The Quotable Oleander-bits and bites from past commentaries

On the State's history:
      Folks, when the teaching of Kansas History was dropped from the curriculum of our schools, state pride plummeted until a majority of Kansans were shocked that our kids didn't know the difference between a Bushwhacker and a Jayhawker: they thought a Jayhawk was a tall fellow who played basketball well enough to be on the TV.

On Here:
      Everything we need is in Here. Young Claude Hopkins down at the Mini-mart will cash a Social Security check. The Here, Kansas, Co-op has a screen door and a fly swatter in the summer, a woodstove and a checkerboard in the winter. Elmer Peterson's Drive-Thru Pharmacy and Car Wash keeps us clean and medicated. You see, most of us in Here are what you'd call over the hill, only there aren't any hills out here to be over.

On Here's East/West division:
     Here, Kansas, being near U.S. 81, is full of all these Kansas differences. The Eastern half of Here wears overalls, work boots, feed caps, shirts we button to the collar for warmth; we drink water and eat fried chicken; our heroes are John Brown, William Allen White, Dwight David Eisenhower; our women quilt, read from the Bible, and save their egg money. The Western half of Here wears Levi's and pointy-toed cowboy boots, ten-gallon hats, pearl-buttoned shirts open at the collar, with a handkerchief at the neck; we drink whiskey and eat bloody steaks; our heroes are Wyatt Earp, the Dalton brothers, and Mike Hayden (who brought Western Kansas speech back to the statehouse); our women drive pickups, throw darts, and know how to dance in high-heeled boots.

On City-fied Kansas:
     Grab a Kansas map and draw one sixty-mile circle around Kansas City and another around Wichita. You know how many Kansans live in those circles? Almost 67%--same as the number of Americans an hour's drive from the coast. That means 67% of Kansans are an hour's drive from a live lobster and a cappuccino bar.

On voting in Kansas:
     Recent Kansas voting history shows that you can't just vote Republican and smile anymore, especially not in the governor's race. Why, in the 1990 election, we voted in a woman for the first time. She had been a Republican, but turned Democrat. Then she ran on the rhetoric of Populism. Claimed to represent The People. What she didn't tell everyone was that The. (short for Theodore) People is an old blind man who lives down the street from me in Here, Kansas, and we in Here stopped listening to him long ago.

On Ike:
     So why don't I like the Eisenhower presidency? Well, Ike made us Kansans well-liked for all the wrong reasons:
--For our traditional conservatism, when in fact we have just as many radical traditions. Remember, I'm named for that greatest of all "Pop-ocrats," William Jennings Bryan, who got so much of his support from the Kansas Populists. Ike should have stood against tyranny in government; he should have stood against Joe McCarthy.
--For our unwillingness to rock the boat on issues like civil rights, when in fact we once had a reputation as "Bleeding Kansas" and elected a black man to a state office as far back as the 1880s. Ike should have enforced the laws without being forced into it, as he was at Little Rock.
--For our tolerance, our acceptance, our forgiveness, when in fact we have a tradition for taking up the moral hatchet and slamming it into hypocrisy and lies. Ike should never have embraced Richard Nixon after that b.s. Checkers speech.

On women in politics:
     So what might be a good symbol for women's rights in Kansas? A pair of knitting needles? A wash tub? A broken billiard cue? How about a harp? Joan Finney, the first woman ever elected to be Governor of Kansas, often played the harp at public events. Like her predecessors, she understood that Kansans tolerate women best when their power is tempered by domestication. So beware the female legislator who does not have a husband, children, a domestic art, dishpan hands, or an attitude about billiards. Women who want power in Kansas learn to take along a harp.

On praise:
     A quick guide to Here, Kansas, praise. Here, Kansan says: Here, Kansan means: "That's not half bad." "Good." "Okay." "Great." "Pretty good." "Fantastic." "Pretty darn good." No translation: extravagant praise

On neighboring:
     Not only did Wilbur bring in the mail, but he sorted it into junk mail, personal mail, and bills. Not only did he bring in the paper, but he circled items in the There County Tattler that he thought the Lathams might overlook in their haste to catch up on the news. You know, folks, it turned out the only thing he took was one slice of watermelon. The Lathams found a note taped to the refrigerator, which, by the way, Wilbur had cleaned spotless. The note read: "The watermelon needs eaten."

On Samuel J. Crumbine:
     Crumbine's `Swat the Fly' took such hold in Kansas that Frank Rose and his Weir City Boy Scout troop took a break from screening windows in Weir, they nailed a square of screen to a ruler, and thus invented the first fly swatter, which they called a `Fly Bat.' Kansas, and the nation, haven't been the same since.

On the World's First:
     Folks, we know how to boost our town. Why, after we set a committee to the task of finding out what was unique about Here, we put up a small sign, just outside of town. If you squint, you'll just be able to read the little letters: Visit the World's First, Smallest, Brick, South-facing, Abandoned Carnegie Library in Kansas, From Which the Dalton Gang Checked Out a Guide to Coffeyville.

