wikipedia):
1 Follow God (Επου θεω)
2 Obey the law (Νομω πειθου)
3 Worship the Gods (Θεους σεβου)
4 Respect your parents (Γονεις αιδου)
5 Be overcome by justice (Ηττω υπο δικαιου)
6 Know what you have learned (Γνωθι μαθων)
7 Perceive what you have heard (Ακουσας νοει)
8 Be/Know Yourself (Σαυτον ισθι)
9 Intend to get married (Γαμειν μελλε)
10 Know your opportunity (Καιρον γνωθι)
11 Think as a mortal (Φρονει θνητα)
12 “If you are a stranger act like one” or “When you are a stranger be aware” (Ξepsilon;νος ων ισθι)
13 Honor the hearth/Hestia (Εστιαν τιμα)
14 Control yourself (Αρχε σεαυτου)
15 Help your friends (Φιλοις βοηθει)
16 Control anger (Θυμου κρατει)
17 Exercise prudence (Φρονησιν ασκει)
18 Honor providence (Προνοιαν τιμα)
19 Do not use an oath (Ορκω μη χρω)
20 Love friendship (Φιλιαν αγαπα)
21 Cling to discipline (Παιδειας αντεχου)
22 Pursue honor (Δοξαν διωκε)
23 Long for wisdom (Σοφιαν ζηλου)
24 Speak well of the beautiful good (sometimes translated as “Praise the Good” but “kalon” is primarily “beautiful” but a Greek synonym for good – so it’s a nuanced translation) (Καλον ευ λεγε)
25 Find fault with no one (Ψεγε μηδενα)
26 Praise those having arête. (Επαινει αρετην)
27 Practice what is just (Πραττε δικαια)
28 Be kind to friends (Θιλοις ευνοει)
29 Watch out for your enemies (Εχθρους αμυνου)
30 Exercise nobility of character (Ευγενειαν ασκει)
31 Shun evil (Κακιας απεχου)
32 Be impartial (Κοινος γινου)
33 Guard what is yours (Ιδια φυλαττε)
34 Shun what belongs to others (Αλλοτριων απεχου)
35 Listen to everyone (Ακουε παντα)
36 Be (religiously) silent (Ευφημος ιοθι)
37 Do a favor for a friend (Φιλω χαριζου)
38 Nothing to excess (Μηδεν αγαν)
39 Use time sparingly (Χρονου φειδου)
40 Foresee the future (Ορα το μελλον)
41 Despise insolence (Υβριν μισει)
42 Have respect for suppliants (Ικετας αιδου)
43 Be accommodating in everything (Παςιν αρμοζου)
44 Educate your sons (Υιους παιδευε)
45 Give what you have (Εχων χαριζου)
46 Fear deceit (Δολον φοβου)
47 Speak well of everyone (Ευλογει παντας)
48 Be a seeker of wisdom (Φιλοσοφος γινου)
49 Choose what is divine (Οσια κρινε)
50 Act when you know (Γνους πραττε)
51 Shun murder (Φονου απεχου)
52 Pray for things possible (Ευχου δυνατα)
53 Consult the wise (Σοφοις χρω)
54 Test the character (Ηθος δοκιμαζε)
55 Give back what you have received (Λαβων αποδος)
56 Down-look no one (Υφορω μηδενα)
57 Use your skill (Τεχνη χρω)
58 Do what you mean to do (Ο μελλεις, δος)
59 Honor a benefaction (Ευεργεςιας τιμα)
60 Be jealous of no one (Φθονει μηδενι)
61 Be on your guard (Φυλακη προσεχε)
62 Praise hope (Ελπιδα αινει)
63 Despise a slanderer (Διαβολην μισει)
64 Gain possessions justly (Δικαιως κτω)
65 Honor good men (Αγαθους τιμα)
66 Know the judge (Κριτην γνωθι)
67 Master wedding-feasts (Γαμους κρατει)
68 Recognize fortune (Τυχην νομιζε)
69 Flee a pledge (Εγγυην φευγε)
70 Speak plainly (Αμλως διαλεγου)
71 Associate with your peers (Ομοιοις χρω)
72 Govern your expenses (Δαπανων αρχου)
73 Be happy with what you have (Κτωμενος ηδου)
74 Rever a sense of shame (Αισχυνην σεβου)
75 Fulfill a favor (Χαριν εκτελει)
76 Pray for happiness (Ευτυχιαν ευχου)
77 Be fond of fortune (Τυχην στεργε)
78 Observe what you have heard (Ακουων ορα)
79 Work for what you can own (Εργαζου κτητα)
80 Despise strife (Εριν μισει)
81 Detest disgrace (Ονειδς εχθαιρε)
82 Restrain the tongue (Γλωτταν ισχε)
83 Keep yourself from insolence (Υβριν αμυνου)
