Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:


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In Toronto


The pumpkin cheesecake tasted even better than it sounded. When my mother visited recently, she insisted on taking Dave and me to Ad Astra in Strong City. So we had no choice but to go – and to eat pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.

The open hills around here are quite different from the dark and heavily-wooded hills around my mom’s home in Arkansas, but this is what Mom wanted to do on her visit: see the Flint Hills.

After lunch, we drove around Chase County Fishing Lake and the mid-day sun set the cottonwood leaves aglow. Each tree was like a burning tiki torch, a golden flame against brilliant blue sky.

And way up in the air above the lake, a thin cloud shifted, disappeared, reappeared; it was a cloud of white birds, an amazing sight. The week before, the National Weather Service in Wichita had reported that a thick flock of white birds appeared on their radar.

Pioneer Bluffs near Matfield Green was one of our stops that day. Dozens of people gathered in the barn to listen to cowboy and ranching stories. Jim Hoy and Tom Burton spoke of their working days on the Rogler Ranch.

As someone who grew up in central Kansas, it amuses me that since I moved east in the state I can now readily experience “the west.”

Dave and Mom and I enjoyed learning about cowboy culture as Jim and Tom told their life-on-the-ranch stories. There are additional ranching stories to be told at Pioneer Bluffs. Future installments in the Prairie Talk Series will be at 1:30 p.m. on the following dates: Jan. 4, Sauble Family stories; Feb. 1, Mercer Family stories; Mar. 1, Moxley Family stories. (For details, call Pioneer Bluffs at 620-753-3484.)

After visiting Pioneer Bluffs, Mom and Dave and I stopped at The Bank in Matfield Green. The Bank is an arts and community center, offering coffee and wi-fi for locals or for anyone passing through town on K-177. Art was displayed and for sale and Matfield Green resident Ton Haak greeted us and other visitors that afternoon.

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The Bank, Matfield Green

We continued south on K-177. At Cassoday, we turned east on a county road that would, after a long drive and some of the largest road gravel I’ve ever encountered, lead us to Hamilton. From there, it was smooth highway driving to Toronto.

I had called Courtney’s earlier that afternoon to make dinner reservations. Dave and I had been to Courtney’s once, a few years ago, and thought it would be a fun place to take Mom for a nice Italian dinner. Because Toronto has a population of only 278, it’s such a surprise to find an upscale restaurant with tablecloths and live music. On the piano, a woman played popular tunes from the ‘60s and ‘70s as we dined on delicious manicotti, breadsticks and salad.

Driving back to Emporia in the dark, I kept an eye out for deer which are causing plenty of accidents lately. Making conversation on the ride home, I said to Mom, “I wonder if your Razorbacks won today.”

“They didn’t,” she said, although she hadn’t heard anything about the day’s game. “They played Auburn.” And then my mother, who, prior to returning to her native Arkansas, had successfully ignored sports of all kinds, proceeded to tell me all about the dramas involving the head football coaches of Arkansas and Auburn, past and present.

“I cannot believe that my mother knows the lineage of college football coaches,” I said.

“Oh, I can tell you about Louisiana and Alabama coaches, too, if you’re interested,” she laughed.

I’ve known her all of my life, yet my mother still surprises me.

The next day we took another drive through the Flint Hills, heading northwest this time. We circled Council Grove’s City Lake, which is surrounded by dozens of homes. Sunday lunch was the buffet at the Hays House, complete with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, and cranberry sauce.

Sure, we ate a month’s worth of restaurant meals in one weekend, but my mom only comes to Kansas about once a year. Our weekend daytrips just show what a rich area we live in – there’s plenty to see and do and eat, all within an hour’s drive of Emporia.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh

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Courtney’s dining room, Toronto


  1. Cheryl,
    Wonderful as always. Kansas really outdid itself this fall and I’m glad your mom was here to enjoy it. I think I grow more in love with cottonwoods every year. Not just the color, but the sounds they make. There was one in Oregon where Jillian lived last year and it was a little piece of home for her. There’s another along the walk my granddaughter takes to school in Texas. I’ve told her to listen for that rustle and know her Oma in Kansas is thinking of her.

  2. Lovely to glimpse your visit with Anita, and a wonderful reminder of the Flint Hills. We didn’t live in Kansas all that long, but every time we drive from Santa Fe to Kansas City, my favorite part of the trip is going through the edge of the Flint Hills! Glad you had such a wonderful visit with your mom…

  3. While I was spending my week around the area, I missed The Bank (have to save something for next time!) but otherwise everything – Matfield Green, Pioneer Bluffs, Teter Rock, the lovely lady at the Strong City Grocery – was perfect. Combined with the gorgeous prairie, it was nearly overwhelming.

    I’d picked up “Clean Curve of Hill Against Sky” at the Emma Chase, and began listening to it as I turned west to Dodge City. I cried, off and on, for some time. Who knows why? But they were tears of pleasure and gratitude for such a wonderful place.

  4. Thank you, all, for such kind responses.

    Shoreacre – I’m glad you had a great visit to the Flint Hills. “Clean Curve of Hill Against Sky” is a fabulous CD.

    Connie – I love that your granddaughter is learning to feel your presence with the cottonwoods.

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