Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 21, 2018

Down a rabbit hole

For some time, I have been contemplating a column about neighborhood grocery stores. I started thinking about them when friend Tennyson suggested it as a topic. Since he died last January, I guess I have been thinking about it quite a while. From time-to-time, husband Art has also mentioned several neighborhood groceries he frequented in his youth.

I recently decided this would be the week. My thoughts naturally went to Bolen’s Grocery and other small grocers in my hometown of Burns, Kansas. Soon I was texting, emailing, going through photos, skimming through old newspapers and reading historical booklets. Some of this was related to Bolen’s, but some was not.

My brother Dave and sister Gaila replied with some of their recollections about Bolen's. Both remembered the squeaky wooden floors. Dave recalled buying comic books there.

They were on a display shelf at front, west side of store. I usually waited until they were somewhat out-of-date and the store owners would cut off 1/3rd of the cover and discount the price. Wish I had bought a bunch and kept them mint; they would be fairly valuable now, especially DC and Marvel. Even then, I didn’t have a lot of money to buy the 15- to 25-cent comics.

Friend Tom, who still lives in Burns, remembered a Sunbeam bread sign in the store.

That’s the kind of bread Mom bought, although I always thought Wonder bread would be good because it "builds bodies 12 ways" or something like that.

Friend Bruce, who has known me since we were little tots, talked to his Uncle Milton, now 98.

Per Uncle Milton: brothers Ed and Charlie Funke had the grocery that Cliff and Ruth "borrowed it" from …

Bruce also alerted hometowners Tim and Jim. Both mentioned the wooden floors and warm atmosphere of Bolen’s. Jim remembered getting tutti-frutti popsicles and Tim recalled stopping on occasion to get two candy bars – one for him and one for his dog Hector.

While waiting on replies, I went to my photo albums that I KNEW had pictures of the store.

No luck!

I had taken pictures of the Burns Café and Bakery. I'm SURE I took photos of the inside of the café and it had one of the old Bolen screen doors displayed on a wall.

But again I came up empty. I have no idea what year I took those pictures. More digging will be required.

I began going through my photos from 1980 because that was the year of the Burns centennial. Surely, I’d have some luck there!

There was a photo of Tom’s dad Ed painting the front of their hardware store in preparation for the big celebration. I snapped a picture of it and texted it to Tom.

There was also a picture of Bruce’s dad Clyde sprucing up his service station for the centennial. Another picture and then another text.

In that same album was a picture of friend Deb’s husband Chuck and their then-1-year-old daughter Stacey. Another “snap” and another text.

At this point you might ask, “What do Chuck and Stacey have to do with neighborhood grocery stores?” Well, nothing. Art says I’m one of the most distractible people he knows. But what can you expect from us creative types?

Hours had passed and I still hadn’t found any pictures to fit the bill. But there were SO many other interesting things.

I decided I needed to get away from it for awhile, so I went to town to check out the new “Bison” exhibit at the Flint Hills Discovery Center. It was a fascinating display and I decided at some point I’d have to further explore this bison business.

Once outside, the thoughts of bison faded while I marveled at the deep-blue sky and clouds, some fluffy white and some ominous gray. I took several pictures and sent them to Deb and Art.

Deb said, “… Those clouds are gorgeous…”

Art asked, “… been using weed?”

I laughed. No, I hadn’t been using weed. But I had traveled down a rabbit hole.

Then I began to wonder about the origin of that phrase. According to dictionary.com, it is from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the 1865 book by Lewis Carroll. The first chapter is titled “Down the Rabbit Hole.” According to the site:

Alice follows the White Rabbit into his burrow, which transports her to the strange, surreal and nonsensical world of Wonderland.

… Over much of the 20th century, “rabbit hole” has been used to characterize bizarre and irrational experiences… “Rabbit hole” has many metaphorical applications – from frustrating red tape to the mind-bending complexity of science to hallucinations during altered states …

But as Kathryn Schulz observed for “The New Yorker” in 2015, “rabbit hole” has further evolved in the information age: These days … when we say that we fell down the rabbit hole, we seldom mean that we wound up somewhere psychedelically strange. We mean that we got interested in something to the point of distraction – usually by accident, and usually to a degree that the subject in question might not seem to merit.

Schulz goes on to mention that sometimes people now exchange the word “rabbit” for another that identifies the means by which a person is pulled ever further from their original objective. I can relate to that. The grocery store column will have to wait. I will be busy for a while digging myself out of this Google hole.

Clockwise from top-left: Clyde, father of childhood companion Bruce, painting his service station; Ed, father of hometown friend Tom, sprucing up the family hardware store; (l-r) niece Gabriela, daughter Mariya, niece Larisa, daughter Katie and brother-in-law Humberto in front of the Burns Café and Bakery in 1995; Central Burns in 1959. After finishing the column, Tom sent a copy of the Saturday Evening Post magazine from that year. It had an article about the village hosting international students. His mother Betty is wearing a yellow blouse while walking with students. The red-brick building behind her is Bolen's store.

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