84 Make just judgements (Κρινε δικαια)
85 Use what you have (Χρω χρημασιν)
86 Judge incorruptibly (Αδωροδοκητος δικαζε)
87 Accuse one who is present (Αιτιω παροντα)
88 Tell when you know (Λεγε ειδως)
89 Do not depend on strength (Βιας μη εχου)
90 Live without sorrow (Αλυπως βιου)
91 Live together meekly (Ομιλει πραως)
92 Finish the race without shrinking back (Περας επιτελει μη αποδειλιων))
93 Deal kindly with everyone (Φιλοφρονει πασιν)
94 Do not curse your sons (Υιοις μη καταρω)
95 Rule your wife (Γυναικος αρχε)
96 Benefit yourself (Σεαυτον ευ ποιει)
97 Be courteous (Ευπροσηγορος γινου)
98 Give a timely response (Αποκρινου εν καιρω)
99 Struggle with glory (Πονει μετ ευκλειας)
100 Act without repenting (Πραττε αμετανοητως)
101 Regret falling short of the mark (or goal) (Αμαρτανων μετανοει)
102 Control the eye (Οφθαλμοθ κρατει)
103 Give a timely counsel (Βουλευου χρονω)
104 Act quickly (Πραττε συντομως)
105 Guard friendship (Φιλιαν φυλαττε)
106 Be grateful (Ευγνωμων γινου)
107 Pursue harmony (Ομονοιαν διωκε)
108 Keep deeply the top secret (Αρρητον κρυπτε)
109 Fear ruling (Το κρατουν φοβου)
110 Pursue what is profitable (Το συμφερον θηρω)
111 Accept due measure (Καιρον προσδεχου)
112 Do away with enmities (Εχθρας διαλυε)
113 Accept old age (Γηρας προσδεχου)
114 Do not boast in might (Επι ρωμη μη καυχω)
115 Exercise (religious) silence (Ευφημιαν ασκει)
116 Flee enmity (Απεχθειαν φευγε)
117 Acquire wealth justly (Πλουτει δικιως)
118 Do not abandon honor (Δοξαν μη λειπε)
119 Despise evil (Κακιαν μισει)
120 Venture into danger prudently (Κινδυνευε φρονιμως)
121 Do not tire of learning (Μανθανων μη καμνε)
122 Do not stop to be thrifty (Φειδομενος μη λειπε)
123 Admire oracles (Χρησμους θαυμαζε)
124 Love whom you rear (Ους τρεφεις αγαπα)
125 Do not oppose someone absent (Αποντι μη μαχου)
126 Respect the elder (Πρεσβυτερον αιδου)
127 Teach a youngster (Νεωτερον διδασκε)
128 Do not trust wealth (Πλουτω απιστει)
129 Respect yourself (Σεαυτον αιδου)
130 Do not begin to be insolent (Μη αρχε υβριζειν)
131 Crown your ancestors (Προγονους στεφανου)
132 Die for your country (Θνησκε υπερ πατριδος)
133 Do not be discontented by life (Τω βιω μη αχθου)
134 Do not make fun of the dead (Επι νεκρω μη γελα)
135 Share the load of the unfortunate (Ατυχουντι συναχθου)
136 Gratify without harming (Χαριζου αβλαβως)
137 Greave for no one (Μη επι παντι λυπου)
138 Beget rom noble routes (Εξ ευγενων γεννα)
139 Make promises to no one (Επαγγελου μηδενι)
140 Do not wrong the dead (Φθιμενους μη αδικει)
141 Be well off as a mortal (Ευ πασχε ως θνητος)
142 Do not trust fortune (Τυχη μη πιστευε)
143 As a child be well-behaved (Παις ων κοσμιος ισθι)
144 as a youth – self-disciplined (ηβων εγκρατης)
145 as of middle-age – just (μεσος δικαιος)
146 as an old man – sensible (πρεσβυτης ευλογος)
147 on reaching the end – without sorrow (τελευτων αλυπος
After a home stay in Kansas City of 3 months we have our Casita, “Rigel” again in tow. This has been the longest uninterrupted period at home since our retirements in May of 2015. Even Christine was itching to get back to traveling. In 2018 we were gone over 23 weeks, including a 13 week stretch overseas. 2017 included a 12 week journey to Alaska and the Yukon. It is likely that future trips will not be quite so long as we have found them to be taxing on us and the “little people” who desperately miss their grandma.