On courting:
     Some Here folks say a marriage will last in direct proportion to how many miles two young people who think they're in love can travel the back roads to Here before they cut over to four-lane. Your true life-long partner will look up at you when you drive into Here and say, `We can't be here already!.'

On Kansas heat:
     Nobody loves the good, dry heat of Central and Western Kansas better than a thin old Kansas man. Ten months of the year my bones ache. I sit shivering on a sunny porch all through Spring. I have to stomp my feet to keep my toes from going numb. I turn on my stove burners, hold my hands over them and watch my fingernails turn from blue to pink. But in July and August I'm finally warm. I'm a snake on a hot rock, a lizard in the desert, ripened wheat waiting to turn gold.

On the Kansas Humanities Council's Speaker's Bureau:
     Then bless the Kansas Humanities Council and their programs. It's not often we get anything from the government that doesn't either make paperwork or make us spit.

On Temperance:
     One time, back before World War I--it was just after Carry A. Nation reminded Kansans that we weren't exactly obeying the Prohibition laws--a hatchet-faced man visited the Here Grade School. This Temperance worker took two drinking glasses, and four worms, and put two worms in each glass. He poured water into one glass, whiskey into the other. He talked an hour while we kids fidgeted, then he had us study the drinking glasses. The worms in the water were as squirmy as we were. The ones in the whiskey were pale and limp, dead and pickled. "What do you suppose we may deduce from this demonstration?" the Temperance worker asked. Claude Anderson, who went on to have a distinguished career as a Probate Judge in Here, raised his hand. "It shows if you drink whiskey, you won't have worms," he said.

On gardening corn:
     Elmer Peterson comes to the Co-op of a morning, beaming. "It's time," he says. That evening, we show up at his house around six, just as we're ready to make a vegetable the last of our suppers. We wait next to his garden. Suddenly Elmer sprints out of his kitchen with a big pot of boiling water, yelling "Let's go." Each of us grabs an ear he's X-ed with a magic marker. We quickly shuck it, we drop it in the pot, and in less than five minutes we're all of us standing in Elmer's garden eating the sweetest, most tender, most glorious corn we've ever tasted.

On the Here, Kansas, 900 number:
     All across America, people are awake at night, and they've had hard days, and their kids are wringing them out, and they know they're watching too much television, and they don't have church anymore, and they don't have family close by. They need Here, Kansas. They need an older voice. They need Dial-A-Geezer. Yep, for a mere $1.99 per minute, dial 1-900-GRANDPA and hear Claude, or Elmer, or Tommie, or Barney say, "Better to fix the fence than kill the pig that got loose." Or dial 1-900-GRANDMA for the grandmotherly voice of Mabel Beemer or Hattie Burns: "They say patience is a virtue, but it's not my virtue."

On an old man's love:
    The sun, that big star, lifted off the Eastern horizon. And, between it and me, was an abandoned building, somebody's first homestead house, I can't remember whose. With the sun behind it, every crack glowed, every shattered window sparkled. The whole thing was shot through with so much light it looked like it might explode. It was beautiful, more beautiful than a snug bungalow or a patched outbuilding or a painted barn. It was old, and decrepit, and useless. But it was awful good for holding sunlight, for glowing in the morning, for radiating light. And you know what? Iola Humboldt was ready and waiting when I pulled into her drive.

On Thanksgiving:
     "I hate Thanksgiving," said my Wichita grandson's wife. "Nothing but too much food and too much noise."
     "That's what family's all about," I said.
     But she had the wrong kind of noise, and the wrong idea of food: the only noise came from TV, the only food from a kitchen where nobody cared. And I wondered why people all over America live like you have to live in a nursing home.

On the difference between a lawn and a yard:
     "I don't care what you call it," said Iola Humboldt. "I'm talking about a small plot of ground with more grass than weeds. That seems like a small enough request." She led me to the window and pointed to the yard. Some beautiful yellow dandelions were in flower. Crab grass was doing its wonderful crawl out from one soggy corner. Lamb's quarter had pushed itself toward sunlight along the worn spots where my old dog, Here, used to run. Honeybees buzzed the clover blooms under the clothesline. "What do you call that?" Iola asked. "A yard," I said. "A fine Kansas yard." "Where's the grass?" she asked. I shouldn't have, but I pointed vaguely out the window. "There's two blades," I said, "right next to the dwarf cherry."

On garage sales:
     Fact is, in Here, Kansas, we have a small pool of folks, and the Annual Garage Sale is more like an exchange. I figure every five years I end up with the same things I sold five years before, and I'm happier for it. Let's face it, when you take a break from that claw-foot lamp, from that book of church recipes your grand- niece sent you, from that shoehorn you accidentally packed into your suitcase in 1949 at the Jayhawk Hotel in Topeka, why, all of a sudden, in somebody else's garage, in the near dark, those things look better than they have in years.

Return to  Here, Kansas

Return to  home page