Uncanny Kansas – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm

EMPTY NEST- BY CURT SWARM

I’m in a mad dash across Kansas on I-70.  My brother in Canon City, Colorado, who is 14 years older than me, has terminal cancer.  Hospice has been called in.  I must see him before he dies.  To do what?  To pay respects?  To tell him I love him?  To try and make up for the years separating us, the distance, the difference in age?  I dunno.   All I know is I must get there. 

My seat-belt warning alarm keeps going off.  I have a cooler full of food and drink that Ginnie fixed for me in the passenger seat.  The car “thinks” there is a person sitting there.  The alarm is terribly annoying, but I don’t want to stop to fasten the seat belt.  I call my daughter on the hands-free phone to tell her about her uncle dying.  She asks, “What’s that beeping, Dad?”             

            I reflect on the difference between Interstate-80 and Interstate-70.  They’re both boring, but it’s a different kind of boring.  I-80 across Nebulous Nebraska is unclear, vague, and ill-defined, the corn fields fading into feed lots, cow-poke parking, and billboards proclaiming the world’s largest prairie dog.  Uncanny Kansas on the other hand is strange, mysterious and unsettling.  The Sunflower State boasts rest areas that tell you ahead of time how many cars are there and if there’s room for more, undeveloped rest areas that have toilets (developed—much appreciated), and abandoned farmsteads and ranches that speak of dreams shattered, hopes dashed, and a better life either east or west.  I stop to take a picture of one—even though there’s no parking along the Interstate—and have a hard time steadying the camera because of the wind.  I’m just about bowled over by a double-bottom semi-truck swishing by.  My hat flies off and I chase it into a ditch where there’s remnants of snow, even though it’s 80 degrees out.  Strange land, strange time.  COVID is waning.  What will be the new normal? 

            I see the sign for Abilene, Kansas, birthplace of Dwight D. (“I like Ike”) Eisenhower, and then reflect on the state I just passed through, Missouri, home of Harry S. (“Give’m Hell, Harry”) Truman.  How could the Midwest produce two, such fine conservative presidents, one after the other?  Harry S. ended World War II.  His father taught him to set his sight straight ahead while plowing behind a horse—to not veer one way or the other.  Dwight D. ended the war in Europe, built the interstate highway system I now traversed, and warned of the “military, industrial complex.”  History tells us the two presidents didn’t like each other.  How could that be if they were such close Midwest neighbors?

            As I enter Southern Colorado, I see the sun shining off snow covered Pike’s Peak.  It puts a smile on my face; there is hope for a better life ahead.  I spend quality time with my brother, a career Army veteran, 101st Airborne, two tours of duty in Vietnam, and victim of Agent Orange.  His hand can no longer hold a pen to write, so he dictates letters to me while I type on the computer, my hands flying, making mistakes I correct later.  His mind is clear as to what he wants to say to a brother and sisters and relatives.  He dictates five letters in all and is worn out.  I feel good about being able to help him write letters and learned a lot about him and the people he’s writing.  He’s teaching me and doesn’t even know it.  He’s teaching me how to die with dignity, how to say good bye, how to accept Jesus as his savior, and how to be forgiven for sins.  He’s looking forward to Jesus wrapping him in His arms.  I’m moved beyond words.   

            On the way home, I drive it all in one shot—16 hours straight, except for gas and pit stops (undeveloped but developed rest stops).  I throw down extra-strength energy drinks and chocolate.  I have never driven this far before without rest, but want to get home fast, put it all behind me.  My head is buzzing and I’m having a hard time remembering the name of our cat.  Is it Stormy or Barney?  I have a doctor’s appointment the next day and there are three issues I want to talk about, but can only remember two.  The caffeine in the energy drinks kept me awake but scrambled my brain.  

            I close my eyes and see the oil wells and wind turbines of Kansas.  I see my brother’s hands that can no longer hold a pen, but can emphasize words.  Ginnie welcomes me home and asks if I want something to eat.  My stomach is too fried, so I decline. 

            We live in a world of trials and tribulations.  The highway ribbon of life flows on, we are but passengers, sometimes in control, sometimes not. 

            I see hands. 

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.

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