When a relative in Kansas City called to tell me of a new book he was reading about life in Northeast Kansas, I was thrilled. That was the part of the country where I was born and spent most of my early years.. I didn’t become an Okie until the ripe old age of 15, the time previous, as a Jayhawk. The book was titled, It’s Within, and was written by, Elizabeth (Betty) Thieme, telling of her childhood in a small corner of Kansas. I had to have this book. Who doesn’t like to read and reminisce about the good old days when they were young, before iPhones, HDTV, and, as in my case, even before indoor plumbing? My God, I’m old!
At the back of the book was an e-mail address for ordering and I promptly sent in my request. A reply came soon after.
“I remember you,” Betty wrote. “We were in the same grade school in Willis.”
Keep in mind that the population of Willis was probably never more than a hundred in the most prosperous of times (it was 38 in 2010). There was a general store, a post office, a grain elevator, two school houses, and that was about it. You had to make the five mile drive to the big city of Horton (pop. 1776) if you wanted to eat at a restaurant, buy groceries for the week, or go to a movie (Saturday matinee 15 cents).
But the small world department got even smaller. Betty wrote that her husband had once rented a room in Topeka from a woman she remembered as being my aunt Nellie. Not only did I have an aunt Nellie in Topeka at that time, but the husband’s roommate was related to me, a distant cousin.. It didn’t end there.
When I called the K.C. relative to relate this latest coincidence, he said. “I remember a boy named Thieme. We went to high school together in Goff, Kansas.” The 1990 population of Goff is listed at 156 souls. Not exactly a bustling metropolis but Goff did have a bank, a garage, a restaurant, and a car dealership with at least a half a dozen cars on the lot and maybe a tractor or two. My dad worked at the grain elevator there for a while.
Can you imagine the culture shock when I moved to Tulsa with a high school class that had more people than the entire towns I previously lived in?
Of course Betty and I remembered some of our old classmates, her more than me, and shared a few stories. Both of us, I learned, had placed pennies (when we had them) on the local railroad track and then scrambled to find them after the train mashed them flat.
Humph! And these kids today think that playing games on an X-Box is fun.
Bank at Goff, Kansas