Every so often I wander from Minnesota to northeast Kansas, the corner where I was born and raised. I’m convinced Kansas will forever be known as the Land of Oz – flat, dusty and full of farms with Auntie Em making pie in the kitchen. While the farms and dust are reality, the typography of northeast Kansas is anything but flat. Gentle rolling hills of golden pastures are sprinkled with windmills and grazing horses.
A former co-worker and friend has been blogging about the concept of “home” at Stories She Tells. Her personal self discoveries about moving from state to state continuously as a child are thought-provoking for me. Each of her blog posts make me contemplate about what I consider “home” to be, now as an adult.
I left Kansas for college at 18 and have only been a resident over long weekend visits. There is both strangeness and familiarity when you return to an area you haven’t visited in a long while. Over the Christmas holiday I went to my parents house with the premise of Stories She Tells in my head. The barn where I did chores nearly every morning is very familiar. The downtown streets I walked every day after school? Strange.
One of the familiar places I like to visit is Little Stranger Church, a clapboard structure one mile up the gravel road from where I grew up. Built in 1867, it has severely decayed over the years, although I firmly believe the hand of God Himself has prevented a tornado from taking it away. It has a scattering of families in the cemetery grounds, some who lost all of their children the same year from typhoid fever or influenza.
Little Stranger Church is a place of peace. I also believe it’s a culmination of what Kansas really is. Kansas is worn, battered by wind, peppered with history and filled with common people who live to be 95 or die as children. Kansas is a neutral tone, never offensive, but wise beyond her years. Living in a fast-paced, big city can sometimes put you on auto pilot, and going back to a familiar yet strange place is grounding. My home is in the big city. But I would wager that not many city kids appreciate natural prairie grass and clapboard churches like I do.