South of Manhattan Kansas on Manhattan Ave there is a bridge over Wildcat Creek. Cross the bridge and you have arrived on what is commonly referred to as Hunter’s Island. Wildcat Creek and the Kansas river border this land. Some of the most fertile ground around can be found on Hunter’s Island. The hubby tells me it’s only a true island when it is surrounded by flooding. Which happens a lot.
I married the oldest grandchild of Ned and Ruth. Their farm was on Hunter’s Island south of Manhattan. In fact Ruth’s maiden name was Hunter. Her folks homesteaded the land. Thus the name Hunter’s Island.
On the first Memorial Day weekend after our wedding I was introduced to the strawberry patch on Hunter’s Island. Patch? Uh….more like field. Long rows of strawberries ready to be harvested. And how did they go from the ground to the plastic containers? By hand, silly city-girl Benita. We bent over, picked the fruit, and filled the containers so they could be sold. I ended up sitting cross legged on the ground between the rows and reached as far as possible to pick the strawberries. We won’t talk about the quality of my work or how many I picked. Or how many I ate while picking.
I soon learned why my new grandparents were in such fine physical condition. Truck gardening is hard work. Strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupe, etc…..all were hand-picked. And they had massive numbers of all of the above in their fields. Side note: there are no better tasting fruits and vegetables in the universe than those grown on Hunter’s Island. And the corn, oh the CORN!!!!!!
My “new” grandparents? Kind of “only” grandparents. Yes. My only living grandma was not close to us at all. She lived in Texas most of the year with her daughter. I may have seen her once a year for a brief visit in the years before she passed away. So to gain Ned and Ruth as my grandparents by marriage was an amazing gift.
Ned was quite tall and always wore overalls. He had a full head of thick white hair. I wish I had a picture to share of when he was young. He looked just like Robert Redford. No lie. Grandma Ruth was quite short and always had a beautiful sweet smile and quiet nature. They were dirt farmers and lived a really simple no-frills life on the island south of Manhattan.
Ned and Ruth made me feel like part of their family. They accepted me with all my quirks and oddities. Like the time their living room was filled with a large group of family. This was common when a lot of family came in. Just sit and visit in their living room. I was sitting on the crowded sofa amongst the whole group and I fell asleep sitting straight up. Like deep sleep, mouth wide open, snoring, etc. Woke up with drool running down my chin. To be clear, I’d been on call at the hospital the night before and hadn’t had much sleep at all. I was kind of mortified when I woke up and saw everyone just kinda looking at me. Drool and all. They laughed. I stayed wide awake for the remainder of the visit. It never happened again on any subsequent visits.
My very favorite memory of time spent with Grandpa & Grandma Conrow was a beautiful fall day during Kansas State football season. We had made the trip over to the farm with DeWayne’s folks for a visit. Grandpa would always be glued to the radio listening to every play of every KSU game. He was the living definition of avid KSU fan with purple blood running through his veins. And a walking team statistician. He knew his Wildcat sports. On that particular day, we opted to take the radio outside and listen to the game together. We sat in lawn chairs and the tree swing, ate a picnic of Dillon’s chicken with side dishes, and listened to the game. Glorious sunshine and blue skies, calm winds. Bliss, right there on Hunter’s Island. A memory I will treasure forever.
And every Thanksgiving without fail there was the huge family gathering at the Hunter’s Island School. One room school house with kitchen. The Conrow siblings gathered with all their families and we filled that school to the brim.
Family was a big deal. More important than…..anything, really.
The years passed and the day came for our daughter, their great-granddaughter, to be married. Grandpa and Grandma were in their 80’s by that time and slowing down physically. The morning of the wedding Grandpa was just too weak and ill to attend the ceremony. He was devastated, crying, not wanting to miss the event. So our daughter and her groom-to-be made the trip out to the farm to love on Ned and Ruth a bit. So they wouldn’t feel left out.
This is the last picture of Ned. He passed away a few days after this day. What a precious photograph. A moment captured that would never be possible again.
Grandma Ruth stayed on the farm after Grandpa Ned passed. A few weeks later DeWayne and I drove up to see her. The house was so quiet without Ned there. Grandma was happy to see us and I’m sure the visit seemed way too short for her. As we were driving away we both looked up to see her sweet face looking out the side window with the curtains pulled back. She waved at us and watched us go. By the time we reached the end of the driveway we were both in tears, sobbing. She looked so sad in that window, so very alone, so very fragile.
A sweet wonderful chapter in our lives had come to an end. A few years later Ruth passed away in a care facility after being lovingly cared for by her children.
What a blessing it was for me to have had that chapter as part of my story. They taught me just how wonderful grandparents can be. Their three children, their grandchildren, and all the greats have a strong legacy passed down to them. From Ned and Ruth they learned what family is designed to be. Loving, faithful, hard-working, and available.
I’ll never forget the first time I crossed the bridge over Wildcat creek onto Hunter’s Island with the young, handsome man of my dreams. To the island south of Manhattan. Totally new place to me. On that day I had no idea just how much, how wonderfully my life would change and be enriched by two folks named Ned and Ruth.
I am so thankful. So very thankful.
P.S. The farm is still being farmed by Ned and Ruth’s son and grandsons. Hunter’s Island is still Hunter’s Island. Yes it is.