Teri Orr: Kick Ass Kansas!

Teri Orr

Park Record columnist Teri Orr.

To the best of my knowledge, I only visited Kansas once when I was 18 and in college in Greeley, Colorado, even though I have relatives who lived in Kansas, one was a Congress person in the early 1900s.

There is a Snyder family cemetery there, or there was, with people on my mother’s side. I didn’t learn that tiny bit of history until much later in life. More on that another day…

I attended Northern Colorado College for Teachers, or some name like that , in 1969. (It is now the University of Northern Colorado.) Everyone thought I would follow my high school boyfriend to the University of Nevada at Reno.

But I didn’t. ( At least not at first) It was the most radical thing I could think to do at 18. Greeley was hundreds of miles away from Reno. I said something like -it would be good to test our relationship – except nothing actually that mature.

Another female friend from my Bay Area high school, Mandy, also decided to go to Greeley and a male buddy, John, was gonna be at Fort Collins-which was close by.

We might as well have chosen Eygpt. Most ALL our friends went to schools within a two hour-driving range from our hometown of San Carlos. Maybe only a few- in Southern California -a little further away. But lots of local schools. And we’re not talking Stanford. Or Berkeley.

Except for the Monfort feeds lots, whose aroma wafted to the dining hall in the early morning hours and the dinner hour and, hell, most hours in between, I loved Greeley. I loved the big deciduous trees and the bridge over the pond in the town park, and the fact you could drink 3.2 beer at age 18. We were about an hour from Estes Park. And Golden, where Coors was manufactured, was in such a beautiful spot to visit, below Denver.

I had taken a bunch of girls from the dorm down there one fall day to take a tour. I was that rare creature on campus- in the late 60’s-who had my own wheels.

My VW-a red and white van with polka dot curtains I had sewn and a white sheepskin rug over the engine in the back- was pretty um, pretty. And the red indoor/ outdoor carpet I had cut to go over the rubber mats -so beyond. And, since I didn’t smoke, I put clay in the ashtrays and then, red straw flowers. It was a happy van.

After a few weeks of bonding from different states and backgrounds and our trip to Golden to take a tour- one of my housemates, Robin, had her boyfriend coming to visit, and she asked if she could borrow my van. She wanted to take him to Golden. We didn’t ask each other about insurance or really anything at all. I gave her the keys, and she took off.

Did I mention we lived in an all-girls dorm with a house mother? We did. With strict curfews. When Robin, and therefore my van, didn’t return by 11:00 -all hell broke loose. The house mother demanded we spill the beans about Robin’s location. Somehow, someone slipped and added she was also in my van.

The house mother threatened all kinds of calls to all kinds of people she assumed I had in my life. I assured her if any of those people answered her call, they would not care one whit. Not about the location of the car I owned outright, nor about Robin. And certainly not about me.

Robin was home by midnight. With the boyfriend. Her/our punishment, as I recall, was …no phone calls for us all, for a week, from the one common phone in the upstairs hallway. And a fistful of threats- if we ever did anything so stupid again. It was much ado…

A few weeks later, Robin grew withdrawn. But nobody just invaded anybody’s business back then. Then Robin, whose home was in New Mexico, asked one night if I was up for something outrageous. She already knew the answer. She asked, since we were so close to Kansas, could we just drive there and back before curfew?

Neither of us had ever been in that state. And so we did. I have zero recollection of what we talked about because I am pretty sure it was nothing of substance. We just laughed for hours. And I aways wondered if I had missed some clues.

A few weeks later the house mother sat down with all us girls and explained that Robin wouldn’t be coming back after we had all returned from Thanksgiving. She had dropped out of school for-awhile.

Her roommate added to the story, when the house mother left us alone. She had tried to hang herself. No one knew why. But her roommate said, Robin had missed her period. Twice.

I realize for the younger readers of this column- both of you-this all sounds so quaint and simple. I can assure you it was neither. Robin came back for a day and saw a few of us right before the Christmas break. She looked pale and terribly thin.

She said she had never thanked me for the loan of the van and she gave me a children’s book I had never seen and knew nothing about. It was Shel Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree. I read it, didn’t really get it, and tucked it away, literally, for decades.

I don’t know if Robin had been pregnant. I don’t know if she considered abortion or if she had one or if she just thought suicide was her only way out. It was 1969 and abortion was not legal. Roe v Wade doesn’t happen until 1973. The life-changing repercussions of an unwanted pregnancy then were, sometimes, unimaginable.

I know after Robin and I made that sneaky trip to Kansas we had made each other laugh sometimes with just a code word or two. So just the mention of Kansas has brought a smile, bittersweet, to my mind, all my long adult life.

This week, when that sunflower happy state flipped the script on what it meant to be a midwestern woman, all the humans who believe in bodily independence cheered and high-fived and thought, we Can do this. Again. Depending upon our age- we can do this to keep autonomy over our own bodies should we find ourselves with an unwanted pregnancy.

We can do this if we are of an age where we no longer are throwing out eggs, do this to support our daughters and granddaughters who are fertile and at risk. And for all the humans who just want to be treated fairly so, they can decide what is best for their own bodies and lives and futures.

Sure, Kansas had Dwight Eisenhower and maybe Dorothy from Oz and some relative I never knew much about who was elected to serve, but this week that state of the state of free humans also stood together and said, rather loudly -with their votes- decisions about a body functioning as a woman’s should be up to that person.

Every family has a story about either an abortion or an unwanted pregnancy. It is time we start sharing them and changing the script for all the generations to come- so they can make up their own damn minds about their own damn bodies.

In Kansas and in Kamas and all the cities and towns and states in between. Keep the faith. But Vote. Not just for one issue, on one day, but with your actions every day -all the Sundays in and around all the Parks…


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