MHT Day 8: A Personal History Detour
Tomorrow I’ll get back on the trail of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, including a couple of interesting and highly anticipated sites. But today was a personal day that meant a lot to me but probably won’t mean much to anyone else.
Yesterday’s ride ended in Topeka at my childhood friend Jaylene’s with a late-night filibuster featuring our families, classmates from the class of ’65, and various discussions as we caught up on our personal news.
Today was more of the same. Several days ago, during the three-day delay waiting for my bike to be repaired, I saw a FaceBook post from the Topeka West High School group reminding those who followed it that their monthly lunch would take place today. I counted the days, estimated the stops along the way and discovered I would be in Kansas City, only 50 miles from Topeka on the Tuesday before. With no set schedule to keep, I decided to take a day off and have lunch with high school classmates I hadn’t seen in more than 50 years. So I stretched yesterday’s ride an additional 50 miles, enjoyed a fine Italian dinner and spent a very talkative evening with Jaylene Today I pursued some local personal history.
After helping Jaylene put together a new base for a new TV this morning, I mounted my bike to tour some of my old haunts. I rode slowly past my old grade-school (A. J. Stout Elementary) where I first met the cohorts who would join me in the difficult 10-year transition to adulthood , then headed for the house in which I grew up to take a quick look there. When I pulled up in front of the house, I hailed an elderly gentleman sitting on the porch, introduced myself and explained to him that I had lived in that house during my school years until I left Topeka for the Navy in 1965. We chatted a while, then to my surprise and delight, Mr. Gurwell invited me inside. Several changes had been made over the years (doors disappeared under drywall, faux hardwood floors replaced worn carpets, wallpaper covered dining room walls which my mother had carefully stripped of wallpaper), but it was largely as I remembered, including the original 100-year old kitchen cabinets and the original wood french-door frame between the dining room and the living room. He didn’t go upstairs much any more, he said leaning on his walker, but said I was free to take a look at my old bedroom if I wanted to. There had been significant changes there, too, but enough remained to bring back youthful memories that had fallen into the deep abyss of my mind. I walked once more down the stairs I had been up and down thousands of times before, we talked more about a few other changes in the house, and I took my leave after thanking him again for giving me a chance to refresh fading childhood memories.
Someday the house may become a shrine in my honor (or not) but it will always produce important family memories for me.
Next stop on today’s personal history tour was the FaceBook-advertised lunch with former classmates. Eight members of the class of ’65 showed up at Annie’s at noon and for nearly two hours we related decades of our lives to one another, talked about other classmates living and dead, discussed teachers and administrators we remembered, and shared high school experiences that were both meaningful and trivial. I had only known one of them well but today spoke longer with all the rest of them in two hours than I spoken to them during three years of high school five decades ago. We all probably would have had more fun in school if we had been as open and friendly then as we were today. It’s amazing how much we matured during 50 years.
After loading my bags again, taking the obligatory picture with Jaylene to remind us of how six decades had changed two grade-school friends, I pointed the bike north and rode two hours to Nebraska. Tomorrow I’ll be with brother Kent for a few hours and visit several top-notch Lewis and Clark historical exhibits as I continue to follow the Missouri river upstream to its source, as did the Corps of Discovery more than two centuries ago.