Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Not in New York Anymore

Extending my computing time some more for a dateline post.

This is Victoria, Kansas, not New York, New York. A few signs of the times and the place we are in now:

Hot, dry, and flat.
The sun goes down after nine o'clock and comes up after six. We're thisclose to the Mountain time zone.
You can walk from one end of this town to the other in an hour.
Nevertheless, nobody walks; everyone drives.
The entire population of Victoria could fit in one city block of New York.
For that matter, the entire population of Victoria could fit in one New York City public housing project.
Everybody knows everybody. Everybody is related to everybody. The names on the tombstones of St. Fidelis Cemetery are the same names on the mailboxes and doorposts.
I kid you not: yesterday, my first day in Kansas, I met a woman named Dorothy.
The business district is a bank, a couple of insurance companies, a funeral parlor, a fuel company, and a construction firm. There's a post office and a city hall. And that's about it.
People do their shopping in Hays, a ten-minute drive to the west. The brothers went on a run for toiletries and other personal necessities. There is a local grocery and pharmacy, but there's really only one retailer, and that's Wal-Mart. Sigh....
Saw a Nobama bumper sticker. Sigh, again....
The Salina Journal is what we read in the morning. No New York Times. No Kansas City Star. Not even USA Today. Triple sigh....
St. Fidelis Church, nicknamed "The Cathedral of the Plains," is one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas, but it would blend in with any of the hundreds of Catholic churches in the five boroughs of New York built with the nickels, dimes, and dollars of immigrant families.
In these parts, it's "pop," not "soda." It's "braut," not "sausage."
Victoria Knights: five-time state champions from 1981 to the present. Next to God and country, high school varsity football.
For Memorial Day, its primary fundraiser for the year, the parish held a German-style wedding luncheon and a barbecue at dinner. It's all beef and all pork, all the time. The green beans are cooked with pork; the vegetable soup is made in a beef broth. Yesterday I asked the men doing the grilling if they had any veggie burgers or at least some turkey burgers. They looked like they never heard of such things. Sigh, once more ... I don't mean to alarm anybody, but I could be a few pounds lighter by the time I get to California.

Brother, I don't think we're in New York anymore!


  1. Enjoy your time in Kansas, Brother. My mother was born in Hays, and I'm going to be in the area next month. I'll be visiting my cattle rancher grandfather in Gove, an hour from Hays, for his 92nd birthday. Gove is the county seat, and therefore its main street consists of the post office, county courthouse, two churches, and a little cafe. Population 99 last time I checked. My grandfather lives on the family ranch 30 min from town. Shopping gets done at the nearest grocery store in Quinter, a 40 min drive away.

    I've driven past the Cathedral of the Plains many times, but have never visited. If you're able, I'd be happy to visit and take you and any of the brothers to lunch in Hays. (We might be able to find something vegetarian at one of the chains.) My cousin and her family live nearby, and y'all might enjoy meeting them, to broaden your experience of the people of God in the great state of Kansas.

    Kansas is not New York, as you'll have noticed. The people and the culture are VERY different. I've spent portions of most summers of my childhood in Kansas, and lived for four years in New York City. One thing that you friars have the opportunity to do, especially those of you who have never lived in a rural environment, is to slow down and appreciate the people for who they are, with their own distinctive blend of virtues, hopes, and desires. And to think about questions like, what role does Wal-Mart serve in an area with relatively few sources of supplies? And what role does meat play in the local economy, and in local hospitality? (Meat enables many people to send their kids to college, not to mention feed and clothe them. And in this environment, meat is locally sourced, often direct from the farm, whereas turkey burgers and veggie burgers have to be imported.)

    On the other hand, you'll be able to share your experiences with the people of Victoria and Hays, experiences which will be just as foreign (and often challenging) to them as theirs might be to you all. I'm sure you could have many fruitful conversations about your work as a community organizer!

    I'll pray for you and the other brothers, that you may have a blessed inter-provincial postulancy, and that you, the other friars, your formators, and the people you meet may mutually be the bearers and recipients of gifts to and from one another, and help each other grow in the Lord.

  2. Thank you, Cole, for the prayers and for the questions you raise, the meditation on which will be fruitful for building fellowship with the people of God in this place. I want to be a brother not only to my brothers in religion but also to my neighbors during this sojourn in Kansas.

    I appreciate your generous offer of hospitality. The interprovincial postulancy program is pretty regimented, and nearly all of our social time is devoted to fraternal interaction. But we also have periods of unstructured personal time most afternoons during the week, as well as Saturdays and Sundays. It should be possible for us to coordinate both a one-on-one visit and a group get-together with several of the brothers. Let me talk to my formators, and let's you and I continue this conversation offline by e-mail. And please do come by St. Fidelis for Sunday worship when you are in town!

  3. Almost all these items could be said of my hometown, Ashland, OH! Welcome to the Midwest, apparently. I didn't know KS counted as Midwest, but apparently the culture and way of life is very similar to rural OH. My tips for enjoying rural Midwestern culture: fresh corn on the cob, root beer floats, chasing fireflies on a summer night, and wiffle ball!

  4. @Anthony: Great! I hope we can work something out. My e-mail is ccematson AT gmail DOT com. I'll plan to come by St Fidelis for Sunday worship if I'm still there on Sunday! (My visit may be during the week.) Again, blessings on you and the brothers.

    @Carolyn: I second fresh roasting ears, chasing fireflies, and ball games on dirt roads and fields!