It’s one of those all-American towns. It’s hard to put into words the mark this small town has left on my psyche. I can honestly say I’ve dreamt of it. I have longed to return there. I have spent countless hours in Sim City, the Sims, Minecraft and the like trying to recreate it in some digital form that would suffice to satiate my longing for a simpler time.
When I say All-American town I mean it. They had a farmers CO-OP where the railroad cars would stop and deposit or pick up grain. It had a single, family-owned grocery store. The same family that owned the bank, also owned the newspaper, furniture store and the funeral home. There was one of those old style barber shops. A tiny little mini dinner called the Cabin Inn downtown. Up the street was the only Café in town, the Kountry Café. And across the street, adjacent to the Post Office, was the only bar in town. It also housed the video arcade. There was a tiny little shed-sized video rental store owned by a local family who’s sons were close friends of mine growing up. There was a little community college on the far end of town just before you hit the exit to the country side. There was a local lumber shop, telephone company and cable company all housed downtown. You had two gas stations in town, one pump at the CO-OP and another on the very outskirts of town right on the highway. There was a single grade school and a combined Jr/Sr. high. Not much else. There was a nursing home in the thick of the residential area. And a single doctor office on the main downtown strip. You couldn’t get more All-American than that. Heck their sports team was called the Warriors, an allusion to Native American imagery we know all to well in this country.
Surrounded by corn, wheat and cattle farmers the town sat smack in the middle of nowhere. Quite peaceful indeed. It could have been mistaken for the town the Ingles lived near on Little House on the Prairie or Sarah Plain and Tall, two major pieces of media every Kansan were quite familiar with.
As you walked down the streets you could smell the wheat and barley in the air. Farmers sons driving their Ford pickup trucks through town blowing smog out of their rear exhausts provided a typical small town atmosphere. There was even a community swimming pool right by the public park, a staple in every small American town.
I distinctly remember visiting this town a lot over the years. It wasn’t a place we lived for very long. We moved there when I was 5, left before my 6th birthday. Didn’t return until mere months before I turned 12. Left again before the end of my 7th grade year. Yet, despite only living there such a short time it left an amazing impact on my brain. I can still visualize every street. I can walk up and down the roads in my mind any day or night I choose. I can recall the names of the street signs. I can remember which roads had lamps on them and which ones were too dark to traverse after sundown. I even remember the single 4-Way stop sign right by my house that was the subject of much controversy.
There was an old man my dad hung out with by the name of Pop-A-Top. I never knew his real name. Mom never told me much more about him other than he wasn’t a good guy in her eyes. Dad avoided the subject in later years following the mans death. I just remember he had a black dog and lived on a junk yard near the edge of town.
Much of the reason the place stands out in my mind stems from the year I lived there. It was my most formative year. It began in summer 1994. We moved there mid-July. Just in time for back-to-school. It was my 6th grade year. I remember it well.
I started the year off the new kid. I had a couple of friends from those years visiting the town. My uncle Walt and his daughters, my cousins Angie and Cassie, always lived there, so we did spend most weekends around town. Once Uncle Walt remarried I’d spend weekends with his new kids. That happened more than once.
I had two friends left over from hanging around town on weekends so I wasn’t completely new without friends. First up was Brandon Tate. He was the trouble maker. He liked to persuade me to do the things a kid weren’t oughta do. His best friend, my former cousin via marriage/divorce was Nathan Willard. I remember him vividly. Especially for the brief time we spent as cousins before the divorce. His mother gave my uncle another baby so he was kinda locked into the family as such. He had a younger brother I dare not say his name. Fool can rot in prison where he landed for all I care. ‘Nuff said. Moving on.
I had one more friend from the early childhood days. His name was Danny Knowles. His parents were the ones who owned the video store. He became friends with the boys who saw fit to become my bullies, having failed to stand up for me I drifted away from him. There was one other kid from back then. His name was also Brandon. Brandon Haye. He was a year older so he already made it up to Junior High. He would be a protector once I too entered those halls, but not yet, that’s getting ahead of the story.
The rest of the class stand out as clear as day. AJ Richards. He was the teachers pet. Jon Fuller. His mother was a teacher so he was one of those straight-A students as well. There was Corey (sic) Hertzfeld? Never did learn the correct spelling of his name. Although I spent many an hour day dreaming about his lovely sister, the blond goddess named Ashley. Again getting ahead of ourselves. She was a grade below. But damn was she able to haunt my dreams. Then there was April and her brother James. They were sorta family in roundabout way. They were cousins to a former cousin by way of my aforementioned dog of an uncle. There was another girl named Caroline who’s last name eludes me. She wasn’t there long sorry to say. Then we had Brook Fosdick. She was cute. She also was friends with my sister so she used hang out at my house. Her older sister was a life guard at the pool so we used to drool over her too. There was one more kid of note from the other side. His name was Jared Guy. The MoFo who made my life miserable. The man who would top my list of those to hurt had I been one to have such a list.
