Oleander—Thoughts from Here

1st & 3rd Saturdays during Open Range (3:00 PM CT hour)
  • Hosted by Thomas Fox Averill

HPPR now welcomes regional commentary by fictional Kansan William Jennings Bryan Oleander of Here, Kansas. Oleander—Thoughts from Here attempts to tease out the essence of place. It's voiced and penned by author Thomas Fox Averill, an O. Henry Award winner and Professor Emeritus of English at Washburn University of Topeka, KS. For more than 25 years, Oleander has become a tradition that honors and examines life in Kansas and on the High Plains, and we're thrilled to have it on our station. Don't miss this this delightful feature, which will air on the first and third Saturdays of the month, during the 3 o'clock hour of Open Range with Steve Johnson. 

Oleander's Holiday Invasion

Dec 21, 2019
Carl Larsson, 1904 / Wikipedia

Folks, Iola Humboldt’s family invaded us for the Christmas holiday.  Her grandson came on December 23 with his wife and two boys, one 12 and one 10.  Her niece arrived Christmas Eve, bringing a cat named Matilda and a dog named Ranger.  We didn’t have much room at the inn, so to speak, but we squeezed everyone into our little bungalow, except for Ranger, who stayed in the manger—our tool shed with the floor covered in straw.

An avalanche of presents cascaded from under our little tree.  We brought all three leaves for the dining table out of the basement, and so much food spilled from the kitchen I thought we might all founder.  After dinner we read The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, even though he didn’t steal Christmas.  Iola’s grandson read from the Good Book about the shepherds and their flocks by night, the star in the east, the baby in swaddling clothes.  Before bed, we read The Night Before Christmas.   Soon, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, not even Matilda the cat.

Oleander on J-E-L-L-O

Dec 7, 2019

Well, folks, each year Here, Kansas, has a pre-Christmas potluck before we all travel to relatives for the holiday.  This year, Claude Anderson’s wife, Martha, was in charge.  “Maybe you’ll do the Jell-O,” she suggested to my sweetheart Iola Humboldt.  “Your Jell-O is always a hit,” she added.

Oleander on Facebook and Email Forwards

Nov 16, 2019
Wikimedia Commons

Folks, even though I’m up there in years, I’m not too old to try for some change.  In advance of the holiday season, Thanksgiving and Christmas, I thought I’d best stay in better touch with the younger folks in my family. 

Oleander on the Taste of Winter Onions

Nov 2, 2019

Folks, Claude Anderson and I were sitting in the Here, Kansas, Co-op, talking about the prospect of the next winter wheat crop.  We can already see the skim of green on the fields, and, like the local farmers, we have our hopes. 

You never know who might wander into a place like Here, Kansas. 

Oleander - The Farmer as Artist

Oct 19, 2019
Franz Kline / Metropolitan Museum of Art

Folks, when I was a boy, I spent hours every summer in the garden, picking a feed sack full of green beans one week, a bucket of cherries another, a basket of beets, or a bushel of tomatoes.  I dug potatoes—russet and sweet—and pulled onions.  I picked peppers, and pickled peppers, just like Peter Piper.  My mother was the piper, and I paid her by bringing the harvest to her kitchen, where she pickled beets, canned tomatoes and green beans, sorted potatoes, braided onions, boiled cherries with sugar and pectin into preserves, and began to ferment cabbage into sauerkraut.  All summer long we worked.
            “You grow too much,” I complained one hot September afternoon after spending two hours picking and pickling peppers.
            “I grow what we eat, and what we will eat,” she said.  “It’s good to have reserves.”

Oleander on Preserves and Preservation

Oct 5, 2019
Wikimedia Commons

Folks, when I was a boy, I spent hours every summer in the garden, picking a feed sack full of green beans one week, a bucket of cherries another, a basket of beets, or a bushel of tomatoes.  I dug potatoes—russet and sweet—and pulled onions.  I picked peppers, and pickled peppers, just like Peter Piper. 

