And the Skies are Not Cloudy All Day

It's a typical sight this time every spring in the place I live. A pickup pulling a stock trailer. That's not a horse back there but two semesters worth of belongings and memories.

Of life.

It's a biannual ritual. These land grant limousines will be back in late summer.

Manhattan, Kansas. This is my home. I was born here while my father earned an agronomy degree from K-State on the G.I. Bill. We lived in a small trailer in what is still the Blue Valley Mobile Home Court. After Pop graduated, we went back to farm in Rooks County, then on to Wichita.

I was two years old when I left Manhattan and 41 when I came back. When Jackie and I made the decision to get married, we were faced with another decision -- where to live. I was living and working in Topeka, she was doing the same in Manhattan.

We thought about it for about ten seconds, looked at each other and said in unison, "Manhattan."

Many factors. Obviously, K-State. My father's a Wildcat and my wife has been drinking the purple Kool-aid since she was in utero. Her name's on the plaque affixed to Hale Library. We're football and basketball season ticketholders. We're all in.

You know how Lawrence has a really cool liberal arts feel to it? Manhattan has a similar land grant vibe. Vet School, agriculture advocacy, Aggieville. We're Aggieville daytimers -- Starbucks, Coco Bolo's, Last Chance cheeseburgers. I'm generally in bed long before Aggieville begins pulsating. (btw, I feel compelled to point out Jackie's name's also inscribed on the wall at Aggie Lou).

Life as it should be.

Since living in Manhattan, I've become a big tipper. Not that I'm a bigshot, just a realization that the pizza delivery guys and the waitresses are working their way through college.

The return of the First Infantry Division to Fort Riley has changed the face of Manhattan. An infusion of mostly young couples and families from across the nation. You see out of state license plates all over town. I will go out of my way in a supermarket or a restaurant or a movie theatre to shake the hand of a soldier in uniform and thank them for their service.

It's also engendered a new appreciation for defense appropriations.

Over the next decade, as the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility comes on line, Manhattan will change even more. We'll see some high-powered global brainpower moving into our community.

Growth, diversity. All good.

We're already growing, spilling out into the Flint Hills to the west and across the Blue River into Pott County to the east. U.S. Highway 24 between Manhattan and Wamego is beginning to remind me a lot of Kansas Highway 10 between Lawrence and Johnson County.

The last couple of years, I've purposely sought out new running routes around town and that has only deepened my appreciation for the place I live. Two of my faves are old neighborhoods -- just east of campus and the area framed by downtown on the northeast and Long's Park on the southwest.

I love traveling and one of the best things about it is coming home. When I cross the Konza Prairie and begin the descent into the Kaw River Valley, I see familiar landmarks -- Kistner's Flowers, the massive cottonwoods on the banks of the Kaw, the river, soon a brand new hotel, conference center and Flint Hills Discovery Center.

A feeling of calm, of familiarity washes over me. These places, old and new, have meaning and value in my life.

I never had this feeling in Topeka and in Wichita, I wasn't old enough to appreciate it. Look at the subtitle of this blog. I'm old enough now. I get it.

The definition of hometown is as variable as those who seek to define it. Wichita's where I grew up and those memories will never fade.

But right here, right now (with all due respect to Jesus Jones) in the middle of my life, you'll find my heart and soul in Manhattan, Kansas.

This is my home.

Bury me here, baby.