June 20, Memorial Day Weekend

As Margie promised in her last report ("Palo Duro, Oklahoma, Kansas to Seattle"), here is my report on our Kansas Memorial Day weekend.

The weekend started Friday evening when we met Roxanne and Randy (who'd flown into Kansas City, MO, and rented a car) in Thayer around 6:30 PM. There were about two hours of light left, so first we went by the house in Thayer where Dad and Lucile's parents, Lloyd and Margaret, had lived in the 1940s. As before, we noted that the porch we remembered from 1953 had been closed in and that the tree in the front yard beside which Mom (in 1939 or 1940? and many years later, Roxie) had been photographed was now much larger. The house looked in good shape and was obviously still occupied, which we were happy to see. From the house we drove a mile or so south to the Thayer cemetery to visit the graves of Lloyd (1953) and Margaret (1949), where photos were duly taken.

Next, Roxanne and Randy (in their rental car) and Margie and I (in our motor home) headed south for Morehead to see the farm house where Dad was born in 1918. We approached the house from opposite sides (we'd been unwilling to take our motor home on the gravel road Randy and Roxie took), and pulled off the road where we could get through a barbed wire gate and park. After tramping a couple of hundred feet through tall grass--which we were sure was full of ticks--we came to where the farm house should be--but found nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but certainly not the farm house we'd visited many times (with and without Dad present) over the years. Instead, we found a large clump of brush and downed trees that was essentially impenetrable, especially in the dying light. Thinking that perhaps we were at the wrong location we went back to our vehicles and wandered around a few of the nearby roads (all on EW or NS section lines), eventually returning to the same spot. This time Randy and Roxie took their rental car onto a small access road (which we'd not seen on earlier visits) and were exploring the brush pile when a farmer drove up on his tractor to check them out. When Roxanne explained what they were doing, the farmer immediately understood and expressed regret that in the past year (or so) they had burned and then bulldozed the old farm house and adjacent trees, pushing the pile aside so that they could plant crops (usually corn) on the old homestead. We were all saddened to learn of this, but appreciated why the farm house (long abandoned) could not stand forever. Gone, too, was the root/storm cellar which Lloyd had built and on which he'd scratched "LER 1914" in the concrete above the door sill. I recall Lucile telling me some years ago how she watched her father doing that, realizing both that she shared his initials and that 1914 represented a date five years after her birth year. It was, as she told me, the beginning of her number sense.

Richardson home in Thayer, Kansas

Roxanne on farm northeast of Morehead, Kansas

In the last of the light we drove through what little remains of the actual town of Morehead (one mile south and two miles west of where the old farm house had stood) to check out other places the Richardson family (Lloyd, Margaret, Rollo George, Lucile and Ralph) had lived at various times, and then went down to Independence so that Roxanne and Randy could stay in a motel while Margie and I stayed in our motor home in the motel parking lot. That evening Roxanne and Randy joined us in the motor home for a viewing of a VHS tape Roxanne had made of her 1990 Memorial Day weekend trip to Kansas that featured Dad and Lucile (among others). It was nice to see those two so "young" and healthy again, and to get a refresher course on some of the Porter stories we would hear later in the weekend in Council Grove. The next day we caravaned west to the Moline area, from which Lloyd and Margaret had moved shortly after marrying. (This, we understand, so as to put three counties between themselves and the rest of the Richardsons. We note that by the time Uncle Gene and Aunt Dorothy married, the requisite distance was three states. We assume that this had more to do with improved transportation than the relative merits of the Richardson and Porter clans.) There we visited the Ames Chapel cemetery where we saw the graves of Emily and George W. (for Washington) Richardson, parents of Lloyd, and a stone inscribed "DAUGHTER OF L.E. & M. RICHARDSON, BORN AUG. 7, 1907, DIED AUG. 10, 1907," a child born (and died) between Rollo George and Lucile. This death, and others of the same and next generation, reminded the four of us how fortunate our generation has been in having improved medical care so that we've not had to bury any of our children.

Ames Chapel headstone

Moline Cemetery headstone

From Ames Chapel we drove into Moline where (for the cost of a couple of non-winning raffle tickets) we learned where the local cemetery was located. There we found the oldest known Richardson grave, that of one Barney Richardson, who had been born in Virginia (we think) in 1818 (we hope). The story I recall from Dad and Lucile is that Barney had to leave Virginia due to a dispute over the ownership of a horse (details lacking). His birth year is significant because it marks the (known) start of a 30/30/40 year cycle, including 1818 (Barney), 1848 (Geo. W.), 1878 (Lloyd), 1918 (Ralph), 1948 (Randy) and 1978 (Aaron) in which male Richardsons have been born. Of course, this should in no way be construed as putting any pressure on Aaron to produce a male heir in 2018 (smile). We hope Barney was born in 1818 because what his stone actually notes is that he "DIED APR. 16, 1883, IN THE 66TH YEAR OF HIS AGE." I hesitate to point out that, depending on the meaning of the "year of his age," Barney could have been born in 1817 rather than 1818.

