I spent my first twelve years in small towns and in the country. My parents were "Central"... the telephone operators in whatever community in north Missouri or southern Iowa in which we happened to land. But around 1954, modern telephone service came on the scene, and put my parents out of a job. We moved onto a farm where my dad became the "hired hand", and my mom found work, first as a cook and waitress in a truck stop on 69 Highway (the last place to eat before you hit the Iowa line) and then at a grocery/dry goods store. We must have been really scraping the bottom, but I was deliriously happy: I was living on a farm! There were kittens in the barn, and wild strawberries in the roadside ditches, and blackberries at the edges of the fields. And I had the run of the place!
I assume our finances were in rough shape, because after a year or so of this life, we moved to Kansas City... or more specifically, to Harlem. Daddy took a factory job at a paper box plant and Mother went to work at a place where they made light fixtures. I was devastated, and so homesick for the country that I'd cry at night as I lay on the couch that served as my bed in the living room.
There were some redeeming features of our city life though: for one thing, we had running water in our three-bedroom apartment. That was a first for us. And there was an inside toilet! Oh, we had to share it with three other families, but it sure beat going to a stinking outhouse. The apartment was very near the old Municipal Airport... and right near the Missouri River levee. My cousins (they lived in the other pitifully small apartments in our building) and I would play on the levee, and even go right to the river's edge. I don't know why, but I loved that river. The ASB Bridge was right there, and had stairs you could climb all the way up onto the bridge, to a sidewalk where pedestrians could cross to downtown Kansas City and the city market, if they had a mind to. Under that bridge, we'd find evidence of hobo fires, and the whiskey bottles and sardine cans where they dined. Sometimes they'd venture across the levee and beg at our door. If Mother was home, she'd give them a sandwich and a glass of milk. If I was home alone, I didn't answer the door.
The Missouri River, especially at that time, was pretty nasty: You'd see all kinds of interesting things floating by that I won't describe... just let me say that untreated sewage went directly into it. Examining floating things in the river was a pastime in itself.
Gradually I got over my homesickness for the farm; I had no choice, and kids adapt. Who would have known I'd end up marrying a city boy who shared my dream of having a few acres and some farm animals. Since the fall of 1967 when we left the suburbs with our baby, we've never considered going back to town to live.
We started with twenty acres not far from here, and, after a couple of moves, ended here... near the Missouri River. Every time I ride my horse in the bottoms where I can see the river, I feel like I've come home. I still love it.
You've heard people say how they love being near the ocean; that's how I feel about the Big Muddy. Even if we're traveling somewhere, if there's a bridge across the Missouri River, I have the strongest urge to have Cliff stop the car and let me look at it more closely. It's a feeling of belonging, almost as though fate intended for me to be here all along. Here's my river as it looked this afternoon:
Just call me a river rat.