I left Pittsburg and headed out across southeast Kansas towards the West. I set my sights on Dodge City, KS. My cousins and my Aunt Alice live there. I haven’t seen them in years. In fact, I had to Google my cousin Pat George’s name to find them. Pat is now a Kansas State Representative-R so he even has a Web page. I am looking forward to seeing them, the last time I remember seeing Pat and Bob is when we were little kids at my Grandma’s house in St. Paul, KS, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows around a fire.
As I drove down highway 54/400 through Crawford County towards St. Paul, I passed a sign for the Crawford County Fair. I won a blue ribbon there for a cake I made from my Grandma’s recipe once. It was “Burnt Sugar Cake.” Here’s the recipe if you want to try it:
Burnt Sugar Cake (Julia George’s handed-down recipe)
Burn ½ cup sugar until almost black. Then add ½ cup water and let cook until a thin syrup. Let cool before using.
1 cup sugar
½ cup shortening
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 or 3 tablespoons syrup
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla
Cream shortening and sugar. Sift flour, baking powder and salt six times. Add flour and milk, alternately. Add syrup and vanilla. Last, fold in eggs.
The part about the temperature and how long to bake it is missing. I’m guessing you cook around 350-375 degrees for 25 minutes or so. Poke a toothpick in and it’s done when the toothpick comes out clean.
Also, when I think of Crawford County, I think of my old boyfriend, Sandy Horton. He’s been the Crawford County sheriff for years. I sped a little, half-hoping he’d pull me over — JUST KIDDING!
As I drove into St. Paul, Kansas and crossed the Neosho River, I thought about my grandpa’s famous catfish. My Grandpa used to catch fish by noodling — he would swim in the river and find where the big catfish would have their catfish caves, then he would pet them on the head and sort of hypnotize them, then hook them with a hayhook with his bare hands and then — ride them down the river until they stopped. At least that’s the story and I have a photo of my Grandpa standing on a stool holding up a fish bigger than he is — 75 pounds! — to prove it.
I drove on. Road signs spark memories of driving to dances in Girard. Or just driving through: Beulah, Cherokee, Chickapee, Weir; Neodesha, Chanute, Fredonia. I saw Ted Nugent (The Nuge!) in a high school auditorium in Chanute in 1975. I remember the audience members kept lighting their lighters — and other stuff — as soon as the lights would go out and the emcee — who happened to be the school principal — kept turning the lights back on. The Nuge was not happy because he kept having to restart his opening song. Maybe it was “Stranglehold.” Anyway, Ted Nugent finally asked us all to chill, at least until the first song was over. And the show went on.
I drive through Wichita and smile at the memory of one of my friends, Paul, who is no longer with us after having a head-on argument with a semi. He called Wichita “Wicha-titty.” Clever. Paul loved bong hits, Leonard Skynard,
his chopper — and his Datsun 280-Z. He loved to drive fast, too, and once he took me for a ride on Airport Road in Pittsburg, a fairly deserted Kansas road that just went on and on. I knew we were going fast and I said: hey, Paul, that’s cool, but let’s go a little slower, okay? He just laughed and drove faster — 120! — until he slowed down. I never rode with him in the driver’s seat again, no way!
On to Dodge City. I got lost in Pratt and had a sight-seeing experience in Mullinville, before I drove on into Dodge, via Wyatt Earp Drive.
My cousin Bob (who, I found out, is a retired high school football coach and history/psychology teacher and an avid student of, um, serial-killers) picked me up and took me to the restaurant where I reconnected with my cousin Pat and Aunt Alice. Except for a bit of a strained moment when the subject of politics came up, the evening was a great success.