Somewhere in the middle of Kansas, I called Scott to say we’d be stopping for lunch in either Wakeeney or Ogallah, I wasn’t sure which. He called back and got my voice mail. Left me a message saying Wakeeney has a population of something like 1650 souls. Ogallah? Population 162. By the time I heard his message we’d already driven through Ogallah and hadn’t seen enough evidence of human existence to sustain sixteen people, much less a hundred and sixty.
I stopped in Wakeeney instead and discovered that our lunch options consisted of McDonald’s (again) or the Phillips 66 convenience store. Both of which fine businesses, by the way, are to be found under the same roof. I guess rooves are even more scarce than people in Wakeeney. (Also, and this is important information, do not make the mistake of assuming you can refill your gas tank at the Phillips 66 side of the store. Every single pump is out of order.)
Approximately 300 of Wakeeney’s 1650 citizens were crammed into the McDonald’s side of the building, shooting the breeze over Big Macs. I went to what I thought was the end of the line at the nearest register, but it turned out I’d unwittingly cut in front of an old gentleman who was standing a little to the side, leaving a free space for traffic to the restrooms. I apologized and began to herd my brood to the REAL back of the line, but he waved us back to our former place.
"You go ahead," he said laconically, adjusting the brim of his (and I am NOT making this up) John Deere cap. "I’ve got more time than money."
My heart filled instantly and completely with love for him. I wanted to be his neighbor and invite him over for a Sunday dinner of ham and mashed potatoes with my pan gravy, which is the only dish at which I truly excel. My gravy is to die for. I’d have let him leave his tractor cap on at the table. And I’d give him cobbler for dessert, because I also make a darn good cobbler, if you don’t mind the cherries coming out of a can.
All the rest of the day, as I watched the curves of prairie undulate past our windows, I was thinking of that old man and what he said. I’ve got more time than money. Me too, mister, me too. It brought me back, as everything brings me back, to my understanding of what motherhood is about. What I can give these children is my time. Time. I think about these long hours we’ve spent together in the car, singing Tom Chapin songs and eating sour cherry balls, and I’m so glad we chose this option for getting ourselves across the country, the route that takes more time than money.