Thursday, August 25, 2011

East Coast Boy & the Fairfax Fair

This past weekend was the Fairfax Fair. We’ve all been to small town fairs; you know the drill – face-painting, cotton candy, games, baked goods, baby show, queen contest, parade. But the Fairfax Fair is special – partly because Fairfax (pop. 645) is one of those ‘small but mighty’ little towns that just knows how to come together to make things happen, whether it’s a new hospital, an overhauled sidewalk in front of the library, or the annual fair, held in the beautiful city park.

The Fairfax Fair is also special, personally, because it’s one of the events I associate most with growing up in Atchison County. My sister will tell you that my ‘memories’ of childhood cannot really be trusted (apparently many of my recollections aren’t actually…real), but I do remember a few things specifically. For example, I broke my arm when I fell of the slide there the year I was 7 (ask my mean mom about how she basically told me to suck it up and sent me to school the next Monday, only to have the school nurse tell her it was broken. Mean, I tell you…). Dad participated in the program portion of the weekend several times, as a part of the Law & Order Gospel Quartet (yes, that’s right – a Sheriff, a Judge, a School Principle and a High School Counselor) or as a solo act. And we always loved seeing Uncle Roger & Aunt Ann, practically living in the same food booth every year, and the rest of the Martin family that always seemed to be there.

And then there is my favorite memory (which actually happened, I have pictures) – ten years ago this Fairfax Fair weekend was the first time I brought my would-be hubby to Atchison County.

Saying that Keith and I grew up differently is like saying Bill Gates is comfortable, financially. Inner city Irish Catholic East Coast mouse meets rural Midwestern Baptist country mouse. And yet, I didn’t hesitate to bring him home with me. It didn’t occur to me that he might judge this place I hold so dear. After all, I love this place – why wouldn’t everyone else?!

And the great thing about that particular trip home was that he got a glimpse of so many reasons why I love this place, all at once. I asked him this weekend what he remembered about his first Fairfax Fair. He said he saw good folks enjoying a tradition, community pride, American pie & Ford pickups in the heartland of America, close-knit community and kids everywhere, everybody doing what they could to be involved. Pretty cool review by a boy from Boston, eh?

I wonder what Keith’s 2001 self would have said if someone told him that not only was this his first of dozens of trips to Atchison County, but that one day he would be married in a big red and white church here, with his Boston-Maine family in attendance, or that several years after that, he would be living in this county, in a big old farm house with corn and bean fields as his next-door neighbors. I think he might have laughed and said, “Yeah, right. But, I do like this girl, and life has lead me all over the country on random adventures, so who knows what might happen.”

And you know what? He STILL likes me. And my home county, too!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Senior Year, Community & Leadership

Introducing today’s guest blogger, Alyssa Sutter, a fantastic example of our best thing going in Atchison County: youth! Alyssa is the daughter of Kevin & Shelli Sutter, the sister of Ryan, and the girlfriend of Ethan. She is a hard worker, as evidenced by multiple part-time jobs (Hy-Vee, Lesher Pumpkin Patch, babysitting) and school organizations (FBLA, FCA, NHS, NSHSS, Interact, and Culture Club). She is also, naturally, a leader in her school and community (Student Council President, FCCLA President, Junior Auxiliary President). I’ll stop bragging on her now and let her tell you a little about why she loves Atchison County…

My name is Alyssa, and I am a senior at Tarkio High School. When I was asked by Monica to write this blog, I wasn’t for sure what I was going to say. I’ll start by telling you a little about myself. I’ve lived in Atchison County my whole life. I was born in Fairfax, lived outside of Rock Port, lived in Rock Port, lived in Tarkio, and now I live outside of Westboro. My two main hobbies are golfing, and photography. I've been looking forward to my senior year, so I can prepare myself for the next step of my life. College. [= I hope that I can grow as a leader and become a role model for younger students. This is the year I’ve been waiting for; I’m going to embrace it.

What I like about Atchison County, is that you know everyone, or at least know of them. Since I've lived all around the county, I don't have as much rivalry towards the other schools. I can support them as well. I love that every town has a gathering to bring the community closer together. Fairfax has the Fairfax Fair. Tarkio has Friendship Day. Rock Port has Old Fashion Saturday Night. Westboro even has Lord’s Acre Day.

Growing up in a small town, I’ve been given many opportunities that just wouldn’t have been possible in a big city, such as being able to organize a community event. Last year I had the chance to organize Friendship Day with my best friend, Taylor. In a big city, it would be hard for a teenager to organize a community gathering. When tornado hit Joplin, Taylor and I collected donations to be sent down. Something that’s great about Atchison County is that whenever someone tries to do something beneficial, there is always someone that will back them up and help them out.

Talk to you soon. God bless.

One of Alyssa's photographs, taken on her dad's farm in Atchison County. Talented, don't you think?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Coming Home

Please welcome Amy Skillen as today's guest blogger, our first to highlight education in Atchison County. She also teaches Language Arts at Rock Port Junior High & Publications in Rock Port High School. Amy, a native of the Fairfax area, and her husband reside in Rock Port with their three children.

School is about to start up again. I had a nightmare about it last night. This time of year is always hardest for me, even after 13 years of teaching. Sometimes it makes me wonder if I chose the right career. But I don't have to think for long before the anxiety is replaced by excitement and anticipation, and I know that I chose both the right career and the right community in which to practice that career.

