I didn’t drive cross country to my Mom’s funeral and back during the last two weeks to save money. It costs a third or more than just flying and renting a car.
We all grieve differently and I knew the three and a half day drive out would give me time to do that before I got to Spanish Fork, Utah where she was buried. It also provided as well, a chance to think through the overview of her life I would deliver at graveside.
In breadth, this essay will resemble our frequent conversations.
She was a few days short of 86 years old when she died. Mom had battled the last couple of decades through macular degeneration in both eyes, a broken pelvis, hip and wrist as well as constant pain and/or feeling loopy from pain patches.
Always cheery, she had frequently told me she was ready to go, and in retrospect, for the past year there were signs she was coming in for a landing.
She had skipped the annual lakeside family rendezvous last summer and then let her apartment go to move north along Puget Sound to live with my youngest sister and brother-in-law.
She studiously used a “reader” to sort through all of her papers and mementos so they would be in order.
The first night of our trip out, Mugs and I stayed in Paducah, located in that far western tip of Kentucky pointed into a nook between Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois.
Mugs and I drove north the next morning up across the Ohio River as dawn began to break from just over my right shoulder.
I recalled reading Mom’s great-grandfather’s journal about a trip he made in 1840 up that river to visit his Quaker mother one last time before then heading west another 1,100 miles into the Rocky Mountains.
Also crossing my mind was my Mom’s parenting and love dating to my first memories of her singing ad reading to me, Suddenly, my numbness gave way to tears that didn’t let up for several hours until we were well past St. Charles, Missouri.
The emotion was a mixture of sadness at her passing, joy remembering her life and relief that she was no longer in pain. I also wondered if she was mad as hell to get to the afterlife and see my Dad there because he didn’t have to sit through all of those meetings at church (smile.)
I had driven the route before but never from the direction we travelled that morning nor at that time of day nor when I was so much in the moment.
Before stopping for the night in Salina, Kansas, I had been marveling at the stereotypes we are often given of various states and how some over deliver while others under deliver on those expectations.
The vast majority of Kansas over delivers.
Many people stereotype it as flat and ultra conservative including being rabidly anti-choice when it comes to a woman’s personal control over decisions about her body.
But those are just the aspects given the most exposure in news reports.
Of course, there is always some truth to stereotypes. About a third of Kansas is indeed comprised of high plains, much like half of adjoining Colorado as well as a majority of Montana which escape that stereotype and a large corner of Wyoming, part of Nebraska and South Dakota and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma which don’t.
Stereotypes are never even handed.
Salina lies where the Flint Hills Uplands give way to the Smoky Hills region of Kansas, just north of the Arkansas River Valley. It was an incredible 70 degrees the January evening I stopped there to overnight.
We drove west another two hours the next morning before getting into the high plains where they continued along our route for another four hours, mostly in Colorado before cutting north along the Rocky Mountain Front and then west to cross the Continental Divide at South Pass after our final outbound overnight in Rawlins, Wyoming.
Speaking of stereotypes, we’re also given to believe by the news media and politicians that Wyoming is incredibly conservative at 41.6%, the third highest in the nation. But overlooked is that 40.2% of residents there self-identify as moderate and 13% as liberal.
Does a tiny 1.4% differential warrant a stereotype? Jackson and Laramie certainly aren’t large enough for the majority of Wyomans, who in fact aren’t conservative, to be sequestered only there.
South Pass is a relatively low spot between the central and southern Rockies where beginning in 1847 in little more than a decade every line of ancestors on both my Dad and Mom’s side passed before becoming a union in our ancestral Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho where the central and northern Rockies meet.
Kansas also isn’t as conservative politically as politicians as well as those who plant those annoying little abortion signs along the freeway there hope to make you believe.
It is the 22nd most conservative state at 38.4% but the full story is that 36.3% of Kansans self-identify as moderate and more than a fifth as liberal, ranking it as average overall, just above North Carolina.
The signs along the Interstate there shout out warnings about abortion and call for stricter policies but surveys show that those messages represent the views of a minority of Americans and probably Kansans, too.
Even 19% of Republicans want them to be the same or less strict but a combined 45% of Independents and Democrats also feel that way. Overall, only 24% of Americans support making them stricter.
Neither Salina nor Kansas existed in 1847 when three ancestors of my Mom’s marched just south of where that town would be founded a half dozen years later and just north of what would become Durham, Kansas, (smile) down along the old Santa Fe Trail with the Mormon Battalion destined for the War with Mexico.
They exited what is now Kansas near what would later be named Liberal, Kansas which in that era meant “kind.”
Places and physiography as well as stereotypes get politicized over time. Kansas for instance has a rate of 30% obesity among adults. Is it found more commonly among those who are conservative or moderate?
Not sure what all of this has to do with my Mom who self-identified as a conservative, but in reality she was more moderate, except that this essay closely resembles the vast range of topics we would touch on during frequent phone calls.
Intellectual curiosity is a family trait. So is a stiff upper lip. So is grieving the way we do.
Miss you Mom. Please tell Dad hey.