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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Things We Love About Wichita: The Locals

We are down to the last couple of weeks here in Wichita. As we close this chapter of our lives, I’m reflecting back on some of the things we love about Kansas. Today, it’s the people.
The Locals

When we moved here 11 years ago, my life went upside down. We were leaving a very comfortable existence where we had family and friends less than a mile away. We had a church where my kids were rock stars and a Costco where they were treated like celebrities. We went from a place where it felt like everyone “knew” us to a place where no one was aware that we existed (at least that’s how it felt to me!).
Our first encounter with Wichita came on a rainy weekend in January when the Hubster and I arrived for our house-hunting trip. We had 3 to 4 days to find a house. No pressure, right? Our kids were in the very capable hands of my friend Barbara, so we were just two care-free kids off on a fun weekend. Or maybe not.
Let’s just admit that most Chambers of Commerce don’t market their cities in January. At least not those in the Midwest, anyway. Florida and Colorado may have their charms in January, but winter in Kansas and the rest of flyover country is just that: to be flown over. Our first experience in Wichita fit that bill. It was about 40 degrees the whole time and it rained constantly. If the temps had dropped at all, it would have been a blizzard, for sure. At times, the fog was so thick, we got lost twice after dark trying to find our hotel.
We weren’t off to an auspicious start, to say the least. But here’s where the locals come into play. Our realtor, Phyllis, was a breath of fresh air. She, too, was a “trailing spouse,” having relocated from North Carolina to Kansas. She knew what I was experiencing and was quick to encourage me and give me grace when I needed it. We liked her so much, when it came time to sell our house this time, we didn’t hesitate to give her a call.
I was terrified of the reception our family might receive. We are a biracial family, in case you’ve forgotten, and, as we’ve been reminded recently, not everyone likes us. Yes, us. Because if you hate my children, you hate me. Can we get that straight? Okay, enough with the emotional outbursts.
But seriously, I had no idea if we’d be accepted. Would my kids be welcome in just any church nursery? Would the schools be open to black kids with a white mom? Would our neighbors hesitate to open their doors to kids like mine? I was a mess of insecurities.
As we looked at houses, I’m sure Phyllis grew a little weary listening to my fears and concerns, but she continually encouraged me. Late in the afternoon of our first day of house shopping, we were met at the door by a homeowner. He told us that he had a sick baby and just couldn’t leave. He asked us to be a quiet as possible as he’d just gotten the baby to sleep. Been there, done that, so we were happy to oblige.
As we looked through the house, we saw tons of family pictures. Their family looked just like ours: Mom and Dad were white, the kids were black. I stopped looking at the house and started looking at the family.
When we were about to leave, I asked Phyllis if I could go back in and talk to the owner. I’m sure he was a little alarmed when I walked back in his garage and said something like, “Sir, I need to ask you about your family. My kids are black, too, and we’re moving here and I need to know: Is it okay? Have you experienced any problems with acceptance or bigotry or racism or any of that stuff? Are the schools okay with biracial families? Do churches think it’s okay?”
I must have sounded like a crazy woman as I blurted out all my questions in one breath. He looked up from his packing and said, “It’s fine. It’s good. We’ve never had a problem. My kids have black friends and white friends and everyone treats each other just fine. You’ve come to a good place.” And then he smiled an understanding smile as if to say, “Chill out, lady. You’ve got to relax.”
I got back in the car and lost it. All the pent up tears and fear come bursting forth in a torrent. Phyllis just looked at me and said, “It’s going to be good. Sometimes, you just have to hear it from one parent to another, right?”
I nodded, we bought a house in a great neighborhood, and the rest was easy. Well, maybe not easy, but certainly blessed by God. Everywhere we turned in Wichita, we found people who loved our family and were ready to accept us for what we were and are: People.
We were invited to a great church by a couple in their 80s (she was a friend’s mom) and found a home that stuck. Pathway Church fit the bill for us and we will miss all our friends there. Our kids have thrived in the Goddard School District. When we take our boys and their friends out for dinner, we look like the United Nations: All colors are represented. It’s a beautiful thing.
We’ll miss the friendly, down-to-earth people of Wichita. The population here is over 300,000 and the county is over half a million. But it’s like most of them never realized their city had grown so large. They behave with small town values and friendliness and think of their neighbor as just that: someone to love.
Thanks, Wichita.  The guy was right. We came to a good place.

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