One of the explanations for sports fandom and love for your alma mater is a sense of having a tribe, some primal sense of “belonging-ness.” In my experience, when you’re out and about in the wider world and you run across folks who also ate too much Call Hall ice cream and tried to stay awake in Umberger 105, you connect on the spot. Here are a few of my family’s stories.
So, there we were — my husband Ken, our daughter Anne and I — standing around at Boston Logan Airport waiting to board a train into town several years ago, when a well-dressed man came up to us and started excitedly grabbing his belt buckle, which was a pewter Powercat. (Heh-heh. Gotcha.) He was also sporting a lavender-striped button-down under his very nice suit. This man, who obviously lived The Wildcat Way every day, was a dentist in Boston and was so excited to see my family’s K-State sweatshirts. A lovely chat ensued.
We were in Boston that day on the first leg of a trip to Ireland. Ireland “enjoys” many roads that are narrower than the parking spots at Walmart. One so-called highway took us to a beautiful seaside town, where we were standing on a corner getting our bearings, when we heard a very non-Gaelic voice ask, “Hey, are you guys from Kansas?” (Yes, my family was wearing their K-State gear again. I’m sure we’d washed it since Boston. Almost sure.)
We chatted like old friends with the two 20-something couples from Pomona, as you do when you run across strangers in a strange land who know where your land actually is.
The guy who hailed us said, “How about these crazy roads, right? We drove in here last night and I think we ran over a tree!” As we were laughing, a man in his 60s stopped by our impromptu gathering and said, with a big smile, “I graduated from K-State in ’79 and moved to Pennsylvania but I keep up on football. Go Cats!”
We were once visiting a seminary outside a small town in Oregon. The lovely but isolated campus was almost deserted on this particular weekend — we hadn’t seen another soul — until down the long, boulevard-esque central walkway comes a group of three. As we got close enough to smile and nod hello, the older man said, “That Bill Snyder is quite the coach.” Yes, Ken was again decked out. And the group was from Topeka.
I got to go to China for work in 2010, and Ken got to go with me. We went to a Rotary Club lunch meeting in Beijing. It was a very friendly but high-octane crowd of one-percenters, like the gentleman on my left who was the head of Lufthansa for Asia. Folks like that. They could not have been nicer but it was intimidating nonetheless.
A woman across the table was making polite conversation and asked where we were from. I said, “Manhattan, Kansas.”
She nodded and smiled, but the woman next to her snapped her head up from her salad and said, “WHERE did you say you’re from?” I repeated myself. She put her fork down and said her dad had gotten his DVM from K-State and she’d lived in Manhattan until she was 3.
I was stunned. In a city of 17 million people, far, far away, you really don’t expect to just run across somebody who used to live in your hometown.
She asked me tons of questions about Manhattan and the university, and said her dad was interesting in donating to the university. I connected her with the College of Veterinary Medicine when we got back.
What makes this story even crazier is that I was in Beijing as part of a Vet Med outreach trip.
You just never know when you’re going to meet a long-lost member of The Family. So be on the safe side. Wear your purple every day.
Sisley is a principal and co-owner of New Boston Creative Group, LLC.