Our morning departure was not without incident. When I pressed the start button on our SUV instead of the throaty roar of a powerful V6, all I got was a series of anemic clicks. Dead battery. In the 45 minutes that followed I bought a replacement battery at Costco, installed it and all was again right with the world. The incident annoyed me but Christine saw it differently. “Boy was that a piece of good luck! It could have died while we were traveling!” Of course, she was right.
Our time spent at home was used well. Time with the kids, time at the gym… yard work, reading, Thanksgiving, the annual family birthday dinner (a private room at Pierpont’s in Kansas City’s Union Station). I dedicated many days to assembling and editing my posts from our 13 weeks abroad into a coffee table book. 202 glossy pages that are about 40% photographs and 60% narrative. The hard bound book was printed by a firm in the Netherlands, and the final product exceeding every possible expectation that I held. Copies were given as gifts to each of our children, Christine’s father, and my mother who never fails to read and comment upon my “Thoughts”.
Christmas morning was spent with our children (and grands) after which our daughters and their 7 little ones flew to Europe for 12 days in England and France (part of which they each spent with their French host families with whom they lived for a year as high school exchange students). The daughters and their children (with the exception of 1 year old Lennon) speak fluent French. Of course there was New Year’s Eve (see previous post!).
Oh yes, there was one more “event”. We drove to Breckenridge Colorado and shared time with our dear friend Kris Ashton who we first met walking across Spain in 2013. On October 5th, Christine’s 64th birthday, we bought 3 acres near Alma Colorado, 25 minutes south of Breckenridge. We have since been working on designing the vacation home which we hope to build in 2020.
It’s cold here where we are overnighting in Oklahoma at Grand Lake of the Cherokees. We are heading southwest through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and then back to Kansas City. A “wintery mix” is predicted for this region on Friday and we would like to not experience it. Our original plan had been to frequent the wonderful National Parks, Monuments, National Forests, COE and BLM sites we encounter along the way. Unfortunately, Washington has other ideas. I will leave it at that in keeping with my efforts to not politicize these posts.
2.1 miles, precisely. 2.1 miles is the measure of my near daily morning drive to the gym. It is a pleasant drive through an upscale neighborhood, past parks, 2 country clubs, and along the road that separates Missouri from Kansas. Many of the homes along the way are imposing structures of the early 20th Century, planted upon estate like grounds. Any one of them would cause a traveler to stop and take notice, but since they are many, their commanding presence is diluted by the sheer number that give them the illusion of commonplace. I have long ago ceased to take notice, the habit of the drive becoming a time for my thoughts to wander without direction.
Some time ago I was briefly shaken from my lassitude by an awareness of the unfamiliar. At the intersection of Shawnee Mission Parkway and State Line road is an office building that dates to the 1960’s. In the last few years it has undergone a renovation that preserved aspects of its mid-20th Century modernism, yet presented the fresh face of glass and metal that are favored today. The casual observer would presume the building at 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway to house professional offices and in this one would be correct. However, it is also the unlikely location for an event venue and “The Restaurant at 1900”. My curiosity was briefly piqued but at the end of 2.1 miles my thoughts had traveled elsewhere.
3 weeks ago my eye again caught the understated marque sign that announced “The Restaurant at 1900”. I was reminded that mention of the restaurant had occurred in casual conversations with friends and that it was developing a favorable word of mouth reputation. Arriving at home I searched online for the establishment. The website announced a special New Years Eve fixed price dinner. 5 courses with wine pairings. There was no information on the course selections but the reservation link indicated that only a few seatings remained open. In spite of the princely sum quoted and that payment was required in full upon making the reservation, I selected an 8:15 p.m. table for two.
It had been years since we planned an evening out for New Year’s Eve. That and a Christmas that did not include any big ticket items provided me with ample justification. Christine was thrilled.
We dressed for the occasion, a rarity for me in post-retirement. No jeans. I still draw the line at wearing a tie. Black slacks, a grey Irish merino wool turtleneck, plaid Irish wool sport coat with full length green Austrian “loden” overcoat worked well. Christine found me handsomely dignified with my ensemble accentuated by my silver white hair. For Christine, dressing well is effortless. Her pewter hair cascades elegantly across her shoulders ending like a waterfall’s crash at her waist. It is thick to the point that strangers often find themselves compelled to reach out and touch it. At times this can be a bit unnerving for her and them.
The doors to the restaurant were manned by tuxedoed staff, and a few more tuxedos were to be seen among the restaurant patrons. Ladies in their evening gowns were everywhere yet the atmosphere remained relaxed. I was silently giving thanks that I had resisted the urge to wear blue jeans.
We adjourned to the bar while waiting for our table. I had the restaurant’s signature Manhattan which alone will cause me to return in the near future. Christine enjoyed an excellent vodka Martini, served “dirty” (a splash of olive juice) as she prefers.
