Saturday, December 27, 2008

the kansas years, 1988 to 1994, were very important for many reasons. we lived in pittsburg, a small town in the southeast corner of the state; it was so close to missouri that i occasionally walked there at night, three miles on the old road out by the hospital. we lived in two small houses; our second son was born in the first one, at 469 fieldcrest, but after he was born, we moved down the street to 429 fieldcrest, where they had slightly more space. it was a quiet, peaceful neighborhood, a sleepy town with not much going on besides the small university. i set about teaching esl with an excellent teacher, k.m., as a boss, and grew substantially in my teaching; i was busy in the days. my wife was isolated, and had a hard time raising the boys without a community, or similar people staying at home with them. this problem may have been our demise, ultimately, but i'll leave personal issues out of this account, and say only that i tried to get a job in a better place, after five years, and was unable to; at the end of the sixth we left before i'd even gotten a better job. i myself liked kansas, but by this time it was obvious that we had to be in a place where we could both function better.

in spite of a good university, an area with a rich tradition, there were really very few people, at that time, that we were both comfortable with socially. anyone who was not in the mainline churches was "other", and that was our crowd: a few bahais, a few other jewish families; barely enough to throw together a dinner party. and why did we feel religion was that important? it just seemed like socially, that's how the town was put together. at one point i got on a softball team for one of the baptist churches, for a friend. we played the other churches, and one team that was from a bar, and could beat us all. i remember that because it seemed there was a kind of tension there, that people were defined more or less by their relation to religion and drinking.

we tried to buy a house, but weren't good at the process, and backed off eventually realizing we were leaving town anyway. if we had known we would be there six entire years, we might have bought one right away, but we didn't.

We watched a lot of television in those years, and the older son, who was almost one when we got there, said "mute" as one of his early words- one we would use to make the tv quiet during commercials. it was a connection with the outside world that seemed all too rare. it seemed like seinfeld was one of our few jewish friends, certainly one who talked more and more freely than others.

the older son, one when we arrived, was six when we left, having finished kindergarten. he at one point took his art around the neighborhood to sell, and came back wealthy; people had given him plenty of money for it. the neighborhood was friendly, but there weren't a whole lot of other young children. this could be a problem in almost every town, but it was acute in ours; not much for the little ones to do on weekends, though they did have friends across town, eventually.

we did do considerable exploration of the surrounding area. our favorite getaway was eureka springs arkansas, so different from kansas, hilly, wet, victorian. coming back to kansas we'd realize how flat, dull, & endless kansas was, going west especially. but i liked it, especially going to wichita, or exploring places like coffeyville, marais des cygnes, the flint ridge, fort scott. we went down into oklahoma, or up to kansas city and the airport; missouri had good places like a prairie park, george washington carver's birthplace, branson, truman's birthplace, or the christmas light show at the vietnamese catholic monastery in carthage. an interesting area. they grew a lot of milo; it was resistant to drought. there were buffalo and sunflowers both, near our town; longhorns a little ways west, interesting things, once you got used to the flatness.

we left, finally, in 1994; i'd gotten a summer job in evergreen park, south chicago. we headed out through western kansas to visit my parents in new mexico, on the way, but the three, my wife and the two young children, all got a high fever and we were delayed in guymon oklahoma, on the panhandle, ranch country, with sagebrush blowing by, and nothing but grasslands for miles. we realized then, that the vast prairie had been west of us the whole time; where we were, so close to the ozarks, didn't really count. the sickness of everyone, the high fevers, was overwhelming, though the clinic had no special problem with it. it seems now, looking back, like that sickness was a reaction to six years in a place that put a little too mcuh pressure on our marriage, on us; we weren't up to it, and split up more or less by the end of that year.


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