Letters From a Bus
July 2007: Homeward Bound
4th entry for July
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We Visit with my First Cousins in Kansas City

Abilene, KS, Day One at Covered Wagon RV Park

Monday, July 30, 2007 — We've lived for 76 days in our bus.

This past week I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to become reacquainted with some of my six Peeke first cousins.  I haven’t seen them since Christmas 1973.  Most of this week has been about my reunion in Kansas City where two of the Peeke boys, Jim and Bryan, live with their wives, children and grandchildren.  Another Peeke girl, Becky, came with her husband to visit from their home in Wayne, Nebraska.  A third brother, Dick Peeke of Charles City, Iowa travels throughout a huge sales territory during the work week.  He had also hoped to be in Kansas but at the last moment he had to go to Fargo, North Dakota.

The Peeke’s are a close-knit family and they love to get together to sit down and visit so we’ve had a very good time with them.  They are all excellent storytellers and I’ve had fun exchanging war stories about their parents and mine.  (My father, Dick S. Barlow, was the brother of their mother, Roma Barlow Peeke. I think it would not be an exageration to say that Dick and Roma and their mother, our grandmother, Emily Hendon Barlow, were all very smart and also quite eccentric.)  To put our visit into some kind of perspective, here follows some family background.

My father was an electronics engineer who worked for Bell Labs in New York City.  In 1950 Hughes Aircraft in Culver City hired him so he moved his family from Port Washington, Long Island to Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area of California.  There he became the Vice President of Ground Systems and worked in the development of radar.

The six Peeke kids (first three girls and then three boys) were raised in a very different environment then I was.  Their father was a self-employed Family Practitioner, a country doctor who served a wide area in South Dakota beginning in the early thirties.  The family lived in Volga, a small town of about 500 people. 

My Uncle Lonny was the son of missionaries.  He was born 1901 in Kagoshima, Japan and he was sent back to the states to attend high school and college at Park College in Parkville, MO.  He was a man who never met a stranger and he never let a friendship go.  He stayed in touch with everyone in his Park College graduating class.  He loved music and played the fiddle.  By the time he died in 1992 he was widely known and could find friends to visit wherever he traveled throughout the USA.  The three Peeke boys all followed their father to attend Park College.  All of the Peeke kids were greatly affected by their father’s fame, so here I will digress further to tell you a bit about Dr. Peeke.

Dr. Alonzo Peeke obtained his M.D. degree at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, MN in 1929. He felt that a doctor must care for those who need them and a doctor's way of life is a life of service.  He kept office hours in Volga by day and then went out to visit people in the surrounding area by night.  In 1979 he was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

This is one of many stories telling how the country doctor managed in the Dakota winter:

 ‘A Woman had had a heart attack and needed help, but the doc didn’t know how to get there due to the heavy snowfall. “The roads are open in the west,” he was informed. "Take Highway 14 to 81, go north of Arlington and then east. But you might have some difficulty there.” The doc got to the point north of Arlington and then started east. At the first intersection there were five cars and a big truck waiting. The fellows were huddled together awaiting the arrival of the medicine man and they had a plan. They would take the truck ahead of the doctor’s car and he was to follow. At every intersection men were waiting to see if the doctor needed help in getting to his destination and back. After the allotted miles, the doctor reached the woman in need and performed his duties. Then, the time came to return to Volga. The groups of men were still waiting in the cold to make sure he got back safely.”  — Dr. Alonzo Peeke biography, South Dakota Hall of Fame

My Peeke cousins were raised in the country and grew up helping to tend the large gardens planted by the good doctor who rousted them out of bed at 5:30 AM during the summer to help with planting, weeding and the harvest before he had to leave for the office at 7:00 AM.  They all remember this and none were fond of this early hour or the hard work involved.  But it sure makes for some good stories today.  The doctor loved to hunt and fish and so all of the Peeke boys and girls are comfortable with guns and know how to hunt everything from pheasants to deer.  They are fond of wild game.

My sister and I were raised in a metropolitan area and we talked about the ocean and the beach.  I've never seen an animal shot and killed. I can't relate to the hunting stories.  As a family, we were readers and not particularly athletic. Sally and I were anonymous in the suburbs but the Peekes could never get away from the small town atmosphere and the fame of their father.  All knew them and no activity escaped the attention and reportage of vigilant neighbors.