My mother was the piper, and I paid her by bringing the harvest to her kitchen, where she pickled beets, canned tomatoes and green beans, sorted potatoes, braided onions, boiled cherries with sugar and pectin into preserves, and began to ferment cabbage into sauerkraut.  All summer long we worked.

Oleander Questions - Dear Old Kansas?

Sep 24, 2019
mandegar.info / Wikipedia

Folks, back in 1910, Carl Becker, wrote what became for years the definitive essay on the nature of Kansas.  He begins by describing his first trip to Kansas, after taking a position as history professor at the University of Kansas. 

He writes:  “ ... I rode out of Kansas City and entered for the first time what I had always pictured as the land of grasshoppers, of arid drought, and barren social experimentation.” 

Oleander on the Bartlett Arboretum

Sep 7, 2019
Kansas Sampler Foundation

Folks, the older I get the more I like to visit places that have a long history.  “What about the Bartlett Arboretum?” I asked Iola Humboldt.  She consulted her Kansas map, but couldn’t find it.  “Let’s just drive to Belle Plain,” I insisted.

Oleander on Weeds and Immigrants

Aug 17, 2019
Martin Lopatka / The Nature Conservancy; Creative Commons

Folks, since 1937 Kansas has had a Noxious Weed law.  Among those on the Most (not) Wanted list are some fearful dangers:  Kudzu, Bindweed, Canada and other Thistles, Russian Knapweed, Bur Ragweed, Pignut, Johnsongrass and Sericea Lespedeza.

Oleander On Fossils As State Symbols

Aug 4, 2019

Folks, some years ago, when I heard Kansans in the legislature were looking for a new State Symbol to recognize fossil life in Kansas, I was excited.  In fact, old fossil that I am, I thought I might be in the running. Then I found out Kansas lawmakers were thinking Cretaceous.  More specifically, the Tylosauras and the Pteranodon.

Oleander As Gardening Hits a High

Jun 13, 2019
Wikimedia Commons

Folks, last February I was paying attention.  When all the other old coots at the Here, Kansas, Co-op were drowsing through the cold, or standing at the window listening to the sleet skitter along the glass, or contemplating their next move in checkers, I was watching.  Because I knew exactly what would happen in July.

Heat and Wheat

Jun 13, 2019

Well, folks, one morning I woke up to a completely still morning in Here, Kansas.  No birds, no insects, no wind brushing the curtains through the screened windows, no cars driving by on Kansas Street.  Iola Humboldt stirred beside me.

"Listen," I said to her, "what do you hear?"

"Heat," she said.  "When it's this hot, things are still.  When it stays still, you know it's still hot.'"

"We're not staying still," I said.  "I've got plans.  You don't hear any cars in town because everyone in Here is off driving the roads, enjoying the excitement of wheat harvest."

Oleander's Home on the Range

Jun 13, 2019

In Here, Kansas, we citizens gather together every 4th of July.  We don't call it an Old Settler's Reunion, because everyone in Here is already old, and we live here year round.  In fact, it's a reunion of the young and restless:  for all our kids and grandkids gone off into the world to find something better than Here, Kansas.

Oleander on Voting I.D.

Jun 1, 2019
Wikimedia Commons

Folks, how many of you plan to vote in November?  How about having to show that ID?

Claude Anderson is trying to get me ready.  He reminded me of the time, last year, when I woke up, threw on a pair of overalls, and spent the entire morning padding around the house and puttering in the garden.  Iola Humboldt fixed tomato soup for lunch, and I spent the afternoon reading on the porch, talking to my grandson on the telephone, visiting with neighbors as they walked by.

Memorial Day Around Here

May 18, 2019

Well, folks, the family came to Here, Kansas, from all over for Memorial Day.  They drove all morning from Kansas City and Topeka, from Amarillo and Denver and Pueblo. 

