Kansas is Purgatory (Part I)

CookieCutterWe traded a view of the Black Hills for a view of ugly cookie cutter houses…

So yesterday I ended my post with the comment that I am not Catholic, but Kansas must be Purgatory. Now before I end up ticking off people who love Kansas (because I may have already lost the Catholic readers – sorry in-laws in Texas) let me explain. I am actually not making fun of Kansas. Well, yeah, I am making fun of Kansas — seriously–why all the purple everywhere? Could K State have chosen an uglier color? It is splashed on everything within a hundred miles of Fort Riley. Ugh. What I am actually doing here is whining about how difficult is has been for my family to live in Kansas because of the hellish weather, jacked up prices on groceries, lack of actual culture, and general isolation on the plains. Fair enough? In light of the monstrous blizzard that encapsulated western South Dakota in several feet of snow this past week, it feels naïve and selfish to say that I would rather be there now, but I really would prefer to be digging out of the snow to burning in the allergen infested heat.

The fact is, no other place has been so caustic to my soul.  I know that sounds dramatic, but Kansas has even taken a toll on my typically unflappable husband.  To fully understand the problem, let’s go back to the beginning.  When we first came to Junction City, we were excited, like many Army families who have the urge to roam and explore new frontiers.  My husband, Van, had to check in at Fort Riley and start work right away, but we had purchased a home that was still being built; it was literally a slab of concrete on snowy construction soil.  So, we had to live in a hotel for five weeks while the house was finished.  We chose what was one of the cheapest motels in town to try to keep our out of pocket costs low.  I do not recommend this!  Picture cramming  a family of four with two carloads of personal items into living quarters roughly the size of well, a motel room for several weeks.  We thought we could handle living there for a month or so since everyone would basically be gone during the day.  The kids would be at school, Van would be at work, and I could run errands, go for walks, get to know the town, and figure out how to make nice dinners for everyone at night.  There was a small kitchen and I actually succeeded in cooking homemade pork chops and Tokyo fried chicken.  Everything would be fine.

It was after a few nights that the dark forces began to set the wheels of discontent in motion.  First there were the neighbors.  A large group of Mexican day laborers had moved into the room next to ours.  During the day they were gone, but around 8:00 p.m. they returned and right as we were trying to get the girls to fall asleep, very loud tejano music began booming through the cardboard thin wall.  Now I personally like tejano music, but not late in the evening when I’m fighting crabby kids.  At that point it only becomes an annoying stimulant.  Then there was the train.  When we chose this lovely motel, we did not notice that it was built right beside the train tracks that run through town.  Even if we had noticed this , we probably would have thought nothing of it.  Well, we sure had thoughts when every morning the train raced through town, shaking the flimsy motel on its foundation and blasting its ridiculously loud whistle at 2:00 a.m., then again at 4:30 a.m. and finally at 6:00 a.m. Guess what our thoughts were then!  Even though we now live nearly five miles from the tracks, we can still hear the damn thing because there are no trees in our neighborhood to buffer any noise.  Sometimes in the middle of the night when we hear the train whistle we still whisper to each other softly “f$%# you train”.

Once we got used to our neighbors, who were actually very polite men who cooked delicious smelling food, we thought that maybe we could survive.  We were wrong.  That is when my older daughter Annie started having psychological problems because she couldn’t handle the stress of living in a tiny rat cage.  Every morning before school she would throw a fit because her socks and underwear were “too tight”, even after I stretched them until they were completely misshapen and would have fit me!  This tactile tantrum went on for three weeks, until the day we moved out of the motel when her symptoms magically disappeared the moment we stepped into our new house.  The move couldn’t have come at a better time because by then we were all so depressed and sick of staring at each other that we probably would have tried to smother each other with smelly motel pillows if we had to spend one more night in that place. Anytime we move into a new house it is fun, exciting and a great diversion from any horrifying experience, so for the rest of the winter and into spring we were perfectly fine getting settled in.   Finally things were wonderful again!  It wouldn’t be until we decided to try to grow grass and plant a garden that we would discover more of nature’s little monsters that Kansas had in store for us.  But more about that another time. I have plenty more complaints to file and don’t want to alienate too many Kansas loving readers right away.

Besides, I want to end by making a clear statement that it is not the people in Kansas (most of them anyway) that have made this place difficult to survive.  In fact, it is the friendships I have made here that will make it hard to say goodbye when my time comes to move on.  That is one of the wonderful benefits of being in an Army family.  There are a lot of Purgatorial military reservations all over this country, and the odds of getting stuck on one at least once in your military career are very good, but the friendships you make will help you survive and teach you so much about yourself.  The definition of purgatory is: a state of suffering inhabited by sinners being cleansed on their way to heaven.  If this really is Purgatory, then I am glad I was here with such great friends, and if I actually do survive–and right now it isn’t looking good– then I will be happy to report that I am purified and squeaky clean.  But you don’t want to know the process that nature contrived out here to make that happen!  Until next time,

—G

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