That mysterious ‘state of mind …’ John J. Ingalls, the attorney, writer and politician, coined the Kansas motto Ad Astra per Aspera. Ingalls, a Massachusetts transplant who came here to settle, soon recognized and was among the first to describe the infatuation that native Kansans can have for their state, what seemed to him an intractable, uncurbed yielding to her spell.
“The inhabitants of other states,” Ingalls said, in 1872, “can remove and never desire to return … But no genuine Kansan can emigrate … He may go elsewhere, but no other state can claim him as a citizen. Once naturalized, the allegiance can never be foresworn.”
Since before statehood, Kansas has had a remarkable impact and hold on the hearts and minds of its people. Blind devotion, emotional allegiance, the ambivalence of pride and disgust, pleasure and exasperation, the whipsaw of love and hate, the compelling mists of promise and opportunity, fulfilled or otherwise, impress in the Kansan an intense and personal identity with the state.
Some long time ago, we left for a job in New York, a diverse and magnificent state, but returned after a year; the long roads back, before the Interstates were finished, were interrupted by one faceless hive after another until Missouri, and Kansas City, when we began to sense the distant heave and thrum of the wide Missouri, like the churning of a sorcerer’s call, felt the river’s pull, the surge of its mighty currents against the Kansas shore: Here was … home.
Now, nearly 50 years later, we had traveled ten days through Louisiana and mostly Mississippi, in the great Delta, a place of mystery and so deeply southern with its heritage of nobility and paradox and inhumanity. We were lured there by the same question of identity and magnetism, of how a place so complex could produce such accomplished, brilliant writers as Eudora Welty, William Faulkner and Willie Morris, among many others, and why did they stay there – or, in
Morris’s case, why did they return “home” to a place of such troubled history? We sensed it almost immediately, what it was that kept Welty and pulled Faulkner and engaged Morris – that pulsating call of home, the scent and sense of a deep, intoxicating, hypnotic magnetism, the charm and seductive power of place, of a river in that Delta and all that it had held and bore through the ages. It was strange and thrilling, and on our last day in the Delta as we approached its western ridge to cross the Great River, we felt it, even in our Yankee bones, just for a moment.
That pulsating call of home has touched a million different corners of our land, once and long ago defined by the directions of rivers, home that was once the dry wash of the Cimarron, or the sandstone hills along the Saline, or the gentle slopes along the Smoky Valley. Much as with the great Delta of Mississippi, today we have the call of all the places that remain part of the land around them, places that carry the vanishing echoes of our youth, the glow of memories unlocked, the treasure of families long in the ground.
This is the kinship uncovered among, say, hamlets of the northern Delta and communities of the Smoky Valley.
Peculiar to Lindsborg is the number of people who were raised here and stayed, successfully, or those who had gone away, dreaming of success in far lands and after a long absence, fulfilled or otherwise, returned to live here for good. In addition, we count at least another dozen who had only happened by for a quick look and a meal on the way to somewhere else and years later they’re still here, with children in school or graduated.
It’s the same story, usually with a pronounced drawl, with people in Mississippi. “I love Bentonia,” said the day manager at LaQuinta in Jackson. “It’s home – 20 miles to mamma and daddy and my brothers and sisters and other kin, friends and everybody. I only work here in Jackson. I live in Bentonia.”
There is comfort in these places, in the warm laughter of old men at coffee, in friendly banter at a grocery store, in the breeze that carries the happy cries in a park. There is, even, a kind of reassurance in the paint-chipped buildings along Main Street, in the trees nuzzling the slow sweep of a river, in the gaunt old church outside town, the skinny traffic light downtown, and in the familiar faces of the same crowds, the ebb-flow of their traffic at ball games and concerts, at commencement, at weddings and funerals. Mississippi and Kansas, each struggling on a separate course, share at least those special places, ones with that pulsating call of home, special places in which newcomers are surprised that they have taken root so quickly; after only a few tender years, they feel the staunch old American pull of home. This is born of many things, but the old-timers say it comes mostly of a shared joy of living.
The new, the old, the in-between have found places that incubate and brace the human process, where intelligence, kindness, imagination and sensibility, and courage and fun, are all worth the courting. Smoky Valley or Delta, they have found a community of the heart, the closest community of all.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL