Below is the public auction notice for the land and farm of my uncle, Glen ‘Bus’ Edwards. I don’t remember being there for the event. When I consider the date, I realize I would have just finished summer school subjects at Wichita State and been getting ready for my second and last year at Bethany College, Lindsborg Ks.
An auction of someone’s entire possessions, including the place where they lived and work, is a rite of passage. We have various rites of passage, and I remembered one that bypassed me.
My parents moved from Dodge City to Hutchinson when I was four. I went to Hutchinson schools—Roosevelt Elementary School, Liberty Junior Hugh—but attended Hutchinson High for only two years, as a sophomore and junior.
The reason for the interruption was that in the summer after my junior year, we moved to Wichita, because my dad, Malvin, had accepted a job with Garvey Grain Co.
So that autumn, I enrolled as a senior at Wichita High School Heights. The rite of passage I would miss was being part of Hutch High’s May graduation, surrounded by students I’d known for years, some since kindergarten. The positive note was that in the Wichita education system, I had enough credits to complete high school that December.
In January, as a new high school graduate, I returned to Hutch in and shared an apartment on E. 4th Street with my brother Hal. We were both enrolled at Hutch Junior College.
But in May, I drove back to Wichita one day to attend my the Heights graduation. It sounds crazy to me now, wanting to be part of a ceremony where I knew hardly anyone, and I had moved beyond high school life. But at the time, it seemed a crucial rite of passage to adulthood, not to be missed. I wanted to walk across the stage and be handed my diploma–then somehow my adult life would begin.
It was a misjudgement, similar to my deciding I had to buy a Heights class ring and a Heights yearbook. Both items, like the graduation itself, were part of the rites of passage.
My mother, Pauline, must have thought the same when she graduated. She begged her parents to buy her the class ring, commemorating her high school graduation from Turon HS in 1939. Years later, she told me how guilty she felt, aware of how little money the family had during the Depression.
I have her ring now and often wear it. My Heights ring? I think I tossed it out years ago. Physical tokens are wonderful when they bring back positive, joyous memories, but why keep them around when they mean nothing?
My strongest memory about my Wichita graduation took place at the end of the evening. The event was held at the basketball stadium, and after the speech, I was part of the graduate procession, walking out to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, clutching my new diploma.
The pomp and circumstance ended in the narrow hallway, where workers quickly stripped us of our rented graduation gowns. I went to the exit door, where I arranged to meet my boyfriend. Outside, groups of mainly male troublemakers had assembled, threatening, cursing, and screaming at the new graduates as they left. The police were there, keeping order of sorts, but it was still scary. My boyfriend grabbed my arm, pushed me through crowd, and rushed me away to his car.
Welcome to the real world. I’ll never forget the contrast, listening to an uplifting speech about a bright future, and then experiencing the threat of violence, the scary world beyond.
Maybe that’s why I chose to finish my BA at a small, quiet, and safe college experience in a rural town, Lindsborg KS. After graduating, I was fortunate to be accepted into the English department’s MA program at the University of Kansas, and given a teaching assistantship.
That was another rite of passage that wasn’t traditional because the normally safe KU had been the scene of student riots that summer. I arrived that autumn to find the campus still had barbed wire barriers and a student union heavily damaged by an arson attack. A student had been shot in front of the main library.
My mother drove me and my belongings up from Wichita. When she saw the dumpy little apartment I had rented in a dilapidated two-story house—complete with long-haired hippies sitting on the front porch—she later told me she cried all the way back home.
When I arrived at KU, I expected it to be a rite of passage, one that would somehow change me for the better. In some ways it did. But now, years down life’s track, I am both amused and sad thinking of my younger self, with her unformed and unrealistic expectations about what growing up means.
It should be possible for readers to copy photos and other items in my posts, and then make changes (e.g., enlarge, shrink) and save them.