The next morning I invite my mom to come upstairs and see the adorable space I have. I’m secretly hoping that weird sound will happen while she’s here so I know I’m not crazy. After about 5 minutes, there it is again!
And out the window we see a squirrel run across the roof and jump onto the nearby tree. Well, now I feel silly. But in the dark, when you don’t know what it is, the sound of squirrels running is creepy, trust me.
While my uncle is getting ready, my mom and I decide to take a walk around the neighborhood. The humidity envelops us once again as we walk outside, but it’s still early so the heat is bearable.
Each house has its own unique personality, which is not as common back home with all of the track homes and condo complexes designed to have a unit look. Some have large front porches with a swing; others have no porch, but each house has several enormous trees that have probably been there for decades. This particular street is paved in brick. James informed us that there are still some streets with the original brick roads, but most have been paved over with asphalt, which is cheaper. The brick just adds to the quaint feeling though. I like it a lot.
Our first stop is getting something to eat. After finally getting everyone ready to go and deciding on a game plan, the morning has gotten away from us and it’s not that early anymore. We ask for restaurant recommendations, and end up in “historic downtown Emporia,” which is basically one street. On Commercial St. from about 4th to 12th, the buildings still resemble an old American main street. Most of the buildings are brick, and only a few look like they’ve been restored.
The first restaurant we try is Amanda’s, which has giant cinnamon rolls. Sadly that’s really the only breakfast food they offer, and they’re out. Some people stop by the moment they know the cinnamon rolls go on sale. Oh well. So we end up at the Commercial Street Diner a block away. It’s exactly what I would have pictured a hometown diner to look like. Pictures of the owner fishing adorn the walls, the waitress seems to know everyone she’s serving, and most people are wearing some article of clothing that promotes Emporia State University. However, instead of looking like the idyllic 50s diner (a la Ruby’s), it looks more like it was built in the 60s or 70s: wood paneled walls, brown décor, etc. I ordered the biscuits and gravy, which were fabulous.
As we were eating, I noticed that I was the only person in the restaurant looking at her phone. I guess I never realized how much of a habit this was for me. Or if I did know it somewhere in the back of my mind, I assumed that everyone with a smartphone had this habit. Apparently not.
After breakfast we walked across the street to the drugstore. Not a CVS or Walgreens, just a mom-and-pop drugstore. I don’t know if it’s always like this, but everywhere we went seemed to not be very busy. There were probably 4 people in the drugstore aside from us.
We got what we needed and drove to a local bridge with a view of a waterfall along the river. So many trees everywhere!
Then we decided to make the long drive back to Kansas City to visit the house where my grandmother grew up.
*side bar* I saw this sign on the way out of town and HAD to stop. I mean…what exactly do you suppose a “party time ham” is? Is like a ham with pizzazz? Perhaps spirit fingers are involved? *end side bar*
We stopped briefly at the edge of town for a quick photo of a bridge and the nearby waterfall. Some people were using the river to cool off in the heat and humidity.
This time we got to see what surrounding area looked like by day. It was pretty much as I thought. We could see for miles. Slight rolling hills, lots of trees, and occasional home or farm. Sadly I don’t have pictures of this because I was driving, and trying to get my mother or uncle to use their phones to take a picture would have been, shall we say, challenging.
When we got to Kansas City, it was quickly apparent that the Missouri side of Kansas City isn’t a very affluent neighborhood. We drove up and down the street, but we couldn’t find the house. The numbers seemed to skip around. So I finally got out and asked one of the neighbors is he knew what happened to 8608, since we could see 8616 and 8606. He informed us that the grassy area in between was where the house used to stand. Sadly it burned down many years ago. He checked with the nearest neighbor, but no one seemed to remember exactly what year it burned down. Although we were sad that we couldn’t see her house, it gave us a sense of closure. On the way back we stopped to get gas and snacks…and discovered the slightly unsavory element in the neighborhood. Two guys were trying to climb into the refrigerated section because the last can of that particular brand of beer was waaaay back there. Not exactly the kind of place I would go at night. It was a little too Deliverance for me.
