Become an ambassador of Boonville
(This column is dedicated to my grandparents Harold and Jean Haller who took it upon themselves to become ambassadors of generous hospitality)
Memories are like the stars that peek out every night. They are always there, but sometimes the light of day overtakes the quaint sparkle, only letting them peek out when their intensity is the greatest.
I would like to share a memory; a memory that now has more meaning because of my greater respect for our area.
When my grandparents, Harold and Jean Haller lived near Martinsville, they began a tradition to feed cyclists who were pedaling the Katy Trail during the Annual Katy Trail Bike Ride. Why did they want to be this kind? It was in their nature to be stewards of Christ, treat others how you would want to be treated.
In 2001, I, along with my mother, uncle and sister decided that we wanted to take part in this good work. To prepare, Grandpa or I would take Grandma around to get food donations from generous businesses around Boonville and Pilot Grove. My grandparents spent a lot of their own money to purchase food as well.
The night before the riders were to arrive I went to bed early because the sun was not going to make long to take its journey around the planet. Before sunrise we met at Grandma and Grandpa's to load the supplies onto a trailer pulled by an old H Farmall tractor, and head towards the old MKT railroad crossing where my grandfather used to watch the Katy engines struggle to make their way to Pilot Grove.
The hill to Pilot Grove from Boonville is a struggle. While watching the trains all those years ago, grandpa remembered when the diesel locomotives were introduced to the MKT line and how the engineers would try to make the new diesels look unfit for the job. The engineers would radio back for assistance from a steam locomotive. Grandpa said engineers knew jobs were on the line since fireman would not be needed any longer with the newer engines.
Stories like the one above were most likely mentioned while we unpacked the food and watched the morning sun as it broke through the blanket of darkness, invigorating us as the first cyclists arrived.
We were a welcome sight. This was before there was a collective effort in Boonville to cater to cyclists on the Katy Trail, especially during large events. Since the riders did not eat breakfast, this was a time to refuel their energy on the way to Sedalia. They truly needed it on the way to Pilot Grove, just like in the old days of the locomotives. Cyclists still find it challenging to pedal to Pilot Grove.
Donuts, pastries and some true breakfast foods without all the sugar and carbohydrates were up for the taking.
It only took a few minutes before Grandpa and Grandma started sharing stories, and of course, asking their guests to sign the scrapbook. Every year grandma would update her scrapbook of the pictures taken while they fed the riders from previous years. The book also preserved letters and articles, that grandma guarded with care as if the contents were encompassed with gold and jewels. And, to Grandma, they were. I do not believe any amount of gold or jewels would be as great of value as a card, a hug or smile from a loved one or stranger.
The bikers would spend 15 minutes, perhaps 30 talking to Grandpa. We all loved to talk and find out where everyone called home. I was surprised to find out the majority of the people were not even from Missouri, but from areas as far as Alaska and Europe. The countryside within our backyard which we take for granted, these bikers look upon as if it was a piece of art in a museum.
For almost the entire morning, we made sure the cyclists could pedal all the way to Pilot Grove and, ultimately Sedalia, and not ask for assistance.
The cyclists were always grateful for my grandparents and also the assistance that we provided.
In 2004, after the loss of grandpa in 2003, grandma was given an award from the riders in a large ceremony at Kemper while they were staying the night during the annual bike ride. It was a standing ovation and, of course, a surprise to my grandmother. She accepted the award with humility.
That fall, I went to college and, occasionally, I would think about the good times we shared during those summer mornings.
If it were possible, my grandparents would still be ambassadors with their caring hospitality to visitors from all walks of life. Grandma could still be considered an ambassador at Katy Manor in Pilot Grove, since she is always greeting people near the door. My grandparents did not know a stranger because they made sure they became friends quickly.
If only my grandparents could see how Boonville has grown. Since then, cyclists are given the best possible experience as they pedal along the Katy Trail and, every year, the experience out-does the last.
Besides the memories of those summer mornings, I can say, it was then I realized, we were not the only ones who cared about our area. Guests from all over the world do too. But of course, it was not until I left and came back did I get the true perspective.