This book is a nostalgic memoir by a current Indianapolis resident who was born and raised in and around Dodge City, Kansas. Rebein begins by documenting the frequent upheaval of of his early years as his parents seemingly obsessively engage in constant remodeling and building projects related to their family home then later, in one of my favorite sections, he describes the years he spent as a child hanging around a auto salvage yard owned and operated by his father. What a wondrous playground that must’ve been for a young and curious mind! (Well except for the junkyard dogs, maybe, but even their story was interesting).
He also recounts his discovery of a great appreciation of the natural beauty (that which remained by the time he was born, anyway) of the area and the joys of hunting, initially with his many older brothers and later with a friend of the same age. He references several times a book I rarely hear of, but which spent years on the little built-in shelf on my mom & dad’s bed: Custer’s (yeah, THAT Custer) “My Life on the Plains.” I never actually read it myself though I can still vividly picture it on that shelf – a mainstay in the home where I grew up. This book may inspire me to finally read it!
Rebein documents the changes to Dodge City, as it takes on more of a “modern” mantle, with all the shortcomings and loss of tradtions that entails, but he also explores the history of the region. Maybe my favorite section was the one titled “The Search for Quivera” (Quivera being a legendary name for the Kansas area, searched for by the Spanish explorer, Coronado, and those who followed in his footsteps).
A favorite quote:
“Imagine what the plains must’ve been like in that long-ago time before they were given over entirely to the production of ’commodities.’ “
He also covers a brief stint as a modern day cowboy, working the giant “feed pens” of the area, where the big business of beef supply may lead me to someday give up cheeseburgers. Don’t hold your breath on that one, though. 🙂 Rebein closes with a narrative of his mid life (crisis?) quest to ride a bronco in a real rodeo. Though discouraged by many, he sees it through and has his try at completing that “eight seconds” ride that has seduced so many thrill-seekers for generations.
(below: the landscape of modern-day Dodge City now includes a gaudy casino)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and actually found it pretty easy reading too. I’ve been to and through Kansas several times, and stopped in Dodge City itself in 2002, though much of that visit is lost to my fading memory. I remember more distinctly a visit to Hays, Kansas, and wandering the historic Fort Hays for a few hours and getting perhaps a hint of what the feel of the once-great vastness of the Prairie must have been.
At its core, the book is an embrace of nostalgia, and accepting that feeling somewhat as a “friend” rather than allowing it to drive one to melancholy. This final quote, I believe, captured the spirit of the book.
“There’s an undeniable sadness to all this that resonates even today – the circus gone, the party over, the days of debauched glory all in the past. Innocence gives way to experience, the child grows to adulthood, the young colt goes into harness and is made to pull the wagon of duty.”
This book is being discussed by the “Shared Pages” book club at “Bookmama’s Book Store” (link at left) tonight. I hope to make it, and if I do may add an update (or some photos) to this post at a later time. Oh, the title of the book? It refers to Wyatt Earp Boulevard, where the teen-aged author and his contemporaries “cruised” and sometimes raced in Dodge City. As a side note, I’ve also read a biography of Wyatt Earp, though many years ago. It was Stuart Lake’s excellent “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall.” One thing I remember from it was Mr. Earp’s paradoxical advice about gunfighting: “Take your time.”