Yes, we’re a day late here — but Kansas has been around 153 years, so waiting 24 hours for my birthday wishes won’t exactly rock the state.
Besides, this one comes straight from the heart.
I grew up in northern California, so my friends back home shook their heads sadly when we discovered — courtesy of the U.S. Air Force — that I’d be heading to Kansas.
Everyone assumed I’d come rushing back the instant it became feasible.
But I didn’t.
Here’s a memory from an autumn Saturday morning: It involved a short, simple walk to the grocery store. But three times in about five blocks, someone strolling in the opposition direction waved or nodded and said, “G’mornin’…”
I liked the friendliness. I liked it a lot.
In truth, though, my longish time in Kansas didn’t get off to a great start.
Just 13 days after arriving in the state, I wound up leading a hurry-up rescue unit searching for survivors (and victims) from a horrendous tornado that killed 17 people.
You’d think that would put me off the place once and for all, but in fact, the amazing response of people pulling together, helping each other and so forth has stuck with me forever.
Something else worth noting: I was lucky to have a job right away that allowed me to see almost every inch of Kansas — I covered the state high school sports beat for the Topeka Capital-Journal.
So if you’re looking for someone who wrote about the Kansas 8-man football title game between Lucas and Nashville-Zenda in Great Bend, I’m your guy.
I’ve been grounded by fog after a basketball game in Dodge City, given a tour of Logan by a delegation of proud citizens, and attended a pre-game cocktail party arranged by the mayor after a seemingly endless drive to Hill City – for a game between the Ringnecks and the Roosters (Palco High).
Loved that matchup.
I remember the days when people came from almost everywhere to eat at the Alma Hotel. I caught the first bass of my life at Tuttle Creek Lake.
And this is the truth, Manhattan…
The newly hired Jack Hartman actually asked me, since I’d seen so much local prep basketball, if he should use his last scholarship on “the little guy from Silver Lake.”
I’m hugely proud to say I told K-State’s new coach that I’d personally seen Lonnie Kruger take apart Wichita Heights in the Dodge City Tournament of Champions, and I was convinced he could be a star in Division I.
OK, that’s my bragging done.
I’ll let the state of Kansas steal the rest of this show.
Let me sum it up this way: How many people have you ever heard say they ENJOY the trek across western Kansas on I-70?
Well, I think it’s terrific, and I know every off-track stop on the way – not to mention wondering each time how the spelling of WaKeeney came about.
And finally, yes…
Indeed, I truly have seen the world’s largest ball of twine.
Maybe I was raised as a San Franciscan, but Kansas is my home.
Steve Cameron is executive editor of The Mercury.