Day 9: Aurora to Stockton – Hello to Mom

I slept a little restlessly the night before this ride. When I woke, I felt myself stalling and distracted – staying in bed after my alarm, taking my time packing, forgetting to take out socks, lingering over coffee.

I figured there were a few things subconsciously contributing to my delaying tactics. I wanted to spend more time with my cousin and her family. Actually, I planned to, but my scheduling snafu screwed that up. I had lots of memories and emotions stirred up with seeing high school friends and my husband. It was going to be a long haul day across the eastern Colorado plains and western Kansas – a stretch I knew well from childhood trips to Grandma and Granddad’s house and I knew it was long, flat and boring. I also realized I spent the last five nights around friends and family. Tonight, I’d be alone at a motel.

The morning started out beautifully as I headed alone country roads out to Elizabeth. The air was cool and the smell of pine was thick. At Limon, I felt the urge to move along faster. I ditched my route using side roads and small towns and hopped in eastbound I-70. I knew the stretch well – Limon, Genoa, Arriba, Flagler, Berthune, Burlington and finally, Goodland. We always stopped in Limon for a break then Goodland for gas. After that, get off in Colby and head through the H-towns (Hoxie and Hill City) before finally reaching Stockton. The town at the intersection of highway 24 and highway 183 and the seat of Rooks County.

As I left I-70 behind, my thoughts went to the task at hand and the real reason I was restless. Do I stop and order flowers then get lunch or the other way around? Should I check in? I don’t think I remember where her grave is. Can I get that online? Do I have a cell signal? Maybe I should go ask at the funeral home? What time does the florist close? I hope they don’t close early on a Friday of a holiday weekend. I was nervous, sad, expectant and alone

For those of those I didn’t visit on this trip who are south or north of my route (like LA, Las Vegas, Seattle, Phoenix, Austin, Houston, etc), this day is the reason I opted to go straight through the center of the country and missed you. Stockton is smack dab in the middle of this country. Literally, the center of the country lands somewhere in Kansas. I just couldn’t find northerly or southerly routes that made reaching this one required stop reasonable except for heading right through the middle. It could be done, but I did not have the patience.

Her funeral was here just over a year ago and the whole town is filled with memories. People still know the names Mary Alice and Pauline, but that recollection already seems to be fading. When I arrived, I had lunch, found the plot location via WiFi, ordered the flowers, checked in, then picked up the flowers and headed to the cemetery with them dangling over my wrist. I immediately remembered where to find my mom.

I am not prone to speaking to the dead. Dogs, I speak to dogs, but not the dead. Afterlife, ghosts and omnipresence are not part of my faith system. So, I just sat there at the cemetery in the grass for a while taking it all in. Quiet. Peaceful. Beautiful. Breezy. Locusts hummed and it was a little lonely.

After spending an hour contemplating little more than the grass, the sky and the breeze, I decided I needed a bit of friendly company and a drink.

Before I get into that, let me tell you a bit about Stockton, KS. It is a tiny, rural town of less than 1000 inhabitants. There is one stoplight, two gas stations, a couple of restaurants including the bowling alley and the bar. As they are at the intersection of two highways and the county seat, they also have a regional highschool, grain storage silos and a grocery store. The movie theater shows movies once a week and Pizza Hut is open a few days a week. There are three churches and some people attend more than one each Sunday. My grandmother did. And, naturally, as they seem to permeate small town America, there is a dollar store.

It’s a gossipy place. A woman in front of me at the liquor store had to pick up a 1/5th of vodka for her mom because her mom didn’t want people to see her going there. Things like “There’s a lot of Jews in Boston, right” are said casually and without irony. A report on Hurricane Harvey elicited a “I feel bad for Texas, but that place is full of Mexicans.” Many people sport cammo; not in an ironic, hipster way, but because they hunt. Cowboy boots and cowboy hats are also always in style. People are also kind and friendly. They will mow a neighbor’s lawn without being asked and without expecting anything in return. As a matter of fact, they will help a neighbor anyway they can.

I mention all this because it is the backdrop to me finding myself drinking wine with the motel-keeper who is a mildly flamboyant and well-dressed gay man, his 9 chihuahuas and two other motel guests Рa Stockton High Alumni who drives rock bands around in luxury tour buses and his girlfriend, a tall and vivacious french speaker from the Saint-Barth̩lemy. We sat among turquoise blue walls and a collection of antiques and bourbon while watching Brazilian, French and Portuguese dance videos.

After a few too many, my host was ready to gift me a Samurai Sword. He thought it would make a great asset to my riding look in a Kill Bill sort of way. That sounded like trouble and I think I smartly hit the sack before that became reality.

The curious evening was a good remedy to an otherwise somber and anxious day.

Happy cooking and dancing!

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