We lived more than 1700 miles apart so we although we saw each other it was not frequently. We have in common certain memories and knowledge of our parents and grandparents, yet we don't know each other well. So I was very pleased and curious to catch up with the doings of my cousins.


Our time began Monday morning when Jim Peeke, invited us over for breakfast at his Overland Park home in the south part of Kansas City.  His wife, Sandy, was at work but his brother, Bryan, joined us.  Number five, Jim, mostly retired, works at home and provides stock market analysis to a client base.  Number six, Bryan, mostly retired, is a pilot who works a few days a week for emergency services to bring in children from outlying areas to Children's Mercy Hospital.  They are both tall, handsome men in their early sixties.  It was wonderful to see them after so many years.

Jim spent the rest of the day driving us around on a sightseeing tour.  He is an active Park College alumni, (class of ’65 and President of the Park University Alumni Council in 2005) so I asked him to show us the university about which I had heard so much.  We went north towards the airport and then drove all around the old town of Parkville, MO and the old Park campus.  It is a beautiful rural area right next to the Missouri River by the old railroad track along NW River Road.  Nearby is Riss Lake and Rush Creek. http://www.park.edu/

From Top Left: Downtown Parkville by the RR tracks and the nearby river that runs by the town. The first house Jim and Sandy lived in after they married. He was still a student at Park. (Story: they found a rat and moved out the next day.) Mackay Hall seen from the hill above and from the entrance below. The stone building, I believe, was or is a dorm.
I was fascinated to discover that under Park University are limestone mines. Beneath the hills and buildings is a network of subtereanean streets and even buildings with classrooms and offices. Above are murals painted at two office hall entrances in the limestone tunnels. The limestone is crushed and sold and used in construction.
We also drove around a newer area along the Tom Watson Pkwy where we detoured to look at the new houses built around the Nat’l Golf Club of Kansas City.  From Parkville we followed the river north along Hwy 45 to Leavenworth where we glimpsed Fort Leavenworth Military Res. and the famous prison.  Then we turned south back to Bonner Springs to stop and show off our bus to Jim and check up on our dogs.  We gave them a little walk and then left them in the bus and Jim drove us back to his home in Overland Park.
The National Golf Club of Kansas City is near Park University. On our way back to Bonner Springs we had to wait for a freight train. Jim's son, Robert, is a train engineer so we waved and looked to see if it was Robert.
Back at the bus Dennis shared information on the care of a bus with Jim.
Above: Sandy and Jim Peeke in their home, Overland Park, KS.

Left: Bill and Becky Wilson relax after their drive from Wayne, NE.

Jim’s sister, Becky and her husband, Bill Wilson, arrived from Wayne, NE and soon Jim’s wife, Sandy came home from work (at Merck).   Sandy ordered pizza and we had a wonderful time visiting and catching up on news.  Number three, Becky is the youngest of the girls and older than the three boys.  She and I are contemporaries and have always felt we had much in common.  We keep up on the phone.  She is fighting the symptoms of MS and I like to find out how she’s doing.  Plus she is a terrific storyteller. Bill and Becky were both teachers.

Tuesday morning we returned to have breakfast with Jim, Bill and Becky.  This time we brought our dogs and after some noise and confusion they settled down and became fast friends with Jim and Sandy’s little female Shitzu, Pandy.  Oddly, it was Margot the Terrible who initiated playtime and soon little Pandy was wrestling and boxing and chasing Margot around the house.

Below: Becky holds Jim and Sandy's latest grandchild, Brayden, the baby son of their daughter, Julie Walker, while Sandy plays with her grandson, Tyler, Julie's oldest.
About noon Sandy came home having decided to take the rest of the day off.  The four of them followed us back to the bus so they could see our home.  This was the first time our little living room was filled with four visitors and six people total.  It was fun!  After they left, we rested for a while and then went back to Jim’s for an early and casual buffet dinner before leaving for Jardine's.

