Saturday, June 27, 2015

O Pioneers!

A view of Kanopolis lake, where my family spent many
weekends throughout many summers of my childhood. 
I've spent more time in Kansas in the past month than I have since graduating from high school. It's been a weird, somewhat surreal, experience. The first trip, back in May, was just to visit my mother and help her get her garden underway for the spring. I was there for Mother's Day for the first time in many years. I went back for a while at the beginning of June when she had surgery to remove a nasty bit of colon cancer, and then went again to be with her when she was back at home just to help out.

Purple poppy mallow, one of the simplest but most
beautiful prairie wildflowers.
I've always viewed Salina, Kansas, as my own Wicked Little Town. I left after high school and after college left Kansas entirely, with no intention of returning except to visit family. It's not that I had a bad childhood. Quite the opposite really and I have many fond memories of many good times from there. And it's certainly not a reflection on my family. I hadn't even come out yet or even come to terms with being gay myself. This was Kansas back in the 70s. Like most of us in the gay diaspora, I ran away to be gay, to grow up and live my life in freedom from the ignorant rednecks and small-minded religious bigots who predominate in the state. I thought it was the best thing I could do for myself and for my family. Frankly, I never thought of staying in Kansas as an option. [I still think that young adults should move someplace other than where they grew up, just for the life experience, even if they eventually choose to move back.]
My mother's pug, Jake. A lot of attitude in a
small package.

I moved east, came out, and made a life for myself, such as it is. I always knew there were other gay people from Kansas, and even some that stayed there, because not everyone has either the inclination or the ability to emigrate. But all the gay people I knew had left, except one, and his is a tragic tale ending in an early death following a never fully realized life. I was curious then, when a notice came across my Facebook feed about the Salina Pride event that was to happen while I was there. This was its third year and I had heard something about it in the past because my mother knows and is connected to every left-leaning, progressive person in the entire state of Kansas.
A water park built in Salina long after I was there to enjoy it.
I'll never know how they got away with the rainbow colors.

From the Salina Pride event.
I went to the event, both to support it and just to see it. The entire country has come a long way in the past 40 years and Kansas has come along with it, at times kicking and screaming and scraping the bottom along with Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and much of the deep South. Still, it was heartening just to see that the event existed, and to meet some of the people involved. It came as no surprise that, although I knew no one there, I met several people who knew my mother who has been a member and supporter of the Kansas Equality Coalition since it was formed.

A donkey planter in my mother's garden. He may
be the most "relentlessly gay" donkey in town.
The feeling I experienced was difficult to describe, except as a total mindfuck. It was like a dream sequence where I was being shown an alternate timeline for my life. I looked around and saw people who could have been me, or I could have been them if I had followed that path. I always thought that to have any kind of life I had to get the hell out of there, but I can see that isn't necessarily so. It would have been different, but not categorically better or worse. I have no regrets about my life. It has brought me to where I am and I'm happy with where I am, but this was a rare opportunity to glimpse what might have been, and it wasn't terrible.
The Cozy Inn is a Salina landmark.
They sell odoriferous little sliders from
a shoebox sized space and have done
so since 1922.
I was pleased to learn that there are now actually
two craft breweries in Salina, although this can
of Buffalo Sweat is from TallGrass Brewery in
Manhattan, KS. I'm not sure Salina beer drinkers
have yet embraced the craft beer movement.

These folks are truly this generation's pioneers, settling in hostile territory to make a home for themselves, knowing that progress comes only from hard work and perseverance. They fight the good fight even when the outcome is rarely ever in doubt and even more rarely in their favor. I admired these folks and almost felt like a quitter in comparison to them.
A wheat field near Delphos, KS

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