The readiness of our table timed well with the conclusion of our drinks. We were seated and made introductions with our server, Rachel. The mark of an experienced professional server is the intuition to quickly know the “temperature” of the guests… warm and willing to banter, or cool and more reserved. We are definitely of the warmer variety and it took Rachel less than 30 seconds to figure that out. Fun, personable, yet never shirking in her primary duty to present dinner as an event to be savored. The first order of business was to make our selections for a dinner that would extend for 2 1/2 hours:
1st Course: We each optioned for the excellent Pheasant Minestrone, though I was sorely tempted to select the Wild Mushroom, Apple, and Scotch Whisky Consommé.
2nd Course: Christine savored the Russian Salad while I lingered lovingly upon the Sea Scallop, Blood Orange, and Watercress Salad.
3rd Course: Sunchoke Rissoto with Alba White Truffles… It just kept getting better and better!
4th Course: We were both called to the Pan Seared Tenderloin of Beef and Foie Gras. Perfectly prepared, perfectly presented, but I was beneficiary some of Christine’s Foie Gras… my good fortune that she does not usually eat liver in any form.
5th Course: Without hesitation we both chose the Chocolate Ganache Layer Cake, and there were no regrets!!
With each course was a paired wine as selected by Master Sommelier Doug Frost. Typically, I reject the conventions of “this wine with this dish…”, preferring to drink a wine that I like be it red or white regardless of the meal. Mr. Frost may have changed my thinking on this. I found his wine selections marshaled with my food choices to be such that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.
We found that the straightforward elegance of The Restaurant at 1900 was conducive to reflective and relaxed conversation. Mercifully we were able to speak across the table and be understood without raising our voices… a rarity while dining these days. I enjoyed one slight distraction. I was seated at an angle that permitted me a glimpse inside the kitchen during the moments that staff entered and exited. I was reminded of the experience of being aboard a luxury cruise ship. There is a stark contrast between the artistic decor of the passenger areas and the spotlessly clean yet sterile working areas within the ship. I was amused to watch the organized chaos of the staff within the kitchen area magically transform into slow ballet like precision as each crossed the threshold into the dining room.
It goes without saying that we will return to The Restaurant at 1900. Our thanks to Chef Linda Duerr, the faceless staff working tirelessly in the kitchen, to our server Rachel, hostess Angela, the other servers and bartenders and to Keith Goldman who manages this wonderful venue. You all provided us with an evening to remember and an intense desire to return for dinner and another exceptional Manhattan!
Of course for us the evening was about much more than dining. We watched as 2018 passed into the promise of 2019. With each course we indulged in one more reflection upon how we might be better parents, grandparents, spouses, friends… No regrets. Life is a process and not a destination. May your Journey through the New Year be full of Fun while you Do Good and Care For Yourself for the sake of those who love you.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: Among the “mysteries” Christine and I contemplated were the dynamics of family; hers, mine, and ours. There is much source material in those thoughts that we exchanged, but not to be shared here or now.
1977 was a watershed year for us. We were married that June, I resigned my position of 3 years as a State Parole Office, we bought our first home, I started law school… all as Christine chiseled away at her undergraduate degree while holding down a job and raising an active 6 year old boy. We had much to be thankful for that Christmas, but an overabundance of cash was not on the list.
Midnight Mass was wonderful. St. Francis Xavier parish had welcomed us with open arms. It was a congregation with an eclectic mix. There were octogenarian parishioner’s who had called this church their home since the 1930’s… and there were college students like us who were drawn to the more liberal “Jesuit” atmosphere. We felt at home there. Loved, comfortable, and embraced by God and his (“her” as Christine would say) children.
As special as the service was, it took a distant second place to the spectacle that was laid out for us on our 4 block walk home. The sky was deep indigo laced with countless stars that shined diamond sharp above us. It was a white Christmas. Fortune had given us 4 inches of new-fallen snow over the preceding day. It was deep enough to challenge the footfalls of a 6 year old. Sean stretched to match my stride, finding the reward of using my footprints eased his efforts. Perhaps he was wondering what it would be like to someday walk with the stride of a man. A man!… here I was with family, home, bills, school and with it the nagging fear of failure… it was all upon me so fast. Sean would someday face his own challenges, but for that night his tasks were just putting one foot in front of the other and stemming the pressure of his enthusiasm that Santa would soon be at his new home.
As we walked up the steps to our yard, I suggested to Sean that we stand in the backyard and scan the sky for the vapor trails that would be evidence of Santa’s wanderings. To believe in Santa again all one needs to do is look into the eyes of a 6 year old! Christine took her leave, complaining that “you men are just too warm blooded”. Actually, her departure was part of a plan that I had hatched to enhance Sean’s first Christmas in our new (to us) home. The home that he had known over the last few years was a nice apartment, but the vision of Santa arriving on the balcony and opening the sliding glass door didn’t fit the poetic image which began with the words, “Twas the Night Before Christmas…”.
