For the past 20-plus years, William Jennings Bryan Oleander, of Here, Kansas, has been commenting on life in the West—Kansas and the High Plains. Oleander tries to tease out the essence of place and what it means to be a person of place.
Folks, I'm William Jennings Bryan Oleander. The William Jennings Bryan is for the great "Boy Orator of the Platte," the great "Popocrat" (half Populist/half Democrat), the People's Hope at the turn of the century in the presidential election of 1896, when it looked like the common people might grab control from the moneyed, self-interested corporations.
Yes, William Jennings Bryan lost in 1896, and again in 1900, and in 1908. Yes, Bryan went from great political orator, to Chautauqua lecturer, to honorary prosecutor of that evolution-teaching John T. Scopes in the great Scopes Monkey Trial. Yes, he was best known for his repeated failures, but I'm still named after a famous man: just ask my daddy, Abraham Lincoln Oleander.
As for the Oleander: we know the oleander is a plant; we know it grows well in Kansas; we know it's poisonous in all its parts: berry, leaf, stem, branch and root. We Oleanders speak our minds; we let folks chew into us and spit us back out; we grow where we're set without fear of enemies; we're not nourishing but we have our beauty, our place in the world, and in Kansas.
And since the early days of the state, that place has been Here, Kansas. Now don't go hustling to find your latest Kansas Department of Transportation map of the Sunflower State: You won't find Here, Kansas.
Course, who wants to get to Here? It ain't much: A failed bank and a closed-down post office share the same old limestone building. To get a money order, you drive over to Near Here and see Harvey O'Connell at the Near Here Tavern and Mini-Skirt Museum. Don’t get excited, it’s just the one mini-skirt, salvaged from the great bus wreck of 1974.
Most of us in Here are what you'd call over the hill, only there aren't any hills to be over. It's so flat you can stand on your tiptoes and see grain elevators in five surrounding counties. Here's tallest citizen is Barney “the weatherman” Barnhill. He's so tall he sees storming rolling in five minutes before the rest of us. He runs the Demolition Derby Museum, open from 3:45 to 5:00 the first and fourth Friday of every month, and 8:00 a.m. till 11:00 p.m. every other Saturday, except in months beginning with J. and A.
Here's other main business is Elmer Peterson's Drive-Thru Pharmacy and Car Wash - helps keep us clean and medicated. Our Here boosters are Hattie and Tommy Burns. She used to do hair. He repaired speedboats until Here Lake dried up. Together they run the Here: the Here College of Beauty and Fiberglass Maintenance.
Here, Kansas, was founded when a bunch of our ancestors strayed away from the Santa Fe Trail. Seems they didn't know where they were going and were as whiney as a bunch of kids. “Are we here yet?” they kept asking the wagon master. Finally, he sneaked away. They weren't smart enough to know they'd been abandoned: they thought they'd arrived. They called the place Here, and we've been here ever since.
In the early days, we boosted the town, took ads in Eastern papers, brought in reporters from Topeka. We lied ourselves red-faced for nothing: Every one of us can still trace our heritage to that original wagon train. So we're not on this new Kansas map. That's ok: we've been lost most of our history. And we've come to like what we don't have: Here, Kansas, has no crime, no welfare, no teenage pregnancy (we don’t even have any teenagers), no local car dealer commercials, no Kiwanis club, no salad bars, no sign on the highway that reads "Welcome to Here, Kansas, Population 38.”