Saturday, October 16, 2010

I'm Not in Kansas Anymore

WAMEGO, KANSAS — It seemed fitting on my final weekend to live in Kansas to attend a stage performance of “The Wizard of Oz” in the historic and exquisitely restored Columbian Theatre, in downtown Wamego. The Columbian’s auditorium is festooned with six huge paintings from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which banker J.C. Rogers bought when the fair ended and hauled to Wamego to decorate his new music hall.

This Mayberry-like town about 14 miles northeast of Manhattan has ably profited from J. Frank Baum’s creation — with the Oz Museum, Oz Winery and even Toto’s Tacos — not to mention the recently concluded OztoberFest. I wanted to say a silent goodbye to this place, since I’ve been publisher of the weekly Wamego Smoke Signal as part of my job description — an easy gig since the paper has an able editor.

An additional incentive: Someone had told me the Wicked Witch of the West actually flies across the stage. Actually, there were several flying characters, from Glinda the Good Witch, those infamous Flying Monkeys and even Dorothy Gale. A company called D2 Flying Effects, based out of Johnson City, Tenn., was in charge of rigging cables to actors and actresses up in the air and sending them floating across the stage smoothly and safely. The grumpy Miss Gulch even floated across riding a bicycle. Hey, I was impressed. It looked like fun.

Area children of varying sizes, in this all-volunteer production, portrayed the Munchkins and Winkie Guards. The main cast members appeared to be college-age students. A well-behaved Yorkshire terrier named Rupert — though two dogs appeared at the curtain call — played Toto, according to the program. Maybe the other dog was an understudy. Before the show started, we sang “Happy Birthday” to two patrons with 10/10/2010 birthdays. Little kids comprised a goodly portion of the audience, unsurprisingly. It was a happy afternoon as clouds gathered outside, and it threatened to rain.

I sat on the third row, taking occasional notes, reflecting on the strange turn of events that brought me to Kansas in the first place, and the equally unexpected change of fortune that is propelling me back home to Texas. A change in ownership at the newspaper company for whom I worked for more than 20 years in East Texas meant I was out of a job earlier this year. I found the ad for this job running a family owned newspaper and soon came to an agreement with its owner. Our relationship has been wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer boss or a better group of folks to work with here at the paper. But the transition from Texas to Kansas, leaving a fiancée and her daughter, my grown children, Mom, siblings, etc., behind has been wrenching.

So, like Dorothy — only in reverse since I’m in Kansas while she was in Oz — I concluded that this isn’t home. I’ve tried hard to make it feel like home, but it hasn’t worked. I’m too used to living in Texas. That state has plenty of flaws, but I’m used to its idiosyncrasies. When the chance fell into my lap to run a newspaper in the Austin area — well, you have to listen to that sort of answered prayer. It’s where my oldest daughter teaches school, my middle brother lives, where we’re about to move our mom, and where most of my friends from high school and college long ago settled.

When Dorothy laments, “I’ll never see Kansas again as long as I live,” toward the end of the play, I thought about the long nights I’ve spent wondering how long I could live this split life, flying back to Texas every other weekend to see my family, loved ones and friends. The Flint Hills is a beautiful piece of country, with good people, but it’s been a lonesome existence for this Texas expatriate.

So it’s goodbye after just five months. I am confident that my successor will be able to build upon the work that this paper’s fine crew and I have done in my short time here to make this newspaper better.

As Dorothy says at the close of the play, “There’s no place like home.” It is time for me to go home.

Originally published in the Junction City (Kansas) Daily Union on October 16, 2010.

A postcript: As I pulled out of Junction City Friday morning with a utility trailer filled with yard implements and other items the mover wouldn’t take, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,” performed by the late Hawaiian singer and ukulele player Israel Kamakawiwoʻole came on the satellite radio. Talk about providential.

Note to readers: I start in a few days as publisher of the Hill Country News in Cedar Park, in the Austin metroplex. I’ll continue to post this column here each weekend. Thanks for dropping by.


  1. Well, how 'bout that? Welcome back to Texas.

    I'm sure you left behind a piece of yourself there in J.C. I lived in Indiana and Illinois for about a year and a half back in '78 and '79 and I still have fond memories of those places.

    Ihat being said, there's no place like Texas. Too bad you won't be able to vote in this year's election...

    Jay, still in Lufkin

  2. Gosh, what fantastic news! Welcome home Gary.

  3. Congratulations! I always thought Austin was the place for you. Just as long as I can continue to read your column....

    Louise Combest
    Longview, TX

  4. Actually, Jay, I got registered in time since I leased a house here on Oct. 1. Downloaded the application and sent it by registered mail. And thanks to all of you for welcoming me back to Texas.

  5. Glad to have you back, Dad. I've always known your heart belongs in Austin. Looking forward to seeing you this weekend.