Thursday in Waldo: Visiting Old Haunts and New in Kansas City

Until the summer of my eleventh birthday, in 1973, I lived in a house near 70th and Holmes in Kansas City. That neighborhood is called Waldo, and I’ve been hanging out there the last two days.

Waldo COMBAT sign KC Oct 2009Waldo’s center is 75th and Wornall, so our old house is perhaps a mile away. I try to drive by it every time I visit, but I didn’t take a picture because bushes and one of those huge Kansas City trees obscure the front. I wonder if the current owners covered up the “Jesus Loves You” and “The Beatles” signs that my sisters painted on our bedroom wall? Or could they still be concealed by the 36-year-old wallpaper my father put up right before we moved?

When I planned this trip I thought I would start in central Kansas City and move north, but I forgot about Waldo and started in Brookside, which is at 63rd and Wornall.

I really like this neighborhood. It’s at least 100 years old, having been annexed to Kansas City in 1909, and in my opinion it’s the last urban neighborhood before the strip malls take over in south Kansas City. Wonderful Waldo car wash KC Oct 2009I’m writing this post in the Sweet Shop, a couple of doors down from Kokoro Maki House where I had edamame and a New York roll for lunch.

To give you an idea of the scale of Kansas City, let me explain that 75th Street is about 150 blocks south of downtown (each number has a street and a terrace). If I were to superimpose a map of Kansas City on a map of Denver, with the downtowns overlapping and south KC pointing north of Denver (where I live), I would guess this area is roughly comparable to, say, Highway 7 (Baseline and Arapahoe) where it runs through Lafayette. The second house I lived in, near Wornall and Red Bridge Road, is in the 110th block. I’m not even sure where 220 blocks would be north of Denver. Longmont? Niwot? So when I was growing up, downtown was a rumor where my father had his law office, and I seldom went there.

Another thing I noticed in this neighborhood: “South Side” signs. In the 1930s, when my father was a boy, his father was a minor political boss for the South Side Democrats. That was the Prendergast era, but my grandfather worked for a rival politico named Shannon. In those days, the South Side was the white neighborhood and African Americans lived farther north (for example, around 18th and Vine). My father lived near Troost, a north-south street that today is the dividing line between white and black neighborhoods.

I don’t remember my paternal grandfather, who died when I was five. He was notorious for having run off with another woman while still married to my grandmother. Because of his political connections and because he took “mortgaged property” (a ring) across state lines, he was arrested and dragged back. The story made the paper, and I have been told that my grandmother learned of his bigamy that way. Whether that’s true or not, that abandonment certainly shaped my father’s life, and the lives of his siblings.

I was driving around in Kansas today, just west of State Line Road, and meditating on the vast distances in Kansas City. I didn’t realize it when I was growing up, but I know now I’m just not cut out for suburban life. Especially in a town with all these huge houses on even bigger lots on street after street of suburbia.

When I’m not here, I miss my family, and I miss the trees. But really, that’s about it.

Though I do hope to discover some new things to miss on this trip.