Dick, Jim and Bryan all attended Park College.  Number four, Dick, organized support for a Park College jazz singer and her jazz pianist husband for their return appearance at Jardine’s Jazz Club and Restaurant in downtown Kansas City.  Jim reserved a long, narrow table against the wall in this small club and the entire family turned out.  It was sad that Dick, who suggested the event, was not able to be in town.  We enjoyed jazz vocalist, Wendy Fopiano, and pianist, Marc Sabatella.  Wendy was joined several times by her teacher, jazz singer, Carol Comer.   For a Tuesday night, this small club was unusually packed.  We all had a good time.
Elsa and Dennis don't look too put together but they are ready for a night out at Jardine's.
Wendy Fopiano, Jardine's Jazz Club, Kansas City, 7/24/07 Wendy and Carol Comer, Jardine's Jazz Club, Kansas City, 7/24/07
Carol Comer, Jardine's Jazz Club, Kansas City, 7/24/07 Bill and Becky sit with Jim and Sandy's kids, Robert and his sister, Becky.
Above: Jim and Sandy with Nick and his mom, Bea.
Below: Bill and Becky Wilson
Above: The Bryan Peeke kids, Nathan & Nick with their sister, Amy Panter. Below: Nathan Peeke and his dad, Bryan.

(There is a marvelous article written by critic, Terry Teachout (Wall Street Journal) about a night of jazz with Carol Comer in Kansas City in the mid-nineties.) http://www.artsjournal.com/aboutlastnight/2006/03/tt_one_more_time.html

By Wednesday I was pooped out and we spent most of the day resting in the bus.  We went back to Jim and Sandy’s house for dinner with Jim, Sandy, Bill, and Becky.  It was another evening of hanging out while we shared old memories and traded old stories.

Thursday we decided to catch up on errands.  I am so thrilled to be back in a big city where they have restaurants.  So first, I looked up a list of recommended breakfast restaurants and chose a specific destination.  This not only gets us to a good restaurant but I find it is a good way to get acquainted with the layout of a new town. 

We went to Santa Fe Café on 87th St. and we had a marvelous breakfast with fresh squeezed orange-pineapple juice.  Among other things, their menu offered four eggs benedict selections so I tried the vegetable and it was superb.  I was a happy woman. 

Jim and Sandy's son, Robert Peeke, the train engineer. He's writing a note to his Uncle Dick who couldn't attend.

On the same street I discovered Paneta Breads.  Their sourdough is quite decent and I also indulged in some little pastries for coffee next day.   Then we went back to Bonner Springs and finished our shopping at a Wal*Mart.  While we were in Wal*Mart I received a phone call from Bryan inviting us to dinner that night. After shopping we returned to our bus to rest before driving to Bryan’s house in Olathe. 

While in Kansas City, we stayed at the Cottonwood RV Campgrounds in Bonner Springs, KS (25 min. west of downtown Kansas City).  I liked it very much.  We discovered a little trail under the woods that the dogs and we enjoyed because it got us out of the hot sun.

Cottonwood RV Campgrounds, Bonner Springs, KS. View of our bus and car. View of Cottonwood seen from in front of our bus.
Cottonwood RV Campgrounds seen from the hill above.

Right: The parking lanes are lined with cottonwoods.

Below: Dennis and I walk the dogs towards an older site for tent camping.

Several of my friends, seeing photos of our Allegro Bus, have said we should call it a coach and not a bus.  Regarding "coach" here is a story from the plains woman who checked us in at Cottonwood RV.  I do not know her name so I’ve called her Audrey.

A 45' coach pulled up and the wife came to check in.  She was dressed with hair style, jewelry and clothes as if she was "from New York City."  Audrey registered her and processed her VISA card and asked the usual questions.  "What kind of motor home do you have?"

"My good woman, how dare you call it a motor home?  That is a COACH!"

Audrey does not know or care what you travel in.  It's all one to her.  The New York lady then began to argue about the price and said something else insulting saying the fee was "highway robbery."

Audrey, the sister of five brothers, was not prepared to take any guff and told this lady to be civil or she would ask her to leave.

"You wouldn't dare kick me out!  How could you do that?"

"See these cards?"  (The are taped on her register.)  "My brother-in-law is a cop and my brother is (something) and they will be out here to escort

you off the property very quickly if I pick up the phone and call them."  Audrey then credited the VISA and told her to leave.  She departed.In comes the husband looking tired and distressed.  He asks what happened.  Then he apologizes for his wife.  Audrey says, "Sir.  Never apologize for the actions of others."

He says this is the third campground from which they've been evicted that day.

Audrey says, "I know it's out of fashion for a man to take control of a woman but I strongly recommend that you make your wife stay inside until you get registered at the next campground."

