Sunday, July 12, 2009

Kansas trip, part 3

I hope I haven't bored you to tears with this very long report.

So, we slept in Saturday morning because we were exhausted. The reunion invitation said to arrive at 11:00 a.m., so we got up around 9:30 to get ready. We made a quick drive past Brad & Bob's on the way there, so that we could pick up the gallon-sized container of bean salad I had made. I was anticipating about 80 people to show up and, like my mother, I made enough to feed at least half that size crowd.

It was a lovely day for Kansas in June: what could have easily been a day with temps in the high 80s or even 90s was actually in the mid-70s and with a slight breeze. It was nice.

At any rate, one of the things I have always liked about Wichita is the speed with which you can get around the city. Nothing is more than 15-20 minutes away, even if you're driving from the furthest edge of the city limits west to the furthest edge of the city limits east, and north to south can be even quicker.

We left Brad & Bob's and drove on over to the zoo (oh, yes, did I mention that our reunion was held at the zoo?! How apropos.) and made it inside 8 minutes, arriving promptly at 11:00. Having paid our admission (yes, we had to pay to attend...I generally eschew paying to see family members other than my immediate family) we went through the entry gates, where we ran into one of my cousins and his wife who were toting their food in. I introduced Jess and my cousins, and my cousin says, "Wow, that's good! You remembered my name!" This gives you an indication of how long it had been since I attended a family reunion (16 years, but who's counting?).

Once inside, I placed my salad and then began helping some cousins get the food tables prepared. I talked with a few cousins, and Jess moved to the back of the pavilion and sat down at a table to wait for me. Meantime, people came up to him and introduced themselves to him. One of them was my aunt, who has always had a dry wit and has always spoken her mind. She was describing where she fit into the family and who was there that was in her family. As she pointed people out, mostly the men, she quipped, "...and they're all the same!" in a tone of exasperation. It's so her. And it's so true.

I was happy to see a lot of people at the reunion whom I hadn't seen in a long time. Two were cousins whom I had only heard about and never met. You see, my mother is the youngest of her 8 siblings, and I am her youngest child. Her oldest brother was about 15 years older than she, as I recall, and so his oldest children are only a few years younger than my mother, who is 83. He and his family moved away from Kansas before I was ever born, and they didn't come back often. Generally, only my uncle would come when returning to Kansas, so I didn't ever know his children at that time. I met two of them for the first time when I was about 25. The other two, I met for the first time at this reunion. I'm 48. By the way, not going to a reunion for 16 years has its disadvantages: people stay the same age in your head as when you last saw them, and it's a bit jarring when you see them again and the children they had who were 5 or 6 the last time you saw them are grown and have kids of their own.

My bean salad wasn't alone on the salads table. There were three other bean salads there, and I was not happy. That would mean a lot of leftovers, and I hadn't been counting on having to take stuff back with us. Oh, and remember I said I had made enough to feed about 40 people? Well, there were about 40-50 people who showed up, and not all of them would eat bean salad, especially not when there were four to choose from, so we did wind up with a lot left over. But it would turn out to come in handy later.

The meal was good, and there was plenty to eat: there was barbecued brisket, a large tray of deli meats and cheeses, and pulled pork, among other things. There were deviled eggs, potato salad, and lots of other picnic foods that my family is good at, and everything was pretty good. I was impressed that so many had brought home-made food, because in past years, KFC and the like had been making appearances. You have to know my family and its cooking heritage to understand what a travesty that is, but the kids were always happy to eat it, so no harm.

The desserts table was ridiculously appointed with enough desserts to feed at least 100, if not more. I didn't make any desserts, but my mom had. I didn't know what she had made, but I had a guess or two. My mom is a the best baker in the family and nobody's stuff usually even comes close to hers. Jess had picked up a couple of cookies and a small piece of some blueberry-type dessert. I was more interested in a german chocolate cake that my cousin had made, and surprisingly, it blew every other dessert there completely out of the water. It was spectacularly heavy and moist and the coconut-pecan frosting was sinful.

So I asked Jess about the cookies on his plate: "How are those?"

"Ermm....these are okay" he said, pointing to a sandwich-style cookie that looked familiar to me. "These oatmeal are really good, though."

"So, what flavor are the sandwich cookies?"

"Ummm...cookie flavor," came the reply. He really didn't know what they tasted like.

"Oh, well, I'll skip those, I guess. I thought they might be lemon or something, they kind of look like something my mom makes. What about the blueberry stuff?"

