Friday, February 25, 2011
Sitting less than a half mile south of I-70 as you descend westbound into the Kaw River Valley about three miles from the east Lawrence exit sits a farm, the long-time home of Frank and May Walters. From the highway you can see a large, weathered, vine covered barn and tucked away behind overgrown brush and large trees is their former home. It is where many of my earliest childhood memories were formed.
The house stands two stories. We always entered through the rear which faced east into a fairly spacious kitchen complete with linoleum floors and a simple table for casual dining. The house had a front door and at one time a nice front porch. But sitting 50 yards from that door sat a spur line of the Union Pacific that ran all the way to Leavenworth. The train line has long since been abandoned. There was a siding where tanker cars would sit along with crew cars, actual living quarters for the men who worked on the tracks. I remember at least a couple of trains a day would slowly pass going to and from Leavenworth.
A turn to the left and beyond the kitchen was a more formal dining area which also served as formal living room. Grandpa's old radio which fascinated us kids with its buttons and dials stood out in the room along with a fancy dining table that could be expanded to handle the massive family gatherings that occurred at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The radio resides in my Fort Myers home.
Adjacent to that room opposite the kitchen wall was a small sitting room. An entry led from there into the family room which featured an RCA cabinet television set. I remember the agony of being forced to watch "The Lawrence Welk Show" every Saturday night. Wonderful, wonderful, my ass, Myron Floren's accordion was about the only palatable part of the show although even as a very young boy the Lennon Sisters were certainly easy on the eyes. The cabinet minus the television ended up at the home of my cousin Nancy.
A hallway ran from the formal dining room to the front door separating the sitting room and family room from the staircase which led to the second floor. A beautiful stain glass window graced the landing of the staircase. The family had it removed when we began renting the home out. It was fortunate because a small fire in that section of the home would have certainly damaged it.
The second floor offered a large sun room, four bedrooms and the lone bathroom in the house. My uncle's bedroom was barely a bedroom at all. Much to my ongoing dismay up to age five I was forced to sleep in a crib in my grandparent's room whenever I stayed over. The only relief from the crib was when my sisters or cousins were also spending the night and then I could sleep with one of them.
We all enjoyed a screened in porch which wrapped its way the southeast corner of the house. It was a pleasant place to rest on an early summer day and look out across the green lawn, with three or four mole traps standing guard. Grandma would often sit out there cleaning snap peas.
Back then there stood two barns, a chicken coop and a garage. Only the large barn remains. That
had a concrete floor and was used to store equipment. A huge hayloft was the main feature of the second floor. The other, older barn, eventually had to be destroyed in the early 1970's. It was literally falling apart when I was a child and had served as a dairy barn in earlier times. Back then you could usually find grain in the barn which we were forbidden to play in but would usually prove irresistible. Grandpa would usually catch me rolling around in the wheat.
My grandfather Frank, was a strong handsome man. Unfortunately by the time I was coming into this world he was in a slow steady decline in terms of his health and his mental faculties. He loved his farm and he loved the land. Frank Walters loved to travel and was a successful farmer.
Part of the routine when I was on the farm as a little boy, age 3 or 4, was to accompany Grandpa on his daily walk to the train bridge that sat to the north next to U.S. 40. Not far from the bridge along the two lane blacktop stood a gas station and restaurant called Miller's Barbecue. It's now a private home. The walk down and back was a little over a mile. I wish I could remember our conversations but I largely remember that very little would be said during these walks.
My grandmother was a large woman of German ancestry with a lap big enough to hold two or three of her grandchildren. She loved to cook and even when her diabetes had taken her vision she could still pull together large meals for the family. She possessed something of a ribald sense of humor and next to her grandchildren loved her garden more than anything. It was filled with all manner of vegetables, strawberries and even grapes. She canned and preserved everything imaginable.
I loved staying on the farm for the weekend. I'm sure it provided some relief for my widowed mother to unload her rambunctious son. It became an event when the cousins, Mike and Nancy Hendon would come. With my sisters Dianne and Karen it was non-stop mischief, whether we were sneaking into Uncle Bob's Playboys or Mike terrorizing us as Frankenstein. It was tough keeping up being a good three years younger than my older siblings and cousins.
Life on the farm came to an end in 1962. The failing health of my grandparents forced them to move into town. By then my mother had remarried and we were living in Abilene. Going to the auction and watching Frank and May's world disappear broke this 6 year old's heart.