A "K" out of cupcakes.  (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

A “K” out of cupcakes. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Lilies are a bright and happy touch, and they smell so sweet.

Lilies are a bright and happy touch to any celebration, and they smell so sweet.

Each month during the drive from Colorado to visit my mom in southeast Kansas, the first 450 miles are mostly Interstate driving. The next morning, however, when I drive the last 200 miles, by choice I take the back roads. Blue highways are my favorites. I love the open fields, rolling hills, and small Kansas towns with local diners, community centers advertising BINGO, and sometimes only one stop light on the main street.

As I drive, I listen to the radio, switching stations to hear local and national news and talk radio programs. I hear different perspectives during my drive, and last Sunday, January 25th, I learned that on this one day, I also heard a different “fact.”

On one local station, the talk radio host answered a call from a little voice who wanted to sing a song. The caller was only three years old, but she knew all the words to “Happy Birthday.” The ending she sang was “…happy birf-day dear Kan-sass, happy birf-day to you!” The host cheered, thanked her and cut to the weather report.

I switched to a multi-state radio station and heard the warm bass-baritone voice of Bing Crosby singing the last few lines of “Happy Birthday.” The popular singer/actor had died in 1977, and at the end of the song, the radio host said that Bing Crosby had recorded this song in 1961 when Kansas was only 100 years old, so it was worth playing again today, on Kansas’ 154th birthday. What a surprise…it was my home state’s birthday!

By the time I reached Fort Scott, I’d heard Kansas birthday greetings on several radio stations. So when I drove to the grocery store to pick up some of Mom’s favorite foods to tempt her appetite, I also bought her a bouquet of fresh deep-pink lilies and fancy birthday cupcakes with candles. It was Kansas’ birthday, after all, and in our family we’re always up for celebrating birthdays.

The surprise was on me. Kansas’ birthday is not the 25th of January, but the 29th. Three people at Mom’s assisted living informed me as I carried in the flowers and treats.  Later I double and triple checked the date on the internet and in a book of KANSAS HISTORY.  I was four days early in celebrating Kansas’ birthday.

Lesson #1: Don’t trust everything you hear on the radio (or on TV, either, or that you overhear.) As President Ronald Regan said: “Trust, but verify.”

Lesson #2: Never miss an opportunity to celebrate. Anything: birthdays (early or late), anniversaries, a snow day (if you want to go back to sleep), a warm and sunny day (if you want to go for a walk), holding a puppy or a baby or a letter from a friend, hearing good news of any kind…or just celebrating life in general.  Always make the most of an opportunity to celebrate, and if there is no obvious reason, create your own.

“Bleeding Kansas” had a rough start, with battles over being a Free State or a Slave State, and conflicts until the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education ended segregation in schools. The state has also had droughts,tornados, and all kinds of hard times. But look at Kansas now, 154 years old and going strong. The little girl sang it best: “Happy Birf-day, dear Kan-sass.”

Named for the "Kansa" tribe (meaning "people of the wind," Kansas was home to numerous and diverse Native American tribes.

Named for the “Kansa” tribe, meaning “people of the wind,” Kansas has been home to numerous and diverse Native American tribes.

Sign along the road between Topeka and Yates Center.

Sign along the road between Topeka and Yates Center.

Winter Kansas trees just before sunset.

Kansas tree; even in winter, it’s strong and beautiful.


Filed under birthday celebrations, celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Kansas, kindergarten lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for

56 responses to “SURPRISE!

  1. juliabarrett

    What a lovely post! I’d do that drive with you in a heartbeat. Back roads, local radio stations, signs, small towns. Wow. Gives you time to appreciate every moment. Happy birthday, Kansas!
    People in California have no appreciation for the Midwest. How I miss life there!

  2. Field trip! 🙂
    And you would really enjoy the little towns, Julia. Some of the diners have messages on the front window, like “Thelma and Louise Ate Here” (Eldorado, KS), though my guess is it was a local Thelma and Louise.
    Colorado has gorgeous mountains and I’ve lived there more than 2/3 of my life, but after driving along the routes of wide-open fields, farm land and pastures, houses with barns in the back and lakes and ponds scattered between towns, I appreciate the open spaces of Kansas. Didn’t you grow up in the mid-west?

  3. I also would take that drive with you, I love little towns and the open field.
    There is so much imformation today and how do we know what’s right or not. I guess we just have to trust our instincts or like in your case check the facts,

    • This would be so much fun, Gerlinde: all of us taking a field trip on the back roads of Kansas.
      I could point out the little bakery that makes the very best strawberry-rhubarb pie you’ve ever tasted, or in another town, the house with a sign in front yard–Accordion Lessons For Children–and in the summer, if you’re lucky, you can see a line of young kids on the porch playing accordions as an elderly woman leans on a cane with one hand, and with the other hand she directs the children’s playing.
      You find such wonderful “this is life” moments in rural towns! We really should take a field trip! 🙂

      • Marylin, those little towns remind me of my village in Germany and the small towns nearby.