"Eh...not terrific."

"Okay, so I guess I'll skip that, too."

I went looking for homemade ice cream, because there is always a lot of it at our reunions. I found a lot of empty ice cream freezers. My mother tried to pull me away from the last ones left, but too late: my cousin's son, who had made the ice cream that was remaining, noticed my rummaging for ice cream and offered his. He had made chocolate almond. My mother said under her breath, "you really don't want that," but I didn't feel it would be right to just say, "Oh, never mind, I don't really need that," since that would have been rude. I peered into the container. There was quite a bit left. It didn't look chocolate so much as a very pale tan color. There were lots of sliced almonds in it. Lots. Hmmm.

He had done a great job of roasting the sliced almonds before putting them in, but there were just too many of them, and there was almost no chocolate flavor. I was disappointed, but oh, well. Meanwhile, I had a chat with my mother:

"So how is that?" she asked dryly, knowing what the answer would be.

"Um, it's okay. It's not very chocolaty and there are too many almonds, but it's okay."

"Well, I tried to steer you away from it!"

"Okay, yes, I know. So what of this did you make?" I inquired as I pointed to the cookies.

"Oh, I made some lemon sandwich cookies, oatmeal cookies and chocolate chip cookies, and I also made that blueberry dessert there."

Fuuny. So my mom had made the sandwich cookies that were just ehhh, and the blueberry stuff that wasn't great. What happened? I attributed it to her not having her own kitchen to work in. I was glad I hadn't tasted them so I wouldn't have to have told her that I wasn't crazy about them. Her lemon cookies are usually some of her best.

We had a couple of animal visitors while we were eating. One was a blackbird that kept jetting through at breakneck speed, at a very low altitude...low enough that people were ducking wildly as it buzzed through, to get out of its way. The other was a large peacock, who made his way in near the end of the thing and stood there and screamed loudly, demanding to be fed. We ignored him.

Here's the peacock.

So, we left at about 2:30 and went back to Brad and Bob's. They would be having a little party for us that evening and had invited some other friends of ours to drop by. We took a nice dip in the pool to pass the time until the party, and Brad had put out some delicious appetizers. Brad always manages to get me hooked on some food type of thing, and this time it was crackers. Keebler Town House FlipSides. He had bought them to go with a dip he served, and both the crackers and the dip were quite addictive. The crackers were Town House cracker on one side, pretzel on the other. I don't even like pretzels much, but I couldn't quit eating them. In fact, when we got back here, I promptly went out and bought a box.

My friends Russ, Richard, Randy and Darrell came by and we had a great time and some wonderful food. Brad had prepared a barbecued brisket that was delicious and some beef short ribs that were just simply spectacular. He also made some delicious au gratin potatoes and we put out the leftover bean salad from the reunion. What a terrific meal. Jess and I have still not stopped talking about those short ribs. Damn, that Brad is a wonderful cook.

Russ had closed on a new house earlier in the week, and so we wanted to see it. We made a short 15-minute drive to the new place, which was as far west as the city limits go. He had made a very good buy - Wichita is an aircraft manufacturing town, and with the economy in the tank, aircraft orders have gone right out the window and so have a lot of Wichita's jobs, forcing people to move elsewhere as they look for work. The place was huge. And behind it, in the backyard (or the back 40, as it were) there was this gigantic, two-story barn-type storage shed with a covered side area to put a boat under.

The house visit ended our evening - we dropped Brad and Bob off at their house and headed back to the hotel.

Sunday, after a stop at the church I had attended growing up (where I saw people I hadn't seen in 30 years) my mom and I went to lunch and then went to Russ's parents 50th wedding anniversary, which was concidentally planned for the weekend we were there. What a trip. Again, people I hadn't seen in years...some as many as 35 years. Russ's mom and my mom used to work together back in the day. Russ started attending school in my district in my class in the 5th grade. We became friends quickly. We didn't know at the time that our mothers worked together, but we quickly found out at a parent-teacher night when they ran into us at the school. We lived on the same street, about 3/4 of a mile apart. So we knew lots of people in common, and a lot of those people came to the anniversary party. It was more fun than I thought it would be.

Sunday night, we went to a seafood place called Bonefish, and the food was good. It's a chain, but a pretty good one, and the service was particularly nice. As one is so prone to do in Wichita, we ran into someone in the restaurant whom Brad and Bob knew. It's a small world, especially when you live in a town of less than 500,000 people.

Tomorrow, I'll blog about the remainder of the trip, which had some excitement...


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