We had gone out of our way to make a big deal about our “new” fireplace. It had actually seen its first fire in 1922, and like fine wine it had improved with age, the ceramic bricks taking on the patina of countless fires through 55 winters. That night there would be no fire as Sean insisted that we not take the chance of scaring Santa away.
The plan was to engage in a bit of theater. The presents had been hidden in the living room coat closet. When we left for Church the Christmas Tree was decorated, but it stood solitary without any presents beneath it. While Sean and I stood in the yard searching for signs of Santa, Christine would hurriedly place the presents at the base of the fireplace and Christmas tree.
Out in the yard Sean and I pondered whether a wisp of a cloud here or a dash of smoke there was Santa’s trail. There was a bright moon which echoed its glow on the snow atop our home. I turned my gaze to the roof and yelled, “There! Look there!! Did you see him Sean? It’s Santa on OUR roof!!!” Of course, the pliable mind of a 6 year old guaranteed that Sean saw him too.
On perfect cue Christine burst out the back door calling for her 2 “men” to come quick, she had surprised Santa in the living room! We fairly fell over one another as we charged up the stairs and into the house. In the living room we beheld presents where none had been. Sean slowly surveyed the room, his eyes and mouth opened wide. Remember however that this was a “thin” Christmas. We had purchased with care, and most of all, within our meager financial means. Before the fireplace was a pair of roller skates, the kind that take a key and clamp on your street shoes. There was a red wagon, some wrapped gifts, a couple of small toy cars and a yellow metal “Tonka” dump truck. Noteworthy were the absence of items which depended upon batteries for fun. All of these toys depended largely on the power of imagination. It was imagination that we counted on to elevate this Christmas to the status of a “legend” in a child’s mind.
Sean’s gaze swept the room and I mentally gave myself a pat on the back for the cleverness of our Christmas “theater”. What I failed to consider was that a child’s imagination, like gasoline, is easy to ignite but difficult to control once afire. Sean’s eyes tracked from the tree and locked upon Christine. His face hardened and his gaze narrowed. His mouth began to utter the words of accusation… “You scared him off… you scared Santa away before he could leave all of the presents!” Christine and I were dumb-struck. I might have thought the irony of this turn of events humorous but for the very real tears that began to fall from my wife’s eyes. She ran to the bedroom. She felt failure as a mother, and I felt failure as a husband. I went to console her. A few minutes together felt like hours. We composed ourselves and resolved to make the best of things. We still had a small child downstairs and it was Christmas.
Arm in arm we descended the stairs only to find a 6 year old happily engrossed in the joy of moving imaginary earth from an imaginary construction site with his new toy truck. Nothing more was ever said by him of Santa’s “aborted” visit. By any child’s measure, that Christmas was a resounding success. For us it would take mature perspective gained in the passage of time to temper the bittersweet of that night.
We have marked the passage of 41 more Christmases. Three of these brought with them joy in the births of our children Peter (December, 1978), Renee’ (December, 1979), and Alexis (November, 1982). Their births have perennially been celebrations of the season of Christ’s birth, and if you do the math, they are also celebrations of the prior Springs.
Christine knows that I enjoy sharing this piece of our history, but signs of the old pain remain… punctuated by a smile, a knowing look, and a squeeze of my hand. So, Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night.
“Bill” Nichols drew his first breath when men still gave their last in the trenches of Flanders Field, “Over There”.“In Flanders fields the poppies grow between the crosses, row on row…”.
He was one of seven children raised by Al and Kitty Nichols on their farm in rural St. Johns Michigan. He was not quite a teen when the ravages of the Great Depression descended upon America, but the deprivation and want experienced by those in its cities was largely ignored by those born into the austerity of rural America. For Bill and his family if you wanted eggs you gathered them. Milk, cream, butter… the cow waited the daily touch of his experienced hands upon her engorged udders. Fresh produce? It was found outside in carefully cultivated rows next to the barn. Canned goods? They had been put up by Mother in the Fall and were found in the cellar with the root vegetables… food to sustain the family through the arctic cold that would annually descend upon the region. “Organic”, a term unknown to those of the day, aptly described life for those of the Nichols family where everything qualified as “organic”.
Early in his youth one could see something very special emerging within Bill. He was a standout in local and State 4-H competitions. His keen intellect was ever devising solutions to commonly encountered problems on the farm. Bill developed the attitude that once he decided upon a course of action the “how” merely awaited discovery. He epitomized the axiom, “Where there is a will there is a way”, perhaps better stated in his case, “Where there is Bill, he will create the way!”
