Archive for Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Taking the longer way home

December 18, 2002

For as long as I remember I've liked to see the city lights on my way home. Keep in mind that since I've lived in small towns almost all of my life, my view of "city lights" is based on a small-town perspective.

For instance when I was a teen, the drive to our family's house on south Pleasant Street always seemed more noteworthy if we took the downtown route through Fourth Street. Not that there was much going on especially in the evenings when shopkeepers closed their doors and went home. A view of the downtown just made the town seem livelier, that's all.

Today I live about six miles outside of Tonganoxie. I could take the shorter route of Evans Road. But until traffic gets too busy out on 24-40, my route to town takes me on the highway. There's something about driving into town from the east, seeing the businesses that have cropped up in recent years, and yet still seeing the familiar rolling hills framing the view to the west. Once in town there's all kinds of sights to see and things to remember. There's the newly finished Chieftain Park, and not far from that, VFW Park.

Farther on down the road there's the 70-year-old Chief Tonganoxie swimming pool as it was called in its early days, and across the street from that is a century old roadside bed and breakfast, newly reopened as the Amanna elan. Just past that is a brick building housing the city shop. But in the olden days it was the home of Dale Rawlings' feed store. Who among those of us who once visited the store can look at the building today without recalling the peeping of chicks, the earthy smell of grain and the scratchy bales of hay.

Just at the next corner, where Glen's Opry now draws a robust Saturday night crowd, Gracie and Meryl Reusch used to pump gas. A block to the east, I can still picture Elsie Hunter smiling at customers in the lumber yard, and heading toward town again, Ray Hunter turning the key to his restaurant door, now the home of Wander In. Just to the west, old timers will recall Fred Cox arranging jewelry in his shop window where Rustic Impressions is today. And of course, across the street, my father, still working each day at his office as he has since 1955.

All the way up Fourth Street, the sights and sounds of today are reminiscent of yesterday. Much has stayed the same. But our little city, or at least the area around it, is quickly changing from the true rural of a half-century ago, to the more urban landscape we know today.

In coming home from Lawrence one evening last week, I asked my son if he wanted to go on Kansas Highway 10 and come up from the south (a shortcut I'm told), or if he wanted to go home through Massachusetts Street and take 24-40. Of course, being a child of mine, he suggested the Mass Street route. The downtown sparkled with holiday lights and bustled with businesses open late for holiday shoppers. It was one of those moments I suddenly realized I wanted my son to remember forever driving down Mass Street on a December evening.

It's kind of like taking the Fourth Street route to get to Pleasant Street when the highway would take us there all the quicker. Sometimes it's not the destination that's so important, but the way we look at and remember the journey.

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