It started as a way to kill some time. It ended with memories washing over us like waves.
Two generations of our family gathered in Wichita last month from far-flung points when it became evident my father would not recover from an accident in his home.
My sister, Viki, from Nashville. My brother, David, from the Pacific Northwest. His kids, my niece and nephew, also from Washington state. My son and his wife from Denver.
This notion that my siblings and I are now “in charge.” When Viki, two years older than me, arrived and first sized up the enormity of the situation, she remarked, “Where are all the grownups?”
We have met the enemy and it is us.
3130 N. St. Clair (2015).
My father had long ago suited me up with durable power of attorney for health care decisions and while I had no doubt as to his wishes, it doesn’t make it any easier. I was to quickly discover that it doesn’t take long for the decision-making to pivot from the patient to those who love him.
If you’ve ever been on a death watch, there are a couple of options, seems to me. You can mount a 24-7 bedside vigil, sit around and look at each other, repeating polite, trite mantras, or you can do something else. So we piled into cars and caravanned to Pleasant Valley.
Shared with “the kids” the places we worked, went to school, hung out. Memories of growing up in the Land of Baloney on White Bread with Miracle Whip in the late 60s and early 70s. It’s been two generations since those formative years in Pleasant Valley.
Looking backward through the eyes of our young adult children. Examining a distant culture and time. Realizing my siblings and I are no longer “the kids.”
First stop, a patch of ground equidistant between the Arkansas River and the Little Arkansas River.
(Imagine early pioneer ACTUAL CONVERSATIONS... “Well, yanno, Bill, this here river’s littler than that there one... so... maybe, I donno... 'Little Arkansas..?'”)
Back then, the Twin Lakes shopping center was what Wichita’s Bradley Fair is today. Twin Lakes had the city’s first “twin” movie theatres. Wichita’s first checkmark in the trend toward multi-plexes. I remember three lines that stayed on that marquis for nearly a year:
Out to Wichita Heights High School. Asked about vivid memories, Viki recalled race riots, I talked about positioning myself behind a tree to capture a pic of a streaking classmate for the yearbook. (Today, that streaker’s an attorney in Wichita, if it please the court). David remembered a baseball coach long on rah-rah, short on strategy.
3130 N. St. Clair (1977).
Trends emerged. My sister’s memories tended toward the virtuous, while mine skewed: “Enjoyed some beers on the Big Ditch...” “Spent a lot of time with chums in a bar that was right here...”
The next generation paid polite attention, happy to see the three of us relaxed, respecting, loving and enjoying each other’s company. Lotta factors influenced that: Pleasant Valley, circumstances and experience, James E. Matson, time, Geri Ordway, her parents.
Then, the bittersweet reality. My father’s death means if we’re ever to gather again in Wichita as a family, we’ll have to work hard to do it. Followed closely by the truth that at least for now, I’m the only Matson left in Kansas.
Time only moves one way.
In the days and nights since Pop died, the sadness seems to come in waves. You can let the waves inundate you, or you can ride the wave and hang ten to the safety of the beach. Since September 18, the waves seem to be getting further apart. I count that as a good thing.
Which begs the question: Why does a guy, born, raised and living on the Great Plains in the middle of the country, use surfing analogies?