After the long hiatus filled with life-changing events, it is hard to start anew with this blog that is based on growing up on the Plains. The long siege of events revolved around my husband and the emergencies brought about by his progressive heart failure; that was what kept me from the keyboard.
My hours, days, weeks and then months were filled by trips to the hospital emergency room, followed by many trips back and forth to hospitals, here and in Jackson, visits to rehab centers, waiting in ICU surgery waiting rooms and finally that last trip to the hospital as he lay dying.
Luckily, I had family here before and after his death – his sister came from Arizona – and mine from western New York State. Many more family and friends came to join us in an all family celebration of his life over dinner at his favorite restaurant, then to see more friends and family at a wake.
I dubbed the wake an Ozark County hill country style Irish wake, which is exactly what he wanted. He also wanted to be cremated with half his ashes going to Sweeten Pone Cemetery in Ozark County, Missouri, and the other half to Norcatur Cemetery in northwest Kansas where multiple generations of my family are buried.
I wrote the obituary about Ken for the newspaper here and the one in West Plains, Missouri, and also a much longer version of his story. In doing that, it came strongly to me once again the significance of place to our lives.
My influences began, of course, with the High Plains, blended with later ones from several states and European countries and finally the Deep South. Ken’s were from the Ozark hills, true hill country people, then on to include the western states where he went to college, followed by Ireland and Northwest U.S. metro areas.
He and I met in Houston, Texas, and moved here to the midst and depths of the Deep South, molded by its terrain and climate, its people and traditions. It’s hard to imagine a place in this country that is as different than Southeast Mississippi is to the places we grew up.
In Ken’s case, the places he lived reinforced his many avocational loves: storytelling, musical performance, fishing, photography and painting, to name a few. That’s as it should be. If a person doesn’t embrace his or her life changes and experiences, one might as well never move, never seek to grow. The ability to absorb and enhance life experiences makes a person a contributor to his or her place and its people.
And isn’t that what we all want? To be a person who gives back to one’s life places more than they took away? It was what I have always wanted, and what Ken McMurtrey wanted as well.