As sharp minded children often are, Bill was willful. Fearing the disapproval from their parents, he and his love (first and only), Doris, eloped. They were 18 years old and for the next 74 years that they shared they would laugh about the 42 days during which Doris was older than Bill. Doris was 93 when she passed, however Bill had long ago decided that he would live to be 100, often declaring, “I’m going to live to be 100 and then Lord come take me!!!” …But I am getting ahead of myself.
Bill and Doris went on to begin their family and complete their educations, he in agricultural and food sciences and her in education. As with so many other young couples of their generation the orderly progression of life was interrupted by the strife of World War 2. Bill’s entry into service was initially deferred to allow him to complete work on the development of the powdered egg. While that mission lacked the glamor of the Manhattan Project, it did touch the lives (and dinner plates) of virtually every American soldier in the war. His “mission” successfully completed, Bill was enlisted into the Army’s Quartermaster Corps. He attained the rank of sergeant and was among the very first American troops to enter Hiroshima on the heels of its destruction and Japan’s surrender in 1945. Bill does not often speak of the devastation that he witnessed firsthand, but he laughingly attributes his longevity to the radiation he was no doubt exposed to, “I was atomically preserved and nuclear energized!”
Shortly after the war Bill and Doris moved to Kansas City, Missouri. The first 2 of the 5 children they brought into the world had been born before the war. 3 others followed post-war with a span of 25 years separating oldest to youngest. They would bury two of those children, one an Airman in the service of his country, and the other a daughter, victim of cancer in adulthood.
In Kansas City Bill and Doris started their own business, the W. A. Nichols Company, where he developed and manufactured poultry processing equipment while Doris managed the office. He was awarded patents for his innovations, valued by the poultry industry. Those inventions were largely unknown to the general public, however most of the ubiquitous metal wires that secured the legs of America’s Thanksgiving turkeys had been shipped from their small warehouse.
I met Bill in the Summer of 1974. I had moved to Kansas City out of college in pursuit of my career and shortly after arriving met his daughter, Christine. She would become my wife in 1977. In those early years my relationship with Bill Nichols was not always “easy”. Such may be expected when larger personalities vie to occupy space in a relationship with one whom they both love. Whatever stresses existed between us were resolved by the mutual respect that developed for the abilities and accomplishments of the other.
In 1978 Bill created an opportunity from the charred remains of a home that was located in an upscale neighborhood of Kansas City. The property was for sale at a discount because of the perceived cost and challenge of removing the remains of the burned structure. Bill designed a new home that would incorporate the foundation and some intact elements of the former structure thus saving a considerable amount in construction costs. My friend Greg and I were employed to demolish and remove the portions that could not be salvaged. We were second year law students with the time (and need of money) to accomplish the project. Armed only with crowbars, sledge hammers, and a chain saw, we filled nine semi-truck sized containers with the refuse that had been the original home.
Life for Bill and Doris continued in story book fashion. Their successful business was closed at retirement. Bill and Doris spent a significant amount of their time “on the road”, exploring North America in their motorhome and eventually settled full time in Florida. Doris passed in 2011 and Bill continued in pursuit of his quest to be 100. At 98 he was still occasionally driving his Mustang convertible and, taking nothing for granted, he renewed his driver license. Although he has now quit driving, he still proudly displays the license observing, “Its good until I’m 105”.
In August of 2017 Hurricane Irma, with its category 5 winds, took aim at the heart of Florida. Bill‘s home was at the center of the hurricane’s track. Christine acted to arrange for Bill’s evacuation to our home in Kansas City. At 99 years old, Bill managed to fly unaccompanied to Kansas City, negotiating the busy airports in Florida and Atlanta without incident. His Florida home sustained only minor damage in the storm, but the handwriting was on the wall. At his advanced age and without family in Florida, he could not return there. His house and car were both sold. Christine has since found him a new home in an assisted living community near to us. From August of 2017 to the present she has near single handedly seen to the management of his care. There is now a softness in Bills eyes when he sees her, a smile comes to his lips and his arms extend to her for an embrace. No doubt the love was always there, but it never found expression as it does now… “I love you honey, very, very, much… always have and always will.” Bill has decided that he will stick around for his 101stbirthday. I have no doubt that he will.
