Two weeks ago my husband and I spent a day in central Kansas. We were there for a school-related meeting but stole a few hours to visit my old haunts.
I grew up in McPherson County but chose to set Growing Toward the Sun in nearby Reno County. The descriptions of book places, though, come from all over my small childhood world.
We drove through my tidy hometown, past the rest home where Grandma worked, past the hardware store, the library, and the former grocery store. The gas station isn't one anymore. My childhood best friend's house is still there and Elm Street, where Grandpa and Grandma lived, is as shady and pretty as I remembered.
In Newton, I was sad to find a large empty parking lot where the old Alco store (Kmart in my book!) once stood. The Taco Tico is still there, though, the place I turned into a burger joint for one of the first scenes in my book. I'll bet one could still keep a sharp eye on the parking lot from the booth where I sat as a kid.
Later, we toured a place I've had on my list for years: the Kauffman Museum, specifically the permanent exhibit called "Of Land and People," which tells the story of my people, the Mennonites who immigrated from Russia to the Great Plains in the 1800s. Many familiar family names mark the exhibits and I wondered if an ancestor brought that worn leather coin purse across the Atlantic, if a distant relative wore that battered fur hat.
The workshop and tools reminded me of Great Grandpa, the cute front porch replica of Great Grandma. If I could get my hands on a one of those wooden chests, or better still, a handmade wardrobe or bench...
The museum is small but worth the visit. Don't forget to take the path through the trees to explore the Voth-Unruh-Fast house and the Ratzlaff barn. (Yes, it smells like Great Grandpa's.)
It's good to re-examine one's roots. I hope to write a book about those roots someday.