That first day of school I walked in scared as a pig on its way to the grinder. No clue what to expect. Our teacher was an odd ball. He set us up at tables instead of desks. He also gave us lockers to prepare us for junior high next year.
The table I sat at determined my fate. Even to this day it continues to influence my decisions in many respects. That table, as you can guess, was the nerd table. I sat at the end closest to the door, nearest the exit. Going around to my immediate right was Jacob Lundholm. Curly haired, Sega boy. Power Ranger geek. Comic book fan. Eventually best friend. Next to him was Danial Beals. He was another fat kid like me. Chubby, long floppy hair, weird as all get out. Into D&D, computers, magic (the religion not cards) and also Power Rangers. Next up was the black haired, Goodie kid, slick and polish Pat. I can’t say his last name. It was one we fudged because we thought it was funny so truthfully I forget what it was, just the joke one and that’s not fair to him. Sorry man. Memories fade, what can I say. Last but not least you had our self-proclaimed leader of the group. His name was Treff Alexander. He was another chubby kid also into Sega, Power Rangers and comics. He was like me in that he also had a love for Transformers. But he was slightly different. He also was into sports. So he was the cool nerd if you can believe such a thing exists. Hey it was 6th grade our young impressionable minds created these notions that stuck with us.
Then there was her. The girl next door. The long, black hair beauty by name of Laura Trickle. Silky smooth skin. Mesmerizing smile. Enticing yet friendly eyes. Soft spoken but very friendly. She didn’t sit at our table. Why would she? She was the girl every boy wanted, every girl wanted to be and every teacher admired. She was the typical all-American girl. She was into sports, band, choir, the school paper, theater, everything. If there was a club she was in it. She moved at the end of the year.
Due to a series of fights I may have had a hand in, the tables were replaced with normal desks, of which the other kids grew to hate me for as I was to blame. Which in turn made them pick on me even more, leading to further aggression on my part, and the cycle repeated until I moved town.
After school was used riding our bikes to the park. There I would sit on the swings trying to impress the girl who called me her boyfriend at the time, Kimberly Rightmire. A young lady I will never forget. You’ll notice she was left off my series of what is love articles. That was by design. Kimberly was not a girl I loved, I was 12. If I said I had loved her you’d call me stupid. But She was a girl I spent many days trying to earn her affection. I did so on more than one occasion. Not to say things were perfect between us. I went a little too far a couple times and she called it off. I admit I made a mistake, apologized later to which she forgave me and we remained friends for a spell.
I freely admit, without shame, much of the mystery, one of the reasons this town haunts me to this day stems from those days before 6th grade and those last days before the town drifted into a memory.
It went from a warm comforting dream you revisit when you need a reminder how simple life can be. To a cold, empty nightmare filled with ghosts long gone. Memories faded as the town fell apart piece by piece.
First casualty was the college. Moved along with the movie theater into Concordia when the highway moved from the middle of town to the outskirts. It took with it many of those small shops I described earlier. Before long the grocery store was closing shop. The same very store my dad had worked years ago as bagger. The restaurants gone. The clinic, gone. One by one the towns businesses closed their doors. The townsfolk left for greener pastures. The school dried up. The houses began to rot from wear and lack of care. The streets, cracked, covered in dust. The sidewalks upheaved by tree roots, no city maintenance funds to fix them. The town lives on, a corpse infested with the bacteria known as the townies who refuse to move on. Including my uncle and his ex-wives.
I have stories to tell surrounding Miltonvale, Kansas. Stories of joining the marching band. Stories of being involved in the school newspaper. Getting into a physical fight with my best friend Jacob in a vain attempt to impress the so-called cool kids. Stories of meeting my first real girlfriend, Sarah Ferguson. I got my first Sega Genesis in that town. Had my first kiss. Got into some tough fights in that town. Discovered my crossdressing while I was there.
I have faded, dusty memories cluttered with cob-webs and termites chirping at my soul. Now is as good of a time as ever to unpack some of these dusty old memories. See where they lead me. Who knows, maybe as I revisit this once mysterious place, long forgotten by nearly all who passed through, I can find myself buried deep inside. Maybe I will uncover the missing pieces of who I am. See if I can find a roadmap to where I am going. Maybe, just maybe, find some forgiveness for those who hurt me, and those whom I hurt, during my time there.
I moved away mid school year 7th grade. In a lot of ways, I stopped growing when I did so. I keep my brain, my heart, my world in a time loop stuck between 1994 and 1995. Setting, Miltonvale, Kansas. This is my story. I hope you join me for the ride. I might even tell the tale of how at age 18 my sister and I, living in Nevada at the time, quit our jobs, packed my car and moved back to that old town to start our adult lives, free from our parents. Someday, soon.