They stretched their legs for five minutes, then climbed back into vehicles to spend the afternoon visiting all the little country cemeteries where this and that family member lies in eternal rest.

May Day Bouquets with Cowboy Poetry

May 4, 2019
Jim Hoy / Facebook

Folks, when I was a boy, we gave May Day flowers to everyone we could find home on the first of May.  Well, I don’t have flowers, so I decided this year on a different kind of bouquet.  Words. 

Five-Skip Rocks

Apr 20, 2019

Folks, when my great-grandson came to Here for a visit I took him for a long walk at the Oleander home place along No Mile Creek.  He needed some outdoors, to keep from moping.  You see, his dog Scooter just died, some kind of tumor.  He knew my old cat died.  He knew I wouldn’t be getting another.

Gardening - Even If It's Late

Apr 6, 2019
Wikimedia Commons

Folks, used to be I’d plant potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day even if I had to get muddy doing it.  This year, I was lazy.  Or was it tired?  Or was it just plain old?  Mabel Beemer stopped by my house with a little verse:  "Spring is sprung, the grass is ris',/ Wonder where Oleander's garden is?"

"Lordy, Mabel," I said, "I've been busy.  Iola and I had company.  Then we did a bit of traveling.  And I’ve got a complicated tax year.  And our cat named Balanced Budget died."

Oleander - U.S. 81and Dividing Lines

Mar 16, 2019
Ks Department of Transportation

If you're curious, you're probably wondering:  "Where is Here, Kansas?"  I'll tell you:  real close to Highway 81.  Why, I can walk from Elmer Peterson's Drive-Thru Pharmacy and Car Wash at the corner of John Brown and Kansas streets down to the Co-op at the corner of Wyatt Earp and Kansas streets, and feel like I've moved from Prairie to Plains.

You know, U.S. 81 gets blamed for being a dividing line.  In Kansas, it divides Eastern from Western Kansas.  Folks west of Concordia, Salina, McPherson and Wellington are thought by eastern Kansans to be "out there."  In fact, one Kansas historian named his book WEST OF WICHITA because he thought the experiences west were so different from those east of Wichita.

Oleander's Traveling and Boosterism

Mar 2, 2019

Folks seems like every spring, every little town starts to wonder who might visit, and help the local economy.  Some of them work hard to create a gimmick to promote itself, to make it stick in the memory of passersby, to bring it honor or distinction.

Garden City is Cutting Horse Capital, among other things.  Oakley the Fossil Capital, and Kingman the Plow Capital.  It's boosterism, pure and simple.

Oleander Valentine's Renewing of Vows

Feb 16, 2019
Lynn Boitano, Garden City KS

Folks, my sweetheart Iola Humboldt and I have eighteen grandchildren and twenty-three great-grandchildren. We keep their names, with their pictures, on our refrigerator.  Last month, Iola said, “We need a bigger refrigerator!”  We had just returned from another family wedding: one more picture and name to learn.

Oleander: Liberal Pancake Day Race

Feb 2, 2019
High Plains Public Radio

Well, folks, I stood there last Ash Wednesday, in 2015, with the newspaper in my hand, dancing in my driveway.  Mrs. Peterson, next door, asked me if I was okay.  Thinks because I'm an old man, there might be something creep up on me all of a sudden. 

"No," I told her, "everything's had its way with me already.  It's just this good news shaking me up because I’ve come to expect the worst.  I pounded the newspaper.  Showed her the headline: LIBERAL OUTRUNS OLNEY, ENGLAND, IN PANCAKE RACE. 

Oleander: Kansas Day Notables

Jan 28, 2019

Folks, either at the end of the year, or near Kansas Day in my state, every newspaper, magazine, and radio show is picking the Top 10 fashionable people, important people, young people on the rise, or just plain Kansans of the year.  I'm suspicious of such popularity contests, juried by people who don't know a lot about history. 

Thoughts from Here, Kansas

Jan 19, 2019

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.