      • I think you’d enjoy a backroad trip through Kansas, Gerlinde. The small towns you grew up with in Germany and the small towns I knew in Kansas probably have some of the same kinds of good, down-to-earth people, children playing hopscotch and having lemonade stands, and charming shops and diners. It’s a very nice change of pace and gives you time to relax and think.

  4. I’d like to think that your Mom enjoyed the celebrations and a cake after you’d gone to that trouble. Strange that so many radio stations got it wrong though in fairness, they were in perfect timing for you to do something.
    The drive sounds fascinating. I can’t imagine the openness of Kansas, probably my whole country would fit in there.
    xxx Massive Hugs Dear Marylin xxx

    • Unfortunately, David, she’s not eating very much at this point, but she did enjoy the bouquet of lilies. And during this visit, she was most interested in having me read to her from POEMS AND PRAYERS. This time, I read the entire book to her three times one night, with several poems and one prayers being asked for again and again.
      Massive hugs to you, too, David.

  5. I love the back roads, or alternative routes. They make a long journey so much easier. Now, here’s the funny bit. I knew it was Kansas’ birthday (though not the number of years) because it is written on the calendar which was sent to me from the Kula Eco Park in Fiji. News travels!

  6. A bit earl? Yes, but none the less perfect timing for you to have some special celebrations. And what an idyllic drive through the back roads! I am glad you can take your time to enjoy this. 🙂

    • The slower-paced drive really does help me relax on my way to Fort Scott to visit my mother, plus it reminds me of so many scenes I loved in Kanas as I was growing up. And you’re right; the wrong date was actually perfect timing for me to have a special celebration!

  7. Claudia

    Loved reading this despite the fact it is 4 am and I’m wide awake! I love the small towns too although they get smaller all the time. So much quiet history on their streets. Kansas Day still moves me. I loved Kansas history in 4th grade and remember still the program we did for PTA ! Remember learning about the Jayhawk?

    • They are getting smaller, Claudia, and there are fewer jobs and more empty buildings on the main streets. That part is sad; for many of these towns, I remember them during better times, with lots of people out and about, enjoying the shops and cafes. I DO remember learning about the Jayhawk, and also about more than a dozen Indian tribes around the state. At Kansas’ 100-year birthday, my mother made me a long pioneer dress and bonnet–and other mothers of girls in my class did the same–and we were in a play at the old fort in Fort Scott. So many memories.

  8. Thank you, Marylin, for sharing this lovely story. I very much enjoyed the ride.

  9. I’ve never been to Kansas, Marylin, but it looks like a beautiful state. Happy Belated Birthday, Kansas!

    • You’re very welcome, Francina. I’m glad your enjoyed the ride through the little Kansas towns with me.

    • Oh, no, Jill ~ you’ve never been to Kansas? How can that be? 😉 I’ll give you a hint: it’s not exactly like the movie THE WIZARD OF OZ, though the state does have plenty of tornados.
      The state has wide open spaces, wooded areas, and rolling hills…and as my dad used to say, “Every town has something wonderful, something that makes it’s residents proud. All you have to do is listen to the locals.”

  10. Marylin, I must admit. Kansas is a state I’ve never been to. Hopefully I will have a chance to go someday.
    I love the opportunity to celebrate something (of course!) and so the lillies and the cupcakes are right up my alley. What a great thing to do. ❤
    Blessings to you and your mom, Joanne

    • Thank you, Joanne. Though the flowers impressed her more than the cupcakes and I don’t think she fully realized why I was singing “Happy Birthday,” it was still a celebration. I’ve found that making plans for my mom is similar to making plans for my grandchildren ~ they’re always up for a party! 🙂

  11. Lovely story about your journey of love.
    I hope your Mum enjoyed the birtjday party and some cupcake.

  12. I would never have known the age of Kansas! The last segment of your drive sounds just like the area of Illinois I grew up in – a small sleepy town that today still has only one stop stop light. No matter the accuracy of the date, I bet Mary was delighted with the flowers and cupcakes. I very much enjoyed your post today Marylin! Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Those of us from Illinois, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri share some of the same memories of small towns, I think. Unfortunately, Robyn, many of the charming little towns are fading away because there’s not enough employment to keep the town going.
      So as I drive to visit my mom, I make the most of my memories of the both the little towns before the down turn, and the woman before her dementia.

  13. A good celebration is always timely. We celebrated daughter number 2’s birthday tonight even though it is on Feb 8th. We will be 6,000 miles away. No interstate ! Why not celebrate? So much history in Kansas. Happy birthday K.

    • Our daughter has found ways to celebrate her birthday during the entire month instead of just the actual day, Andrew. So I agree–and so would she–that a good celebration is always timely.
      Kansas really is rich with history, so it deserves a birthday party…even on the wrong day. 🙂

  14. I love ‘riding along with you to your Mom’s, Marylin. This is a very spiritual post, with images gracing your thoughts. Thanks for the uplifting messages and I shall be ‘on the road’ next week. My parents’ #60 anniversary will be on Thurs. so I may leave Thurs. after work. The radio and sights in your post were more interesting than my straight highway drive. I used to visit my Mom, up until 3 years ago, going up a small 2 lane road towards the lake, those little towns captured my interest, too! Have a wonderful visit, this weekend and when you go next time.

