Remember the rides we used to take, Mom? I’d arrive from Colorado and you and I would “go drivin’” somewhere. We’d go south, almost to Pittsburg, turn and go east to eat at Chicken Annie’s, and then carry home the leftovers. You said if we got lost, we wouldn’t starve.
Another favorite drive was east to Nevada, Missouri, to visit the beautiful red brick and white trimmed buildings on the campus of Cottey College. We’d have tea and talk about the projects of our PEO chapters that contributed to many of Cottey’s programs.
On other drives we visited local nurseries, and you walked among the rows of flowers and plants, identifying most of them by name. One day, as we returned via back roads after an outing, you pointed toward a grove of pecan trees and reminded me of the times we carried sack lunches and went pecan gathering with friends.
That was years ago. Now, if we take a ride, we stay in Ft. Scott. A few months ago, when the weather was nice, we drove by Ft. Scott Community College. You remembered when the college was much smaller, and for awhile your writing group met in the lobby of one of the dorms. Later, we took our usual drive to the cemetery, stopping by Dad’s gravesite and headstone. When we drove away, just around the bend was a large polished marker, and you asked if we knew who was buried there.
I reminded you that it was not a grave, but a life marker for Gordon Parks, author of THE LEARNING TREE, the book (and movie) based on his life growing up in Ft. Scott. As I read aloud his message of “Homecoming,” you listened. Then you surprised me by remembering our drive around the community college, saying, “Didn’t we see something else about him?”
As I reminded you of our drive that day, I realized the many connections. The message in the marker was connected to the art and writing and photography on display at the Gordon Parks Center for Culture and Diversity, which showed how his influence connected with people and places well beyond his Kansas roots. Parks inspired many people all over the world, including CNNs Anderson Cooper, who called Parks his hero, the man responsible for his spark about reporting. You smiled when I told you that, asking if that Cooper was related to our neighbors. I said I didn’t think so, but you did know the executive director of the Gordon Parks Center,Jill Warford, the daughter of your dear friend from church, Beth Warford Robinson. And the Gordon Parks Center is housed in the Danny and Willa Ellis Fine Arts Center, and Danny and Willa were close friends with you and Dad. Their daughter, my friend in junior high and high school, died in 1997 of breast cancer, and in her memory the Kathy Ellis Academic Hall was built.
Mom, you always said that our lives connect with everyone else’s lives, so what we did…or didn’t do, made a difference. Like throwing rocks in a pond, we had to be careful of how hard and where we threw them, because they wouldn’t just sink to the bottom. They made ripples, which made more ripples…
Thanks, Mom, for leaving a lifetime of ripples that make the world a better place.