Return to Edís
- Or Marcia meets the village idiot
In December 1972 I returned to Claflin for the first time since 1968, when I came home from Vietnam for the last time. After a tour of recruiting duty in Des Moines, Iowa, I was now assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. This trip home for Christmas was the first time that Marcia, my bride of seven months, had ever been to Kansas. She is from Buffalo, New York and had never seen anything like Claflin, Kansas before. Even after having lived in Jacksonville, North Carolina, the town outside the Camp Lejeune gates, she wasn't prepared for Claflin. Travelling through and living in large cities like Buffalo and Des Moines, and then through Jacksonville and it's Atlantic beaches, does not prepare one for a twelve block by five block village on the windy high plains of Kansas.
We arrived in Claflin during the late afternoon of a cold and windy December day after the long trip along Interstate 70 from Kansas City. Marcia was amazed by the vistas from the high points in the Flint Hills and the barren, flat terrain, all turned brown and tan by winter. The trip from I-70 southwest on Kansas Higway 156 through the towns of Ellsworth and Holyrood, and thence to the farm a mile east of Claflin held her rapt attention as we travelled deeper into this land of apparent nothingness.
It was almost dark when we arrrived at the farm, and my mother was preparing dinner. Dad had passed on in 1970 while I was deployed to the Mediterranean. After Marcia and Mom got better acquainted, and after finishing dinner and cleaning up, Mom said she was turning in early. I suggested to Marcia that I show her around Claflin, and for that matter, the better parts of Barton County.
We drove into town and turned into Main Street from Kansas Highway 4. As usual the only places open were the ever present taverns...Mom's, Hank's and Ed's. As related in a previous T.I.N.S. tale, Edís is where we hung out during my high school years. I suggested that I stop at Ed's a buy a six-pack of beer to accompany us on our tour of Claflin and eastern Barton County. There were no cars parked in front of Ed's. I pulled in and went inside to buy the beer.
The place was empty except for Ed Steiner, the proprietor, behind the bar. I hadn't seen him for well over four years, but when I walked in he said, "What'll you have, Dirck?" like I had been there yesterday. I ordered a draft and we started to catch up with events. He asked what I had been doing and I inquired about the doings around Claflin. After about 15 minutes I told Ed I needed a six-pack since my wife was sitting in the car (freezing her butt off, by the way). He said, "Why don't you bring her in?" I replied, "Women don't come in here." "Things have changed a lot around here since you left,Ē Ed retorted. "Women come in here all the time now...bring her in." I was amazed. Before and during my high school years, and my two years at K-State, no woman had ever set foot in Ed's...or Hank's or Mom"'s (except for Mom herself) as far as I knew. Things had changed.
So I rescued Marcia who was freezing in the car and introduced her to Ed. She ordered a red beer and we shot the breeze since we were the only ones there. After about 20 or 30 minutes two of my cousins came in. Both Kenny and George Grizzell had long ago departed Claflin, but just like us, were home for the holidays. After a brief reunion, we all settled in to drinking Ed's draft beer and talking about old times. Kenny was two years older than me, and George two years younger. We had all played on the same football and basketball teams in high school. We had the place to ourselves for a while, and then in strolled the Claflin village idiot.
I know it is unkind to refer to anyone as the village idiot, but that is an apt description of Clarence "Heiny" Grosshardt. He started elementary school with my Dad about 1917, and was still in fourth grade when my Dad graduated high school. Heiny was the only kid in Claflin school history who drove a car to fourth grade. He was quite mentally deficient and did odd jobs around town, and had a lawn mowing business. Personal hygiene was very low on Heiny's priority list and he bathed only rarely, and changed clothes about as often. In a word, he stunk...terminal B.O, terminal ring-around-the-collar. You could smell him coming, surrounded by flies, a block away in the summer, and it wasn't much better in the cold of winter. Heiny spent a lot of time talking to himself, and any conversations that you may have successfully concluded with him were usually memorable.
Anyway, Heiny walked into Ed's and immediately occupied the bar stool next to Marcia. She was overwhelmed by the stench, but was too good mannered to move. Heiny started talking and Marcia thought he was talking to her, so she tried to reply and carry on a conversation. It didn't take her long to realize that Heiny was conversing with the little demons running around in his head. And thus, Marcia was not only introduced to Claflin, but to Heiny as well...on her first night in town.
More people drifted in and out of Ed's as the evening progressed, and after short reunions, Kenny, George, Marcia and I all repaired to Bobby and Georgie Grizzell's house (Kenny and George's folks) on the west end of town and continued to drink and tell stories until about 2 in the morning. It was a great mini-family reunion and the start to a good visit to home for the holidays. I drove the mile from Claflin to the farm under the influence. Fortunately there were no other cars on the road in all of Barton County.
A couple of days later we drove to Denver to be with my brother Mark and his family for Christmas. Mark was an Army doctor at the time stationed at Fitzsimmons Hospital. We returned to Camp Lejeune after a great homecoming. Marcia had survived her introduction to the high plains and Claflin, and to this day she loves to return there because of the peace and quiet and the friendliness of the people.
My mother passed on in 1981, but the farm is still in the family and the house I grew up in is used as a guest house, so I really can go home again when we visit...usually every year. My brother got out of the Army in the mid-'70s and opened a practice in Lawrence, returning to KU, of which he is a graduate. Kenny Grizzell lives in Lawrence and we see him whenever we're visiting Mark. George lives in a western state...can't remember which, and I haven't seen him in years. Ed died sometime in the mid-90s, but I still see his widow Barbara when we are in Claflin. Heiny passed on sometime in the early 1990s, but his legend lives on in Claflin. His story is worth telling, but will have to wait until another time.
Life in Claflin, Kansas...a good thing as I look back on it.
Dirck Praeger sends