Upon leaving Moline we headed for Wichita, stopping enroute for lunch (from the motor home's kitchen) next to a road cut in which Randy assured us many interesting fossils (and perhaps an arrowhead, if we were lucky) could be found. Lots of neat fossils were rescued from oblivion, but no arrowheads. (I should note, especially for Eric's benefit, that on the run from Independence to Moline we did manage to save a turtle from imminent death by removing him/her from the middle of the road. Box turtles are often found hunkered down in the middle of rural Kansas roads, apparently believing themselves invulnerable. Such behavior may work with predators, but it's a lousy survival mechanism when it comes to cars.) In Wichita, at the Highland cemetery, we visited the graves of Lucile (2003) and Orin Tyree (1954), plus that of their infant daughter, born and died in 1940. From Wichita we made a beeline for Council Grove so that we could join the Porter clan for the rest of the holiday weekend, arriving about 6 PM Saturday. That evening in Council Grove was fairly low key, at the end of which Margie and I took the rental car out to our motor home at a Corps of Engineers campground on Council Grove Lake while Randy and Roxanne stayed in the Cottage House.

Road cut fossils

Randy saves turtle from certain death

Wichita gravesite of Aunt Lucile
The Richardson/Porter family rendezvous got started in earnest on Sunday morning when we all gathered out at the Greenwood Cemetery for the traditional walk-through. This year, following Walter's death last July, Gene was the official "patriarch" of the clan, and shared story telling duties with cousins Richard and Jane. Also present were Gene's wife Dorothy, their daughter Ann, and her daughter Nicole, Jane's husband Barry, and their two sons, John and Mark (with their significant others, Caron and Kami, respectively), and Richard's wife Sarah. With the four Richardsons that made 16 in the assembled clan, down from past years but still a respectable number. As is normal, with much help from Jane and Richard, we planted flowers at the many family grave sites, and tried to recall the stories that went with many of them, such as why the Porter men tend to baldness (scalping of an early forebearer by an Indian) and why they are not Catholics (refusal of a priest to give last rites to another forebearer who might have died of his own hand).

The Clan

Planting flowers

Richard tells family story

Richardson headstone

Following the Greenwood walk-through, we all assembled at the Hayes House restaurant for the traditional dinner (or lunch, as the non-Midwesterners would say). There we were joined by Helen and Willis Huston, their son Steve, Walter's widow Maxine and some of their Topeka friends, plus a few others I'm no doubt forgetting. Richard continued the tradition, begun by his father Walter, of hosting the meal, and started things off by asking that each person stand and briefly introduce themselves, with emphasis on familial ties. As always, the meal was superb and the company entertaining and delightful. We thank Richard for his generosity, and Jane, too, for all her efforts in setting things up.

Cottage House porch
From the Hayes House we all trouped back to the porch of the Cottage House for some more visiting and story telling before heading en masse down to the Flint Hills Z Bar Ranch and the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve. There we toured an 1881 farm home (and massive barn) and a nearby one-room schoolhouse (much like Mom/Mary Lou taught at in her youth). Margie and I picked up a brochure of Kansas birds to help us in our identifications, as well as a couple of T-shirts to commemorate the National Preserve. Jane and her crew departed for their homes while the rest of us went on to Parkerville, where the A.G. and Emma Porter family had lived in the 1920s and 30s. Here we saw the bank that A.G. had run until forced to close it due to the Great Depression (around 1933?), and the lot (the house has twice burned down) where Gene lived with his siblings, Lowell, Walter and Mary Lou. Gene was able to tell us many interesting stories of life in that small rural community, including the time his brother Lowell, hearing of its imminent closing, rushed to the bank to recover a penny he'd hidden in a crack in the stone steps. Also mentioned was how the family had the first flush toilet in town, which was cause for the whole high school science class to come by to study it. Theirs was also one of the few houses with electricity, DC power provided by a bank of batteries in what Gene called a "Delco plant." Returning from Parkerville, the remaining family retired to the Pizza Hut for dinner (hosted, as per tradition, by Gene), followed by dessert at the adjacent Dairy Queen.

"The Patriarch" next to a manure spreader

Parkerville Bank

On Monday morning we got to do some more Cottage House porch visiting with Gene and his clan before they left for the drive back to Minnesota, and some final time with Roxanne and Randy before they drove back to Kansas City for their flights home to Seattle and Tucson. All in all, it was a wonderful and meaningful Memorial Day weekend in Kansas, which we hope to repeat in years to come (if not in 2006).

Let me add in closing that on our way out of Council Grove we stopped to talk with a local historian by the name of Ken McClintock, who consulted with his even more knowledgeable aunt Bonnie (of the Morris County Historical Society), who declared positively that in September of 1944 the Loomis Nursing Home was located in what is now known as the Strieby House, at 406 Hockaday Street. Here it was at 4 PM on Friday the 29th of that month that I became the firstborn child of Ralph E. Richardson and Mary Louise Porter, under the careful supervision of one Dr. C. C. Kerr. At least that's what it says on my birth certificate, duly issued by Morris County.

Former Loomis Nursing Home?
Love to all,
Riley & Margie

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