PS: In writing this I have found renewed respect for the abilities, intellect and work ethic that have defined William A. Nichols over the course of his first 100 years. Moreover, I have been struck by the parallels that emerged in the life of his daughter who is my wife, Christine. She too was a willful child who left home at an early age. Christine pursued her undergraduate degree after first starting a family. She founded her own successful business, built a new home from the opportunity she saw in the destroyed remains of another, and in retirement she has pursued travel across North America with RV in tow. Of his 5 children she was the “stealth child”, least anticipated to achieve success but revealed to be recipient of the fullest measure of Bill’s talents. They each have much to be grateful for in the life and love that they share.
A number of friends have reached out and expressed concern for us due to my “silence”. I have been largely offline since our return from Canada at the end of September. First of all, we are well. Secondly, we have not been idle. Indeed, we have been busy enough that there is fodder for a number of posts if I just make the time to commit our activity to paper.
Our life in Kansas City is different from our life on the road. Traveling I enjoy the stimulation of new sights and experiences that unfold on a near daily basis. For me travel is heady and intoxicating. I feel compelled to share it with you. Along with the experiences come the thoughts that are generated within me. Add to this the compression of time I enjoy with Christine, quite literally at each other’s side 24/7. Fortunately, we don’t seem to tire of the closeness. Eye contact invariably brings a smile to both of us. The cup of friendship is a priceless chalice when it holds the elixir of love.
Being home creates different experiences for each of us. We tend to find our together time relegated to the mornings and the evenings. I spend a couple of hours during most days at the gym. There is some yardwork, tinkering, the occasional lunch with a friend, and the countless small details of life that cause one day to follow another in a succession that mimics the turning of the pages of a not so interesting book. For Christine the focus of her day is upon our children, grandchildren, and her centenarian father. She flourishes in her connection to family. I happily take a step back and allow her to define my role in the family. I shudder to think how soulless the celebrations of holidays, birthdays, and other milestones would become in her absence.
Mornings and evenings in Kansas City are the times that we imagine and put into words our “next things”. There are quite a few on the table right now, but I will save the telling for my next post. Until then… Peace Everyone.
In 1977, on my first day of law school in Kansas City, Missouri, (my first class no less), in walked Jeff Hiles. We had been high school classmates 500 miles away in far south suburban Chicago, graduating together in 1970. I’m not sure which of us was more shocked to see the other. Jeff went on to graduate and become a member of the Missouri Bar. He was a well-regarded and respected lawyer, known for his dedication to those in need, without regard to their socio-economic status, a man of solid ethics and deeply spiritual. In looking through some old archive documents I came upon this piece written by Jeff that became a part of his memorial service. Jeff died March 24, 1998. -Pete Schloss
Simple Truths, by Jeffrey Hiles
My sister held my hand in the waiting room at the University of Kansas Medical Center. We sat silently as any attempt of reassuring conversation seemed stilted and artificial. The year was 1987. We both were afraid.
I was grateful for her presence which bolstered my not-too-resolute courage as I was about to confront a possible life-threatening diagnosis. A prolonged respiratory infection coupled with my gay sexual orientation had resulted in tests for both HIV status and AIDS-related pneumonia. I now awaited the results.
After a period of time which seemed like a small piece of eternity, we were ushered to a room to await the doctors. The infectious disease specialist entered accompanied by two interns who mimicked their mentor’s demeanor. I inhaled a large gasp of air. No, I didn’t have pneumonia. I had bronchitis. But I was HIV positive.
My mortality and the prospect of a painful demise were frightening and a constant vision during those initial few months. I felt betrayed by my own body and I was depressed. Those people and activities that had traditionally brought joy and meaning to my life now appeared unimportant, and I was mired in self-pity.
I knew I needed to find something that would lift me out of the “shadows” I found myself in. A transition from self-absorption to engagement in the world about me was mandated. I found solace in the scriptural reference, heard repeated throughout my childhood, that it is our calling to help those in need. Jesus said, “In as much ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” I believe this admonition teaches us that when we care for the most vulnerable in our world we move closer to God.
I heard of a new fledgling organization whose sole purpose was to help people with HIV/AIDS. I applied and was accepted to its Board of Directors. Its name – Good Samaritan Project. I experienced at Good Samaritan Project intense sorrow and rapturous joy. I remember the faces of dying individuals whose hands I held seeking both to give and receive solace. And saddest of all I remember desperate young men coming to Good Samaritan Project who were alone, abandoned by companions, friends and family, and who were sick and unable to work, without any means of help for financial resources for their physical needs and for their spiritual/emotional well- being.
It was painful as I felt great empathy for these people and as I could not help but wonder whether a painful future awaited me. Yet, I knew I was doing God’s work. Allowing myself to experience and attempting to help with the suffering of others, paradoxically, lead me from my sadness, and I began to experience, as if a child, the wonders of joy and love.