He replied that she wouldn't do it.

"Well then go to Wal*Mart and park.  She can't talk to anyone there!"

I thought this was a great story and I liked Audrey the better for it.

Thursday night was an April Fool’s dinner.  We went the wrong night. Bryan invited Jim and Sandy, Dennis and me for dinner on Friday.  He looked surprised when we knocked on his door at 5:30 on Thursday.  Nevertheless he rallied and invited us in.   He said dinner would be potluck and not as good as the next night.  I wasn’t sure but I thought he was kidding us.  He threw together a meat and potato stew which was delicious.  We never figured out our mistake, for sure, until we were sitting over dessert!  Bryan and Bea were very gracious saying every night is a good night and that they always were prepared to serve extra dinner because their boys (both single) often drop over.  Wow!  Is that embarressing or what? I blame it on Wal*Mart. I couldn't hear well on my cell phone.

On Friday I drove to Perfect Details, a salon in Spring Hill where Jan Roberts gave me color and highlights with style and cut.  I was way overdue so this was a biggie because I was worried about going to a stranger. But she did a great job.  We met at Jim and Sandy’s house and the four of us went to Bryan and Bea’s for dinner.  This time Bryan did steaks on the BBQ and we all enjoyed another night of good food and good talk.

On Saturday we finally got around to being tourists.  We found First Watch near downtown Kansas City and had another delicious breakfast.  Then we drove to the nearby Country Club Plaza.  This is an outdoor shopping center that covers about five square blocks.  It is one of the first shopping centers in the country.  We walked around and enjoyed looking at the buildings and the stores.  Yes, Myrna, we did go into Tommy Bahama and I did manage to persuade Dennis to buy a pair of summer slacks.  He needs them. http://www.countryclubplaza.com/

Country Club Plaza on Broadway and 47th. It is a lovely old area with hanging baskets of flowers and many fountains. I am wearing a beach outfit I picked up in St. Augustine, FL.

We finished our day by touring a tiny portion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  It was late and I was tired so we chose to see just one area in Modern and Contemporary Art.  We went into the Bloch Building where we saw examples of the post-1945 collection including Abstract Expressionist art, Realist art, Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art.  Of course Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol were represented along with Richard Diebenkorn, one of my favorites.  I was pleased to see a Jackson Pollock and very thrilled to see a real Louise Nevelson installation on a huge wall.  Titled “End of Day, Nightscape IV” it is an intricate wood arrangement painted black.  This is an incredible art museum and we definitely plan to give it an entire day — or more, next time we return.

We spent a wonderful week in Kansas City but visiting with my cousins wasn’t getting us any closer to California.  With regret, on Sunday morning we pulled in the slides and headed west on the toll road of I-70 towards Topeka.  I was sorry that we didn't get to meet all of the Peeke kids and spouses and grandkids. We left with plans to meet again soon. That is the beauty of this mobile life.

At 2:30 we pulled into the Covered Wagon RV Park in Abilene, KS.  It rained hard most of the way.  But Dennis had done his homework.  While I was getting my hair styled on Friday, he cleaned the windshield and applied Rain-X.  This was a gift from Bryan who handed Dennis a bottle of Rain-X and an applicator cloth. Wow, does that stuff work.  We didn’t even need windshield wipers. Thanks Bryan!

In the afternoon it continued to rain hard with thunder and lightening. The radio weather station predicted thunderstorms on Monday and Tuesday so we decided to stay for a day. Anyway, Abilene is an interesting town.

In 1867 the Kansas Pacific Railroad and the Chisholm Trail intersected, making Abilene the first “cowtown” in the American West.  This town produced hand-carved carousels and carnival equipment (C. W. Parker) and a patent medicine entrepreneur (Dr. A. B. Seelye) and the United Telephone Company founded by C. L Brown (later became Sprint) and our 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who grew up here with his five brothers. 

Well OK, the rain is an excuse to not travel tomorrow. Travel days are tiring. We plan to go see the Eisenhower Center and tour the museum and Ike's family home and the library. And I want to see the Seelye mansion....

The Covered Wagon RV Park is set by a field of beans — soybeans? On one side is a utility company that sets pipes. There is a corral on the premises but where are the horses — and the covered wagon???
Elsa Walton, Covered Wagon RV Park, Abilene, KS, Monday, July 30, 2007