Last week, I drove almost seven hours to Western Kansas to tell stories. First I was at the Scott County Public Library for a Young Author Celebration on Sunday. What a fun group made up primarily of Mennonite families! I'd thought that the kids would see me in the next couple of days at the Scott City Elementary School, but it turned out that they were mostly from the Mennonite school. (Don't worry, I'll get to the pie soon. I will say, though, that I've had excellent pie made by Mennonites at Iris' Cafe near Ulysses, KS many years ago.)
On Monday and Tuesday I told stories to kindergartners through fourth graders (ages 5-10), in small groups in the library. It's a treat for me to tell in the school library instead of in a cavernous gym or cafeteria. It makes so much sense to have the storytelling in the library. Even though it was only the first full week of school, the kids were wonderful listeners. At this time of year, the kindergartners are still really preschoolers, the first graders are still really kindergartners, and so on. The librarian and music teacher were my gracious hosts at the school.
On Monday afternoon, I decided to go sightseeing. I'd never been to Monument Rocks, strange white rock structures about 18 miles northeast of Scott City. They're also called chalk pyramids. Here's the view from the distance, with the flat, flat land all around. (Flat like the top of a pie, not the lattice kind though.)
This is called the keyhole. (Nothing to do with Key Lime Pie. Hold your horses about the pie.)
And there's another clump of rock formations across the road.
Across Kansas, there are abandoned houses and barns. I put a picture of one up a couple of years ago, in fact the last time I was in Scott City (working with junior high school kids that time). Here's one I saw on the way back to the motel in Scott City on this trip. (I didn't actually have pie in Scott City, but I had a nice chile relleno. The pie story is coming.)
The land out here is fenced in, sometimes with wood posts often made of hedge, a.k.a. Osage orange, wood that is resistant to insects and rot. It also burns hotter than any other wood, but has to be in a wood stove because it sparks like crazy. I used to burn it in my stove in Lawrence. (Not the oven, which I had to clean well when I moved as cherry juice had spilled over when I made a pie.)
When the white settlers came, there weren't lots of trees, but there was plenty of limestone. (I think they also made good pies after they'd planted fruit trees.) Post rocks can still be found around Western Kansas. Here's an example, with more in the background (from the rest area somewhere outside Great Bend).
Some of the most impressive buildings in Kansas were built of this limestone. This is the Kansas Mercantile, in the Old Ness County Bank Building, also called the Skyscraper of the Plains in Ness City. (Almost there.)
Okay, about pie. Many years ago (maybe 11?) I was telling stories in southwestern Kansas libraries for a week. I do love a good piece of pie and am usually on the lookout when I'm on the road. After the performance in Ness City, I stopped by at the Kansas Mercantile. On the door was a handwritten sign, "Thursday special, pie and coffee." I paused. What day was it? Yes! Thursday!
About six or seven people sat around a table, relaxing as I wandered around the gift shop. One volunteer asked if she could help me. I didn't get to the point (of the pie) yet, but asked about the building. I had recently bought my old house in Lawrence, which was built in 1882. She took me on a tour, even up to the unfurnished top floor. On the way down, I asked about the pie.
She was happy to cut me a piece of cherry pie. It was magnificent, one of the best in my quest for restaurant pie. Homemade, with a pit or two that snuck in to tell me it was made with fresh cherries. The woman who made it stopped by while I was eating. As I ate, I sat with the crowd at the table. They asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Ness City. One older gent had a harmonica in front of him. "Are you going to play that?" I asked. He had only been waiting to be asked. He had mild dementia, but retained his love of music. The others around the table sang along with the old tunes he played.
I got back on the road that day headed down to Dodge City, with the sound of How much is that doggie in the window and Daisy, Daisy in my ears and the taste of excellent cherry pie in my mouth.