|Visiting the Heartland|
|Written by Michael Fones|
|Tuesday, 15 January 2008 09:32|
This past weekend I joined Jen Piccotti, a Called & Gifted teacher from Aliso Viejo, CA, in the Denver airport for a short prop plane ride to Dodge City, KS, where we were met by Becky Hessman, the director of vocations for the tiny diocese of Dodge City. Becky is also one of our local champions on the ground in that diocese, and she drove us the final 25 miles or so to Jetmore (population 800). There, Jen and I gave a one-day workshop for 21 adults on Saturday, and then another workshop for 66 high school confirmandi and some of their youth leaders.
It was a great weekend, and in some ways so different from the typical big-city workshop. We were housed in the rectory, which is a part-time residence for Deacon Dwaine Lampe, the pastoral administrator for St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Jetmore (as well as another small-town parish some miles away), and his wife, Louise. We had no fancy dinners out. Instead, it was a wonderful homemade casserole one night, and salisbury steak and mashed potatoes covered in cheese the next. Homemade cinnamon rolls or waffles at breakfast. Chocolate cream pie. Lemon meringue pie.
In fact, I'm amazed that Kansans don't weigh 300 lbs. - at least at St. Lawrence Church. Mary Jane and Mary Anne, two pillars of the parish and intimately involved in preparing for the workshops, coordinated a veritable banquet of desserts that kept me on a sugar high throughout the weekend!
But aside from the food, the greeting that Jen and I were given was spectacular. Sometimes when I help give a workshop at a large parish, you often realize that you're just one of several events going on that weekend. At Jetmore, we knew that it had been the focus of energy for some time (nice for the ego...) People were incredibly friendly, and the community is tight-knit and welcoming at the same time. For good reason. It seemed that many, many people in western Kansas are cousins or in-laws. "Six degrees of separation" is more like two degrees. If you're not related, you at least have a common acquaintance with the person you're speaking with.
Saturday evening, after the workshop was over and before dinner, I went for a short run. My route took me through downtown Jetmore and out into the country, past the "Packrats 'r' Us" storage units and out into the prairie. It was incredibly quiet; just the occasional passing car (I counted four in both directions during my 40 minute run), the percussive rhythm of my shoes on the highway, and a little syncopation provided by my breathing.
I was a little sad to get back on the small plane with Jen and two other travelers to head back to the bright lights of Denver and Colorado Springs. Mary Ann had pressed a plastic bag in my hand as we prepared to leave the church. It had a left-over wrap from Saturday's lunch, a bag of Cheetos and pretzels, and a sample of the chocolate sheetcake with the boiled icing that had been spread over it while the cake was still warm, allowing the icing to seep into the sheet, making it extremely moist and sweet. I had grown rather fond of them, and Mary Ann had given me four, maybe five, generous slices.
I ate them all in the dark privacy of the flight back to the fast-paced anonymous life city folk call "civilization."