Clicking the Ruby Slippers for Home
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 5-8-2005.
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ST. JOHN, KAN. (May 5) I'd never thought of a Corvette as a time machine. I must admit that between the Santa Clarita Valley and Kansas we did approach light speed a couple of times. That car just can't seem to go slower than 85 mph.
Driving east was a breeze or I should say, a hurricane. Turning off Interstate 40 on to U.S.-54 in Tucumcari, N.M., I found that each small town we passed sent us just a little more toward an earlier time and place.
Arriving in St. John, Kan., in the late afternoon of our second day on the road I was transported back to 1960 (or earlier) Newhall. St. John is still a farming town. In fact, you may have had some bread made from some wheat grown nearby.
Newhall is no longer a farm town, but it does boast a railroad station. The station in St. John was demolished years ago.
After our long drive, I decided to take a walk around town. The local folks greeted me and wanted to know all about me and why I was there. The walk took a little longer than my father-in-law expected. He came looking for me driving around in the Corvette.
He found the local policeman who just had to join in the "manhunt" with lights flashing on his patrol pickup. Barney Fife would have been proud. I was found, sitting on the front porch at the home where we were staying. He took my vital statistics and went on his way. I'll bet I make the "Police Report" section of the St. John News on Monday. Real excitement!
St. John is like Newhall and the SCV "way back when." We wanted to leave Newhall just as the kids in St. John want to leave now. They just have to get in the fast lane of life. I've since learned that the "fast lane" is a place you can't take time to smell the flowers.
I can't return to the SCV of yesteryear. It isn't there any more. Towns like St. John remain. Founded in 1884, it is only slightly younger than Newhall. Today the downtowns look about the same. Some empty storefronts. Few kids.
We went to St. John to bury my mother-in-law, Joyce L. Harter Benham. It was her hometown. I never really understood her until I got here.
She didn't always get along with her stepdaughters. I think I know why. She had left Kansas for the "fast lane" of California. With her, she carried the Midwest values that didn't always agree with those of three girls being raised in the San Fernando Valley.
Try as she could and would, she just never became a Southern Californian. In her heart she was still in St. John.
Joyce was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about the same time as President Reagan. She outlived him by only a few months. When she was diagnosed, her doctor asked her, "What county are we in?" She answered, "Stafford County." She was sitting in Woodland Hills at the time.
So we brought her home to St. John, the urn with her ashes sitting behind us all the way. She is one of those St. John kids who got to return home. Most never do, once they leave.
Maybe through all the years she suffered from her disease, she was somehow clicking together the heels of her ruby slippers. Maybe, just maybe.
We miss you, Joyce. But we know where to find you. You're home. Because we all know: There is no place like home.
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.