Monday, September 7, 2009

To the Land of Oz and Back Again

Ha ha ha
Ho ho ho
And a couple of tra la las
That's how we laugh the day away
In the merry old land of Oz
Maybe we didn't laugh the entire day away, but we did enjoy our time in the merry old land of Oz (aka rural Kansas). But there is something so authentic about rural America that makes this trip rate as one of my top journeys.
Every two years, on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, my mother's side of the family hosts a family reunion at the Rolling Prairie Senior Citizens Center in White City, Kansas. White City is somewhere south of Junction City. You take Skiddy Road due south, complete a bunch of loop-de-loops and, with any luck, wind up on MacKenzie St. (aka The Main Drag). Along the way, you encounter roadside dwellings that make you start humming the tune from the movie, "Deliverance." You know the one. You also pass dwellings that prompt your husband to utter, "I think the Texas Chainsaw Massacre guy lives there." As you continue driving, keeping your fingers and toes crossed that you are headed the right way, you find it necessary to concoct an exit strategy in case the car breaks down. Ours was to strap the peeps in their strollers and run as fast as we could the rest of the way to White City. The only assurances that you are indeed headed in the right direction are the randomly placed signs with "White City" and directional arrows. We made it to the reunion, and I had a great time catching up with aunts, uncles, and cousins and showing off my peeps.
Wamego, KS. We could have made it to White City and back home in one day, but Mark and I decided to create a mini-vacation and we left Saturday morning for Abilene, Kansas. As we drove west on I-70, we started noticing signs for the Oz Winery, located just off the interstate in Wamego, Kansas. The peeps are very much into "The Wizard of Oz" right now, and Mark and I are very much into wine, so a side trip was in order. Apparently, Wamego is considered by some to be the "Oz Capital of the World." Who knew? In addition to the winery (we picked up a bottle of "Run Toto Run") there is an Oz Museum that boasts an extensive collection of movie memorabilia. The chance to stretch our legs did everyone some good, and we hopped back into the car and headed farther west.
Abilene, KS. Abilene is my mother's hometown and it holds specific childhood memories for me, even though the time I spent there as a girl was limited. Abilene was, and in some ways, still is, a true cowboy town. It represents the end of the Chisholm Trail and once had Wild Bill Hickock as its sheriff. The school mascots are the Cowboys and Cowgirls. President Eisenhower was from Abilene, and the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum is located there. As a young girl, I marveled at Old Abilene Town, a tourist attraction that offered Old West gun fights, Can Can girls dancing in a saloon, and authentic buildings from the 1800s that begged for exploration. Old Abilene Town still exists, though it's a shell of what I remember as a kid. We missed the Can Can girls, and the peeps didn't care for the crack of gunfire. But they did enjoy the C.W. Parker Carousel, a national landmark that features 24 hand-carved horses. The girls had the carousel all to themselves. Ruthie rode a black horse called "Dino Thunder." A Wurlitzer provided carnival music for their ride. The girls also enjoyed their time at Eisenhower Park. Before heading to White City Sunday morning, we stopped in at the Russell Stover Factory and Outlet store where we dropped $37 on discounted chocolate. My husband kept reminding me how much the actual cost of the chocolate would have been had we purchased it at full retail price.
Now that we're back, I can wax nostalgic about how perfect the trip was. But like most things in life, the trip was far from perfect. Meltdowns and squabbles - from adults and toddlers alike - are standard fare for any road trip taken in close quarters. The web site we relied upon for information was out of date, forcing us to move to Plan B, and sometimes Plan C more often that we would have liked. The spacious hotel room became a bit claustrophobic after the first hour. We were all happy to sleep in our beds last night.
Dorothy was right ... "There's no place like home."

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