When I left my parents farm in rural East Atchison County, my goal was to be rich. When I looked at possible college majors, I needed one that would result in a big paycheck. I was miserable my freshman year of college.

I came home to work the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. My jobs from the previous summer were waiting - life guarding at the Tarkio pool and helping out however I could at Hy-Vee in Tarkio. It was while working at the pool that I had an epiphany: I like kids. Even more surprising, I like kids ages 10-14 better than older or younger kids. Most people consider that a preference worthy of being committed to some sort of hospital where you might not be able to check yourself out, but that just made my conclusion more inevitable -- I needed to teach junior high, regardless of the paycheck.

I immediately felt that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Greeting customers at Hy-Vee who almost all knew me or my parents, or a cousin, or an aunt, or a long-deceased great-great uncle further cemented my new-found career path: I would not only teach junior high, I would do it in a small town. I could hardly wait to get back to William Jewell College and change my majors to English, history, and education. I'm really not a true historian, so why did I add history? Why, if I ended up in a really small town, I might need to be able to teach more than one subject!

Life, being what it is, rarely lets us choose a path from point A to point B that we can follow in a straight line. I have a decent lot of close relatives in the Kansas City area, including my dad's wonderful parents, so I thought I'd give metropolitan living a shot. Plus, I was single and everyone knows you have a better chance of catching a fish in a larger sea, right? I taught my first year teaching high school English in Kansas City and my second year teaching ninth grade English in Independence. (A change in the state education system had landed me with a 9-12 certification instead of a 7-12 one.) Was I miserable? Far from it. I still loved kids and teaching... but a fish from the itty-bitty pond of Atchison County got snared on my hook. I would marry a transplant to Atchison County who perhaps at the time appreciated my homeland more than I did. I was headed back to rural living.

The initial plan was to stay in Rock Port a couple of years, then possibly move back to the Kansas City area. However, once I had taught in a small school and started a family, I knew I would never let my children attend a large school. I don't love my small school students any more than I loved my city school students, but I can give them so much more attention; students are much less likely to fall through the cracks; and the staff with which I work all care as much as I do. With 10 students in a class period, rather than a minimum of 18 and possibly up to 32, I can assign so many more writing assignments. Maybe that makes my students moan, but they will be soooo much better off for the experiences they will have. Instead of writing one essay in freshman English, students at Rock Port write at least four. (Susan Nauman teaches that class.) I am so thankful that Rock Port never jumped on the "block scheduling" band wagon; I truly cover nearly as much material in the 45-minute periods here as I covered in the 90-minute periods in the city.

Of course, one can get an amazing education in the city, but every day I am thankful that I am raising my children in Atchison County, where I know all my students' parents, all my children's teachers, where I see my parents twice a week. Though August makes me misty-eyed with nostalgia for the summer about to pass, when I walk into my classroom to greet a new crop of seventh graders, I know I have come home once again... and I'm not leaving.

PICTURE: Rock Port High School Mass Media class, which produces the yearbook and Blue Jay Corner in the Atchison County Mail

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Everything I needed to know about small town living, I learned from my car.

I tend to drive cars with personality…as in cars with lots of dents, dings and odometers in the six figures. Not surprisingly I often have car issues….they just don’t tend to be the kind of car issues you would expect! I thought I might share some of the things I’ve learned by small town driving.

1.      When you first get your driver’s license, look both ways at the 3-way stop before pulling out. Otherwise, you might run into your principal’s son. Awkward.
2.      Scrape your windows. Otherwise, you might back into a school bus in your own driveway and all the kids will know about it before the bell rings for first period.
3.      Pay for your gas. Otherwise, the gas station owner will recognize you by the cashier’s description of a woman driving a red mini-van with a baby seat and find your husband on his cell, who will tease you mercilessly.
4.      Check your purse for money. Otherwise, you will have to go borrow money from your friend on Main Street and then go back and pay while the cashiers giggle.
5.      Do use local service stations. I once took my car in for an oil change. The owner refused to give me my car back with the tires that were on it. They were worn beyond belief and he was concerned for my safety. He put on a pair of loaners and ordered me some new tires. A month later I got a bill for the new tires. I called the service station, ready to accuse them of billing me without putting on the new tires. Come to find out, they had come up to work, taken my car and put the new tires on two weeks ago.
6.      Do not drive up big icy hills with 2-wheel drive. Otherwise you will have to call your boss to rescue you with a chain and a pickup while you stand watching…embarrassed.
7.      Do have quarters laying around. Washing the bugs off in the summer, the salt in the winter, the sap in the summer and the “good luck at districts” paint can be a full-time job.
8.      Do give your cars nicknames. If you own a catering business, expect to have the local youth call your car a baked bean mobile for the interesting aroma that develops after 5 years of spillage.
9.      Do drive vehicles with many seats. Otherwise, your kids’ friends, their toys, six Happy Meals, all the supplies you need for the baseball game, swimming pool and bible school and your dog won’t fit.
10.   Do get a bumper sticker that says where you are from….cause you know you can leave your keys in the car, get 9 warnings before a ticket, have bald tires, get stuck on an icy road and forget to pay for gas and they still love you anyway!