“To make the best better” is the motto of 4-H clubs across America. I grew up in the middle of America in rural, farming communities in Kansas and 4-H club meetings were where many of the opportunities occurred to form my adult values along with the Methodist religious traditions passed to me by my father and his family. I especially remember choir practice singing loudly and giggling irreverently with my friends and singing off-key the simple hymns like Jacob’s Ladder. There was a woman in the adult choir — her voice reverberating across the sanctuary in an exaggerated soprano vibrato that always broke me up. In Medicine Lodge, our 4-H club was active with judging contests, creating lessons to share with other club members, and I gave my first, nervously delivered, demonstration talk in the basement of a local church or was it a community building? 4-H was where I was first introduced to the application of project management, leadership and public speaking. I also learned about competition both the individual and team variety. I also learned to identify cuts of meat, how to twirl a baton, and thread a needle. I have fond memories of practicing songs from the Sound of Music musical like Do, Re, Me for a 4-H singing competition between the various clubs in south central Kansas. I think we went to Pratt for the competition. We wore white blouses, blue bottoms, and green ties. Green is the 4-H club color. See above for a sweet picture of our ensemble.
I remember that my mother showed up early to pick me up from one of my 4-H meetings. Very early, like at least 30 minutes before the end of the meeting. Which was out of the routine. She normally used the time while I was safely occupied with this good activity to run errands, prepare for next day meals or the guilty pleasure of an hour of free time from motherhood. I noticed her arrival and everything went suddenly into slow motion when I say the stricken look on her face. Something bad was up as I had never seen my stoic mother so frightened. “What’s wrong, Mom?” “Your brother was in a car accident and I need to drop you home so I can check on him at the hospital.” After a silent period as we walked together to the car, I squeaked out, “what happened?, which brother?” She said, ” Mike and I don’t know much but they are bringing them to the hospital now.” I said, “them?” Mom sighed and said, “yes, and your brother’s friends”. She dropped me at our home on Main Street and drove the less than five blocks to the local community hospital.
I don’t recall all the events of the evening. Lots of phones ringing, quiet conversations, and Mike arriving with my parents late into the night with his head wrapped in gauze and white tape and a rather sheepish and scared look on his face. In quick summary, Mike and his three friends had rolled a friend’s car on a return trip from a pizza run to Pratt, landed upside down in a ditch, and all luckily alive but bruised and battered. All just a few days before their senior Homecoming football game in the fall of 1970. My brother had bruises across his midsection from hanging from the seat belt that secured him upside down in the vehicle. He released the belt and cracked his head on the car interior light requiring stitches. Others in the car didn’t fare so well but all lived to tell about the story to their kin. My dad was the high school principal at the time so the wreck was “highly visible” to both Mom and Dad and most assuredly to Mike and his friends and their families. Questions were asked about “who was driving?, how fast were they going? what caused the wreck? were they drinking beer? should they play in the homecoming game? will they be able to participate in the homecoming rituals? ” The answers varied but the truth was that all had lost a bit of innocence on that autumn night in that small town in Kansas. Buckle up, slow down, take it easy and I am so glad my brother is alive and a Grandpa today with just a hidden scar on the top of his head and me with a memory of routine 4-H club meeting, interrupted, and the intertwined place of Pratt, Kansas, with both fond and frightening memories.