Next stop was something I had seen on a couple of travel sites: The Liberty Memorial and WWI Museum. It seemed only fitting to visit a museum dedicated to WWI since that was when my grandmother was born.
The museum was very moving, and included many artifacts that I wasn’t expecting. A short film of about 10 minutes explained the setup of WWI and outlined the alliances between countries that escalated within a single week into declarations of war. Then we entered the first half of the museum, which focused on the first years of the war, 1914-1917. Military uniforms from the countries involved were on display, as were propaganda leaflets and posters, early submachine guns, and personal correspondence. Maybe I learned all of this and forgot, maybe I couldn’t fully understand the gravity of the events as a 16 year old, or maybe the chain of events wasn’t clearly explained, but I feel like much of this was new information. Did I know that Franz Ferdinand was assassinated? Yes. Did I know about the allied forces and their involvement in WWI? Yes. But something about the concise way the museum laid out the escalation of Ferdinand’s assassination and the immediate chaos was so much more impactful than anything I had learned before. Plus, I feel like most of the history I was exposed to revolves around WWII. Perhaps in our country-centric behavior, we focus less on WWI because we were late to the party.
After we finished in the first half of the museum, we visited a large theater where video from the war was spliced together with narrated personal correspondence and interviews to show what it was like when America entered the war. Then we were directed to enter the second half of the museum, which covered 1918-1919. The flag that was flown outside [the white house? Congress?] when Harry S. Truman announced our involvement in the war was on display, as were numerous Uncle Sam posters and war bond advertisements. There were also posters from groups who opposed the war “I didn’t raise my son to be a solider” and posters encouraging helping the war effort in other ways “One less loaf [of bread] for your family is one more loaf for our boys!”
As we exited the museum, my mom pointed out that the walkway was clear and below were thousands of tulips. Since I didn’t see a plaque explaining their significance, I stopped a docent to ask what it meant. He explained that there was both a short and long answer to that question. The short answer is that there are 9,000 silk tulips; one for every 1000 military lives lost in WWI. The long answer is that the war was one of trenches. Trenches for supply lines, trenches for artillery transport, trenches for reconnaissance troops to take cover. Between the shells hitting the earth and the digging of the trenches, a lot of earth was turned up. Also, the ammunition supplies contained a lot of nitrates. So basically, the war was tilling and fertilizing the soil of the battlegrounds. When it rained, flowers started appearing between the trenches. The areas where fellow soldiers’ bodies lay were now fields of color. One solider wrote a poem about this very thing, which, our docent pointed out, was still very pro-war. He wondered aloud if that same soldier would have been so pro-war the following year after more lives had been lost. However, we would never know, as the author of that poem was killed a few months later.
We left the museum and head back to Emporia, driving that 90-mile stretch yet again. My mom was convinced we hadn’t actually seen “historic downtown Emporia” so we looked up the exact streets that were considered downtown. When we got there, we discovered that we HAD in fact seen all there was to see of downtown Emporia. Unfortunately it looked more rundown than it did restored. Maybe it’s a work in progress?
For dinner, we decided on the local Mexican restaurant: Casa Ramos. I was prepared for disappointment, to be honest. Coming from California, I am used to having authentic Mexican food from several different areas of Mexico within a 5-10 minute drive no matter where I am. So the one Mexican restaurant in a town of predominantly white people didn’t seem promising.
I was pleasantly surprised! It was pretty fantastic. I ordered bacon wrapped shrimp, and I haven’t seen shrimp that large in a long time. Their margaritas were basically what you would expect, and the chip and salsa were excellent (although I could have gone for more heat in the salsa). For a Saturday night, this seemed to be the busiest place in the downtown area. I’m not sure if we found the nightlife or not, but it could be that all of the college students were back home for the long weekend.
We got back to our home for the weekend, cuddled with the dogs a bit, and went straight to sleep. It was a pretty big day.The dogs are pretty adorable and my mom was already very attached to them. Dog #1 is Penny, who is staying here temporarily while her owner is on vacation. Dog #2 is Desi, who lives here. Both of whom loved to sit with us and get lots of lovin’.
Next up is the family reunion. Here we go!