I felt rather like the young seminarian in the play Mass Appeal when he expresses the following: “I had a tank of tropical fish. Someone turned up the tank heater and they all boiled. I woke up on a Friday morning – went to feed them – and there they were – all of my beautiful fish floating on the top. Most of them split in two. Others with their eyes hanging out. It looked like violence, but it was such a quiet night. And I remember wishing I had the kind of ears that could hear fish screams because they looked as if they suffered and I wanted so badly to save them. That Sunday in church, I heard that Christ told his apostles to be fishers of men. From then on, I looked at all the people in the church as fish. I was young so I saw them as beautiful tropical fish and so I knew they were all quiet screamers. Church was so quiet. And I thought everyone was boiling. And I wanted the kind of ears that could hear what they were screaming about, because I wanted to save them. A few years later, the people in the church lost the stained glass look of tropical fish, and they were only catfish to me – overdressed scavengers. So, I drowned out whatever I might be able to hear. I made my world – my tank – so hot that I almost split. So now I’m back – listening – listening for the screams of angels.”
Too soon, complications from AIDS rendered me unable to engage in my profession of law. Other activities such as speaking on behalf of AIDS service organizations and tutoring at DeSalle [Education Center] became difficult if not impossible.
I experienced many hardships including AIDS related pneumonia triggering an acute asthmatic response, I experienced an inability to eat and hiccupping and belching lasting months caused by the opportunistic disease MAC (I was kept alive by first an 18 hour intravenous feeding of total protein nutriment, then a 12 hour drip.), and I experienced loss of vision caused by the CMV retinas.
Suddenly I was not the individual who I had been but rather a frail, needy shadow of my former self. Who was I now? It was a difficult time.
But, I remember the kindness and love given to me: Nancy Ditch who has caused and continues to cause me to exercise weekly by sharing stretching and yoga techniques; Merril Proudfoot who calls and visits despite his own battle with prostate cancer; my friend Larry who despite some reluctance due to a fear of hurting me gave me injections of pain medication when I suffered almost daily nausea; my older sister Barbara who, during a visit, allowed both of us to cry releasing much of our anguish; my sister Nancy who insisting in a kind firm way that the nursing assistants at St. Luke’s take better care of her older brother; My younger brother Tom who in an attempt to share his feelings called me “sweetheart” – an expression I never expected Tom to direct to me; my father who spent nights with me in the hospital so I would not have to be alone; my mother who long after fatigue had set in wiped my brow unceasingly and into the early morning hours to relieve my 104 degree temperature, and most of all my companion Bob, who always loved me and took care of me during long days of illness – hours spent preparing and giving me the intravenous food and medicine I needed to avoid death. All the time willing me to stay alive, supporting me, caring and loving me. And so many other acts of kindness – prayers, cards and letters, telephone calls, food and visits.
I would not choose to have AIDS, but it has taught me to try to be in the moment and to give to others. Medical ethicist at Kansas University Medical Center, William Bartolome who is dying of cancer states:
“I am . . . unwilling to allow my life to revert to the common pattern of living primarily in the future, and, to a lesser extent in the past. I had spent precious little of my life living in the present; living in the almost overwhelming intensity and richness of the world around us. This means not only doing things like “stopping to smell the roses,” but allowing oneself to be radically open to what is going on in the world. I find myself stopping over and over again to see or hear or feel something that before my illness would have been lost in the rush of experiences that seem to constitute our lives. I’ve grown increasingly intolerant of living on fast forward; of never having time for what makes life so precious and intensely satisfying; the incredible people who constitute our web of being.”
Jesus challenges us to feed and house the needy, clothe the naked, visit the sick and come unto those in prison if we are to inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus also tells us to love one another. As the poet E. E. Cumming articulates: “Unless you love someone, nothing else makes sense.” My life prior to AIDS was filled with work and play often forgetting these simple truths. I have learned what truly is important is the love received from and given to others. This is our calling; this is my challenge to you. IN REMEMBRANCE
Jeffrey Paul Hiles died in March, 1998 at his home in Kansas City, Missouri. He preached the above sermon at Central Presbyterian Church in Kansas City in October of 1997. Hiles was a member of the Walnut Gardens, RLDS congregation in Independence, Missouri, and he authored the article, “Journey into the Light,” which addressed HIV/AIDS and homosexuality and appeared in the July, 1994 issue of the Saints Herald.
Jeff was a partner at the law firm of Ramsey & Ford, a member of the Clay County and Missouri Bar Associations, a Member Emeritus of the Board of Directors of the Good Samaritan Project (an HIV/AIDS service organization), and was the recipient of the Ribbon of Hope Community Service Award. He graduated from Graceland College in 1974, entered law school at the University of Missouri, Kansas City in 1977, and passed the Missouri Bar in 1980.