This Friday marks a significant anniversary for my parents and I, one which has so thoroughly impacted our lives since that I feel compelled to commemorate it. Twenty years ago, on 14 June 1999, my mother and I arrived in Kansas City, her hometown, and my new city. My father had driven down a few days before to start setting things up, and we met him that afternoon at the home of one of my aunts in Kansas City, Kansas. It has taken me nearly as many years to be able to call Kansas City a second home, alongside Chicago, yet there it is.
In the last six months as this anniversary approached, I have returned to thinking about those first months in the last year of the last century when my parents decided to sell our little GI bill house in suburban Wheaton, Illinois, and buy a 34 acre farm on the western edge of Kansas City, Kansas, in what up until its annexation about 15 years earlier by the aforementioned city, was the farming village of Piper. Why did we do it? The answer is hardly simple, having far too many facets and elements to be answered quickly. The short of it is this, firstly my mother’s employer offered to pay to move us to either Kansas City or Saint Louis (at the time I said I’d rather Saint Louis), the closest Catholic elementary school to our house in Wheaton had a long waiting list for first grade, and my father had, from what I’ve heard, always wanted a farm.
So, in June we packed up the house. Ever the history buff I imagined us following in the footsteps of the pioneers and voyageurs of the three centuries before us, with names like Boone, Crockett, Joliette, and Marquette who likewise left the cities east of the Mississippi and travelled west to find new opportunities, to explore lands they didn’t know. As we crossed the Mississippi in the shadow of the Gateway Arch on the eve of Flag Day, I distinctly remember thinking about them. We weren’t travelling in a covered wagon, though perhaps in its 1990s equivalent, a 1997 Honda Civic, yet still the parallels seemed evident to my six-year-old imagination.
The adventure of the move was there for the first few months at least, and it probably lasted about a year. Still, as the years wore on, I still felt my heart drawn not to this new house that we built in a hay field, nor to the city that was sprawling further and further west. I was lucky to remember much of my life before we moved, my memory going back with consistency to at least the spring after my third birthday. I remembered and dreamed about the people, places, and things that we left behind for years, and for many years yearned for the day when I would finally move back home.
In the last few months after going with a group of friends up to the American Historical Association conference in Chicago, I began to think more and more about whether or not I’d be further along in my career had we stayed there two decades ago, had I gone through the schools up there, had I come from a more globally recognized city. My general conclusion is that I may have ended up in a different field, perhaps more in something having to do with Natural History or perhaps the History of Science. While the practicalities of my desire to return to my first home town have adapted with the flowing current of the times, I can still say with certainty that if given the option, I would still gladly move back.
Perhaps the greatest irony of this anniversary is that in the last year I’ve began to fully accept Kansas City as my second home town and began to really enjoy living here. This truly is a beautiful city, with so much opportunity. It’s taken me 19 years to be able to call this city home, yet now once again I’m on the move, heading east to Binghamton, New York to wrap up my studies with a doctorate in History. After all, like my grandfather and namesake John Kane, who I dearly miss, as soon as I move from one place to another, I start to miss the place that I just left. It’s only fitting then that now, at the moment when Kansas City really feels like home, I’m heading off to some other town. Figures.