Saturday, February 27, 2016

Violence Comes to Hesston, Kansas

Hesston, Kansas Sign
Hess grave is the town cemetery

My mother, and both grandparents were born in Hesston.  I remember it as a sleepy, peaceful town with the Mennonite college and many relatives:  aunts, uncles, cousins, and my grandmother's many friends.  Did I say peaceful?  The many Mennonites were pacifists.  My grandfather was Ira Hess, one of nine children of A. L. Hess who gave the land for the town and for the Hesston Bible College.  

Even though Mennonites were a sect with their own type of clothing, beliefs, and strictness, they were good neighbors.  My mother remembered eating at her grandmother's house, a lively home with much laughter, music and good times.  She graduated from the Hesston Bible School. 

When I heard the news that Hesston was the sight of a shooting, it was devastating, because this town has never been about violence in any form.  The only violence I ever recall was when a tornado damaged the town in the mid-80's.  

Hesston is fly-over land.  Drive-by land.  In the middle of a state in the middle of the country.  

No more.  Now it can join the ever-growing list of places where mass shootings occurred.  The shooter should never have been hired and should have never owned a gun.  Absolutely no consolation now.  

Here are some photos from the town now, and from back it the day.  Back in the day is how I like to remember it.  

My grandmother's church, Hesston, Kansas

When I was a kid, the downtown looked much different.  Now the street is divided.  The Santa Fe always came through town.  My grandpa always knew the trains and what time they blew through.  He and my grandma eloped on the train, as youngsters (late teens) with her father charging down the track after them (on foot) with his shotgun.  He didn't shoot, but he sure was mad.  The marriage lasted 55 years until my Grandpa died.  

An upper-middle class house (bankers?)
The lush trees were not everywhere, because although the wheat grew tall and golden, the summer were often dry except for thunderstorms.  Mature trees and a garden took looks of work and watering. 

My uncle, Bill Hess and his wife Lois, owned the Hesston Variety Store and Cafe.  I worked there one summer between junior high and hgh school.  Such fun, and I learned a lot, not necessary everything a 14 year old should know.  Bill and Lois served homemade pies, in fact homemade everything.  I came back five pounds heavier.  Loved Mitzi and Doris, my co-workers. Bill and Loise had an old pointer dog, Mike, who would point flies, the parakeet, anything else that moved.

The general store:  a trip back to the days of my grandparents.  

 As a youngster, I always walked to the Bird Sanctuary with a great aunt.  I loved the old windmill that pumped water.  It's creaking blades penetrated the stillness.  In nearly every novel, I've had a windmill with creaky blades.  So evocative of the past, and a lonely sound.  Below is a photo of the formerly dank but beloved bird sanctuary brought into life today.  Windmill doubtlessly gone, but what a lovely garden.  Bet the birds like it, too! 

Dyck was a well-known Hesston name.  Others were Roupp, Razook, King and Nunemaker.  Hope I have the spellings right.  

Now we are going back in the days of yore in the town, to my parents youth.  Everyone is gone but the photos and memories are not. 
My mother, Earla V. Hess, taken in Southern California   
My mom grew up on a farm outside of Hesston with her three younger brothers.  When she was 22, she spent a summer with girlhood friends in Pomona California.  I have written a novel inspired by this trip and very loosely based on her adventures, many of which I made up, as the summer was young people having a great time, which is nice in life but not in fiction.  

Hesston school children.  One of the boys is my grandfather, but I can't pick him out.  

Hattie Curby Hess and Judy Travis Copek, dressed for Sunday church
Four Generations: my great grandmother Ida Curby, grandfather Ira Hess, and my mother Earla V. Hess Travis.  Oh, and I'm the babe in arms held by great grandma.

Big farm family  

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