  15. Dear road scholar, early or late – it’s always time to celebrate.

    In particular, I like the Kansas farmer sign. 😉

  16. Well Happy Birthday to Kansas – three days late (lol)! What lovely photographs, the last is a real stunner Marilyn!

  17. “Trust everyone but cut the cards,” said Finley Peter Dunne, an American humorist and writer.

    But, hey, it’s cake. It’s all good. Marilyn, it had to be serendipity though that so many were wishing Kansas a Happy Birthday. I also enjoy the scenic route except when I have to get to work. That Kansas farmer’s message is on point and funny. 😉

    • Thanks, Judy, it is all good, and cake is always “on time.” When I was researching the actual date of Kansas’ birthday, I also found the updated numbers for the Kansas farmer’s message: it’s now “1 Kansas Farmer Feeds 153 People And YOU!” 🙂

  18. I love taking the back roads. Often quieter, you can spot so many beautiful things that you just don’t see on a motorway. Like your lovely tree, Marylin.
    I love it that Kansas has a birf-day!

    • I loved hearing the enthusiastic little girl singing Happy “birf-day” to Kan-sass, Jenny. It was so genuine and happy. And I had to include the tree in this post, too. It was too strong and rich in color, even in winter, to leave out.

  19. Absolutely! Never miss a chance to celebrate. Life is to be celebrated!

  20. Jim

    Well, you have inspired me (a Coloradoan) to celebrate Kansas on your blog, Marylin. Kansas is not only the geographical center of the contiguous 48 states, but one might argue that the state is also the ‘soul-center’ for the basic American values of family, hard work, and service to others. For example, I will always remember Gov. Sibelius’ statement on CNN news after the disastrous tornado in Chapman in 2008. When the reporter asked how the little town was doing, the governor answered that within one hour of the disaster there had been 360 first responders and their equipment on site in the middle of night from other towns all around. “Unfortunately, we get a lot of practice in Kansas,” she added. We also know that for weeks afterwards, folks from near and far (often with children) came to spend their weekends in Chapman. They volunteered to help with clean-up in any way they could.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, good people of Kansas!

    • And that birthday greeting comes from a 3rd-generation native of Colorado, which makes the sweet comments about Kansas being a “soul-center”! You’ve always been appreciative of the people in Kansas, honey, and not just our family members who still live there. And you’re also the first to cheer all the little league baseball players, soccer and football and basketball elementary children giving their all to learning sports.

  21. Hi Marilyn, WordPress gave me an error when I tried posting my comment. Keeping my fingers crossed here that this one goes through.Let me recapture my thoughts:)
    I’ve never been to Kansas – your description sounds very inviting. I’m sure your early celebration with the scrumptious cupcakes and fragrant lilies was wonderful.
    Have a great week!

    • This one came through just fine, Elaine. Since Kansas is almost the center of the United States, I’m amazed that everyone hasn’t had to at least drive across a corner of it. 😉
      It’s charm and interesting small towns aren’t probably much different than the small towns anywhere else, but it’s the state where I grew up and still the home state of my mother, as well as my daughter and grandchildren, so that makes it extra special for me.
      Wishing you a great week, too, Elaine, with plenty of reasons to celebrate with flowers and cupcakes.!

  22. This post strikes me as so ‘you’, Marylin – that spontaneous transformation of a ‘fact’ heard on the radio into a celebration. And who cares if the date was slightly wrong, it’s the thought that counts 🙂

    • Thank you, Andrea. I have to admit that I’ve gotten enough “facts” for birthdays, anniversaries and other special days wrong, so everyone in our family knows that I’ll err on the side of having a celebrations anyway.

  23. So true about the press that Marylin! But you know how to make every day into a celebration and that is what is so wonderful about you. You know how to bring out the good and the beauty of every moment, no matter what the date 🙂 Happy Belated Birthday to Kansas…bet your dear mom enjoyed her cupcakes and beautiful flowers 🙂

    • Aw, thank you, Sherri. Always with our daughter (and now our grandchildren) and now with my mom (who thinks she’s a young girls back on the farm…) ANY reason for flowers and cupcakes and a happy celebration is a good enough reason. 🙂

  24. jakesprinter

    What a lovely tribute for Kansas Marylin and I love your inspiring message again my my friend 🙂

  25. Kansas almost shares a birthday with me! Off by 2 days!

    I celebrated mine all month, so by my book, you were right on time. I agree, m’dear — never miss an opportunity to celebrate!

  26. My! That is some distance that you travel each month to visit your mother.
    How long does the drive take you? (I too travel quite some distance to visit my mother. However, I fly there.)

  27. Hi Marylin, birthday or not, I’m sure your mom loved the flowers. And I know if I heard the 3-year-old sing “Happy Birf-day”, it would make me smile.

  28. Hey there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook
    group? There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content.
    Please let me know. Cheers

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