Wyatt Earp statue, downtown Dodge City. Mary Spurgeon, sculptor
If Tracy and I had grown up in the same town during the same time period, I’ll bet we would have been childhood friends.
A few weeks ago, I traveled with Tracy Simmons to her hometown of Dodge City for an overnight visit. She gave me the native’s tour of the town and of her rural neighborhood.
Many of you may know Tracy; she’s the manager of the Emporia Farmers Market. She’s also a writer – and it was on the level of writing that she and I first connected.
It doesn’t seem possible, but I’ve known Tracy for about eight years now. Because we both blogged about life in Kansas, I became acquainted with her online before she and her family moved from Topeka to Emporia in 2006.
Raised on a farm near Dodge City, she and three siblings grew up with fabulous sunsets, a steady wind, and a horse or two in the pasture; cousins lived in the house down the road.
I’ve always enjoyed hearing Tracy’s memories from Dodge. I had heard about her farm, had seen a few photographs, and so it was fun for me to visit some of Tracy’s favorite places, to be on a narrated tour with the owner of those stories.
Walking around downtown Dodge City, Tracy showed me the closed Dodge Theater with its now-sagging marquee. Tracy had her own fond memories of the theater, but it also holds a bit of family history too. “My mom had her first job here as a ticket-taker,” Tracy said. Later, at her Dad’s house, she showed me a 1955 photograph of her late mother wearing her usherette uniform.
We drove past the old high school (now the middle school) and her grade school, Sunnyside. She showed me where her mother had worked and pointed out a building down the street where she had often walked to purchase comic books. I thought: this could’ve been my life.
Also in that neighborhood stands a house where Tracy’s grandfather had lived. Inside the residence, she said, is a watermark, a reminder of the flood of 1965. These days, the bridge across the Arkansas River spans a wide stretch of dry weeds and sand.
Tracy’s high school had about 300 in her graduating class. That’s big compared to my class of 30, but as the world goes, Dodge City is still a relatively small town. And having spent her entire childhood in one place, she made long-lasting connections.
Near Tracy’s house is her church’s cemetery where her mom was buried in 1997. Many of Tracy’s stories over the years have been about her mother.
As we walked among the gravestones, Tracy knew the names, the families, their stories, their tragedies. I mentioned that I had felt a similar connection with the names on the stones when walking through my own church cemetery in Pawnee Rock. Growing up in a small community, the roots you grow are deep ones.
Tracy and I spent the night at her childhood home where her father and his wife still live, so I got to see this two-story farmhouse of hers. I now had the visual setting for the stories Tracy shared.
When we left her house the next morning, in the adjacent section of land she pointed to the south, “See those two trees over there? That’s where I’d go when I ran away from home,” Tracy smiled. “I’d pack a suitcase and spend all day there reading a book.”
She told me about when she and her cousins took risks playing on thin ice, when they used the barn roof as a slippery slide and the neighbor called her mom to rat on them. She told me of the time her horse unexpectedly reared up, tossed her off, and then landed on top of her.
Horses aside, Tracy’s childhood adventures were a lot like mine – exploring, reading, and testing the boundaries of parental supervision.
Going to Dodge City with Tracy was like seeing the blueprint for her life. I saw how she became who she is, and, in effect, why we became friends. We have so much common ground, past and present, plus, heck, she’s just a fine human being.
I’ve been in her house and have met her family of origin, so now whenever Tracy tells me a story from her childhood, the setting, the scenery, and the characters will all be in place.
Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh