The Way West
Even though I was fresh out of the backwoods hill country, I set off on my great adventure with complete self-confidence as becoming any fifteen-year-old. After all, I had been to Vancouver, Washington before (ignoring the fact that I was less than five years old at the time), and we had lived for a year in Kansas City. I did not consider myself a “hick from the sticks” but I combed my hair carefully to make sure there was no hayseed there.
There was no hitch in my travel plans at Kansas City. One of my older cousins, Denton Hayward, met me at the bus depot and took me and my luggage to Aunt Ora Hayward’s house on 35th a couple of blocks off the Paseo. That was familiar territory since in 1930 or thereabouts, we had lived on 37th just about three blocks away. Faxon School where I had gone for the third grade was just two blocks down the Paseo beyond the big Katz Drugstore on the corner of 35th and Paseo.
My cousins Ennis and Buddy Fulkerson, who were near my age, came to stay at Aunt Ora’s while I was there. I forget who was getting married, but I believe it was Raymond Hayward, Aunt Ora’s youngest son. Uncle Hubert and Aunt “Ory”, with their bevy of three sons and four daughters, had created a Kansas City branch of the family of which I could never keep track. I mostly remember the boys (all grown then) Wilbur, Denton, and Raymond, the youngest daughter Maude who was still living at home at the time. There was also a very pretty little second cousin, Jackie Lou who was near my age. [Not, sure but Jackie Lou may have actually been a first cousin once removed. This sort of thing is confusing.]
Aunt Ory was the undisputed matriarch of the Kansas City branch of the family. (Uncle Hubert had died back around 1934.) She had a huge house that was sort of a catch-as-catch-can boarding house with all sorts of people, mostly relatives, coming and going. It would be unthinkable to go to Kansas City and not stop in on Aunt Ory.
Needless to say, with a wedding going on the day after I got to Kansas City, Aunt Ory’s house was even more of a “madhouse” than usual. We boys—Ennis, Buddy, and me—mostly just tried to stay out of the way. We ate whenever and whatever we could get our hands on—which was no problem as there was food all over the place. I believe we spent my Grandpa’s two dollars by sneaking off in the evening after the wedding ceremony and taking Jackie Lou to a movie.
A day or two after the wedding, my Uncle Elbert Fulkerson drove me to the Union Station to catch my train to the Pacific Northwest. I recall being worried that we might be late and the train would leave without me, but Uncle Elbert would just smile and say, “Stop fretting, boy, we got lots of time.” Not owning a watch, I had no way to dispute him.
At the Union Station and for the first time the old country boy from the Ozark hills was out of his element and bewildered. The only other time I had ridden a train was when I was five years old when Mother brought us kids back from the Pacific Northwest. To me, the Kansas City Union Station was a scurrying mass of people and a bewildering number of ticket windows and gates to trains that were chuffing in and out of the station.
We already had my ticket so Uncle Elbert herded me through the bustle, checked my guitar box and suitcase and led me to the right track when they called my train. He found me a red plush seat in a coach up ahead of the dining car, patted me on the shoulder, and with a last “goodbye boy” was gone.
The train lurched, jerked, then chuffed out of the station onto a westbound track past the Kansas City stockyards. As it picked up speed through the suburbs of Kansas City, Kansad, and out onto the plains, I had a very strange feeling. I was completely on my own for the first time. It was as if a door had closed behind me and another was swinging open ahead. I liked the feeling. Even through the long first night I had no qualms and felt no homesickness for the Ozark hills—I was on my way home and was eager to get on with it.