My mom would love the Flint Hills Discovery Center. She always thoroughly enjoyed coming out to Kansas. Her extended visits to our farm were highlights of her year. She always said she would never leave Chicago to live anywhere else — except Kansas.
But this was before Alzheimer’s took away my mom’s desire for things other than routine, sleep and a sense of security. This was before the disease left my siblings to care for her in the reverse parent-child type of role that so many people my age are experiencing these days.
But I can remember….
There are so many cherished memories of sharing my life here in Kansas with my mother. One time we came home from shopping and my little daughter looked under a bench at the side of our limestone home. There in all its glory was a bull snake. My mother ran into our mud room yelling for us to get inside. Once we did, she locked the door and stood peering out the window. She asked me if all other entrances were closed and locked. I thought it better not to tell her the snake was probably already in our cellar.
When I first told my family I was moving to Kansas, they were shocked that anyone would want to live where tornadoes are cause for concern (city people being experts on the “Wizard of Oz” story). My husband and I have been fortunate and have not had the experience many others in our state have gone through with twisters. We have dealt more with flood waters than high winds.
But one afternoon I picked my mother up from the airport shuttle station. We ran into the Food 4 Less, which at the time was on the east side of Manhattan. As I was picking up a few necessities with my mom and two toddlers in tow, the store manager announced that a funnel cloud had been sighted and everyone needed to proceed at once into the meat locker. There we sat…my mother, my little ones and me. I will never forget the panic on my mom’s face as she pulled out her rosary while trying to smile. My kids were oblivious to our situation so it was my poor mom I tried to console. Fortunately, nothing became of the warning and we were let out of the freezer while we still had feeling in some of our limbs.
Everybody has always been charmed by my mother. She is a petite, humble Polish woman and the epitome of a giver of unconditional love. That’s why I could never understand why our rooster was hostile toward her. He was a nasty thing, but I had never seen him actually chase anyone… until he chased my mother. Sweeping my walkway while dressed in her country attire of housecoat, pantyhose and low-heeled pumps, she began calling for me to save her. As I ran outside, I caught a glimpse of the rooster running behind my mom and trying to jump at her posterior. I “saved” her with the broom she had dropped, and I bit my lip to keep from laughing. My husband has always been a big fan of my mother’s, and that rooster was gone by morning.
During the many years that we would pick her up at the Kansas City airport, she would spend the entire ride to our home with a smile on her face. “It is so beautiful here,” she would repeat at least 20 times before we reached home. The hills and landscape filled her with awe.
The heels of my mom’s pumps were plenty scuffed and dirty from our gravel roads, and it took a while to convince her that it was OK to leave her purse behind on trips to the barn. She had never driven a car in her life, but my husband let her drive the combine across the field.
It is obvious to me that her life was enriched by each and every new experience she had in Kansas. This petite woman had a wild side she was neglecting to live out in her little bungalow in Chicago. But in the Flint Hills of Kansas, she didn’t have to look far for adventure.
Yes, my mother would love the Flint Hills Discovery Center. It paints a picture of her home away from home for 25 years. She was captivated by the beautiful prairie, the amazing wildlife and a sky that provided a scenic dome of breathtaking views.
My mom may not recognize me at times anymore, but if I mention I live in Kansas, she still smiles and says, “I love Kansas.”
Mary Mertz is a transplanted urbanite who lives and farms east of Manhattan and is as proud of her roots in Chicago and as she is of her growing branches in Kansas.”