This column ran Tuesday, August 1, in the Manhattan Mercury.
I spotted him first. Dude, ‘bout my age. Walking down the aisle at Dodger Stadium. Lower level. First base side. Wearing a purple K-State baseball cap.
Got his attention, smiled broadly, intoned “Every Man a Wildcat.” He looked at me as though I was six kinds of idiot and proceeded, undaunted, though likely a bit perplexed, toward his seats. In pointing him out to my wife, the end game was a foregone conclusion. At some point in the evening, we’d eventually chat him up.
This is a woman who once gave a speech entitled, “Purple is more than just a color.” She holds the unique distinction of having her name affixed to a bronze plaque on the wall of Hale Library, but also carved into the wall of Aggie Lou. Both, when she was a student here when nature took its course and the seeds of her emotional ownership were planted.
I’m not a K-Stater, but was born here when my father was earning an agronomy degree in the Bob Boozer era. Pop taught me Every Man a Wildcat and its natural derivative, Every Cat a Wild Man. My wife’s family’s purple pedigree is pure. At 91, my mother-in-law still makes it to every home football game, from her home in Crawford County.
Ours was a west coast vacation built around rock and roll. Six classic rock groups over two nights. The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan and the Eagles on Saturday. Earth, Wind & Fire, Journey and Fleetwood Mac on Sunday. The music of my coming of age, six of our favorites and a chance, likely one last chance, to see them in person. To revel, float back in time and allow the memories to wash over us.
Christie McVie just celebrated her 74th birthday. Journey’s Jonathan Cain is 67. We’ve already lost two front men: Glenn Frey of the Eagles and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. As much as I may want them to, rock stars don’t live forever. We went to L.A. to appreciate them while they’re still with us.
In the time between the Steely Dan encore (Kid Charlemagne) and the Eagles taking the stage, we get the guy in the K-State ballcap’s story. Seems his son will start here in the fall, studying park management. This is a family with roots in southern California, zero connection to Kansas. They didn’t know us from Slippery Rock when they were college shopping, but when they gave K-State the in-person, on-campus sniff test, they were sold.
We may take for granted the underlying reasons the man stated for their choice: Genuinely friendly and caring people. A personal connection with those on campus with whom they dealt. A feeling of family.
We’re at the age where our friends’ children are now enrolling at K-State. Invariably, sometime during the move-in or early in their freshman fall semester, I’ll give the kid my card with the admonishment, “Here’s the number to call when you can’t call Mom and Dad.”
Every Cat a Wild Man.
It’s one thing I can do for my friends, and maybe amplify some resonance to the family vibe.
Our society is so global and mobile that an L.A. kid coming to college at K-State is not a big deal and hasn’t been since Jon Wefald was giving his Truman-Goldwater-Marshall-Rhodes scholarship winner’s pitch.
Generally, there’s some tangible connection that brings students here. The park management major got us on their radar screen, but this family’s coming here was an ice-cold call. When the freshman son goes home to L.A. for the holidays, he’ll have a conversation with his old man, and share the sentiment behind Every Man a Wildcat.
The whole experience filled us with warm fuzzies about K-State and this community we call home. An opportunity to appreciate the fact that what we have here is special, not to take it for granted, and to value it the way we hope our new friends from L.A. do.
It gave us a sense of some personal ownership in the concept of ‘family.’ My feelings about Manhattan, Kansas are stronger than ever. It’s becoming more and more apparent that I can check out any time I like, but I can never leave.
Mike Matson was born in Manhattan, raised in Rooks County and Wichita. He’s been back home in Manhattan since 1998. His column will appear in The Mercury twice each month. Follow his blog at mikematson.com