Roots and Wings

Facebook post on Saturday, September 6, 2008.

The partial chaos of my unpacking; you would need a break too.

Moving brings about some fascinating circumstances and ponderings. I was processing the brain lint of this entry during the time of unpacking my accumulated possessions the past few days. This has been a good process of sorting and clearing out academic journals, books, and other printed materials. Yet, there is one box that I didn’t know how to even begin: the volumes of my family ancestry.

My maternal grandma, Dorothy**, was a dutiful researcher; her labors of love to contemporaries and descendants were several volumes of family history which she traced back through Sweden, Germany, and Colonial America. The individual whose ancestry was traced generally received their copy in honor of their 90th birthday; the extended family was also endowed with their own copies of the family history. Mine have stayed in a box while I muse what to do with them; I can’t bring myself to throw them away, but I know so few of the people chronicled in the works that it seems to be a stack of useless information—until now.

On Monday, I needed a break from my unpacking, so I cracked open my family annals and found more than notes, copied photographs, family trees, marriage and death records. I found the missing links on why I will forever be a Kansan, unashamed and unabashed in my attachment to a region which most of the world dismisses. I found the heart of pioneers who saw this piece of American land as opportunity and broke its ground to make life a better place for their posterity.

My great-great-grandfather, K.O. Erickson, was a gifted woodcarver and stone mason who brought his young family to America from Sweden. His handiwork can be seen on the Kansas State Capitol building, Topeka High School, several older buildings in downtown Topeka, and various family grave markers.

His son, K.E. Erickson, was a Kansas homesteader who tried to claim land in Oklahoma after it first opened up in the 1890s. I read the letters preserved from his journey to the lottery registry. In those simple entries, the ways of life for the time: expenses, travel pace, and hard work were readily apparent. Yet, I could also see the heart of a man describe his loneliness on the dusty trail and his constant love, affection and devotion to his wife and 2 children.

The anecdotes and history continue from there. Deaths of beloved family; moving to new homesteads across the state. World War I and the flu epidemic; life during the depression and World War II. It occurred to me while reading through those letters and history that in my ancestors and my own experiences, I have all 6 major regions of Kansas covered. My maternal side has all of Eastern Kansas covered. My father hails from South-Central Kansas; I was born in North Central Kansas. My high school years gave me plenty of experiences in the Western third.

Oh, the fun of driving this in St. Louis rush hour traffic.

Thursday, August 28, I left Wichita with the remainder of my belongings and arrived in Indiana late that night. In all actuality, leaving Kansas isn’t about the memories or growing from an awkward 14 year-old to an awkward 26 year-old. When my family lived in Illinois and South Dakota, I was a Kansan. I don’t mind people calling me nicknames related with my first or last name, but a warming joy fills me when I’m referred to as “Kansas” or “The Kansan.” I have always felt a strong tie to Kansas, and this move to Indiana has brought out that feeling in me more earnestly than ever.

As opposed to others, I like this state smack in the middle of America. I like extensive prairies, clear sunsets, changing weather, wheat fields and sunflowers. Where else are the larger metro areas surrounded by acres of isolation. Culture can range from oddities (Ball of Twine), to down-home (State Fair), to traditional (Cathedral of the Plains). Even the state motto, “Ad Astra per Aspera,” depicts part of me: realizing there is a beautiful reward through hardship. The blood, sweat, tears and artistry invested by my ancestors in the formation of the State and its artifacts has my heart grounded there all the more.

In 1972, Iowa declared the Sunflower a "noxious weed." Supposedly, Kansas retaliated by declaring their state bird a "pest."

When I left Wichita in May, I wasn’t thinking “get me out of here, NOW!” but I knew I was done with my time in Kansas. God had prepared the next place for me, which was another state. Even with all the hardships in Indiana, I have not waivered in knowing this is where I’m to be in this season. My mom has made the comment that in comparison to our extended family, my siblings and I have wings, but no roots. I disagree. I may not be able claim one house or even a town as my root source – I have an entire state. So, where ever my wings take me in the future…I believe my roots will quickly show me as a Sunflower from the Sunflower State.

**Yes, my grandma was “Dorothy from Kansas.” She may have introduced herself that way at some point in her life, but I highly doubt she ever owned a pair of red shoes.



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