Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Milford, Kansas

MIlfordMilford, Kansas had a Main Street and a General Store. In second grade, I sat on the steps leading down to the cement circle that was Town Park: the ice skating pond in winter, a roller rink temperate weekends, and otherwise a basketball court. We were outsiders and the boys shooting hoops threw rocks, broke my sister’s nose, and scared me.

Winter was true there. During blizzards, red rags hung from guidelines on Main Street and its three tributaries to guide people home or to school.  Milford School housed grades one through six in the same room with one teacher.  I finished second grade by March and was sent home. March until the end of August was my very long summer vacation. I remember red-ringed ankles from chigger bites, catching lightening bugs in a jar, and the death of the man across the street. Everyone called him Roly Poly, because he slurred that song nightly as he staggered home from the town’s one bar.  We all woke to his screaming one night. Next day, bedsheets stained black by bile were hung on the line. My parents tried to explain over their Tom Collins how too much drink had killed him.

Kansas were pants and galoshes with metal fasteners my frozen fingers couldn’t negotiate fast enough to keep from getting yelled at for peeing my pants.  Or it was: forget the galoshes and run inside, tracking mud and risking worse than a yelling. Why didn’t I pee outside?  The taboos around public exposure were so dark and nebulous that the thought of peeing in the yard could have never entered my head.  Instead, I’d stand there, wet, and she’d say,  “Michael did you pee your pants? Again!”  Again? I didn’t remember “again”.  “This time, I will have to tell your father.” Poor Dad, what was he supposed to do faced with piss in his son’s pants? He had to act the tyrant, and so I became afraid of him as well.

Kansas was before I huddled in my room with books.  The house we rented was part of a small farm, with a barn where I leapt from the loft. The Kansas River was nearby with vines to swing out over the river and drop into the slow moving water.  Only second grade and my friends and I would play Huck Finn, leaping from rocks, defying whirlpools, instinctively shying from any serpents that lurked.  Seven, eight years old, without adult supervision until the afternoon sky darkened and my father’s loud whistle carried across that landscape right out of a Thomas Eakin’s painting, a whistle–inhumanly loud, shrill–not a beckoning but an order from my father the Sergeant to be home or face the wrath of the reluctant, but on so good at his role, despot.

That year and its vines and rivers and blizzards and tetanus shot because my three year old sister bit me and drew blood when I followed my mother’s order to lift her from her potty, that year haunts me as idyllic.  All other years, people–settlement not nature–defined life, even in Denver,  even when the Rockies seemed so close, so clear you felt you could walk to the end of the block and touch them.

But you couldn’t. Denver, although still smog free, was a city.  I was born in a city, lived in cities, was an urban boy, not in Kansas anymore, and sometimes, like Dorothy, nostalgic for home.

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One Reply

  1. Ed Tuder

    Vivid, eloquent, succinct

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