It’s time to recall our friendly past

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:22 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

One of the things I’ve learned from living in a politically charged environment is that it is not differences in political philosophy that divide people as much as differences in attitudes.

Remember when it was considered bad manners to bring up politics or religion at social gatherings? In those days, we valued good relationships with our neighbors and friends more than putting forth our positions on political or religious issues. For the sake of maintaining a pleasant environment, we were all willing to forgo the opportunity to express our opinions, saving them for expression at the proper time and in the proper place. As a result, regardless of which party has been in power, I have always been impressed with the friendliness, helpfulness and warm hospitality Missourians extend to visitors.

I always delight in telling the story of how a few years ago I worked at a flea market in a small town several miles from home. It was the Fourth of July. When I began my journey home, I discovered that the belt on my steering column had broken and it was virtually impossible to turn the wheels of my car.

Because it was a holiday and businesses were closed, I prepared to leave my car and make arrangements to have it repaired the next week. As soon as one of my fellow flea-market merchants heard of my plight, he brought his son over to my car and they worked in the open for two hours, during a thunderstorm, to get my automobile ready for the road. These men earned my everlasting gratitude, and I had never met them before.

For years, I have been telling people that if I have to be stranded any place in the United States, I hope it would be Kansas City. I have at least a dozen stories of being aided by Kansas Citians in stressful circumstances. One New Year’s holiday, when I was caught without transportation because of a raging snowstorm, I was rescued at the bus station by an airport limousine driver.

On my return to the station a few days later, when traffic was still at a standstill, I was given a free ride back to my destination on a city bus that was being returned to the garage for repairs.

I have always had an overwhelming dose of state pride. Some would say I am biased because I’ve always lived here and my family has been here for such a long time. Call it what you will, but it does disturb me when I see or hear of instances in which people who represent the state participate in episodes of pettiness and mean-spiritedness. I have seen plenty of that in the past few years. I suppose it should not surprise any of us that our state has become a major player in the illegal manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine and our cities are considered by some as capital crime scenes in the Midwest.

It does bother me that we seem to have created an environment where people feel comfortable in law-breaking. It’s distressing to read accounts of state lawmakers cutting health services for the poorest of our residents while we have to use the money to build more jails to house the criminals.

Somehow we create more problems than we solve. Maybe it was only when we were an agricultural society that we understood that if we planted bad seeds, we would reap a poor harvest. This is one of those times when it is difficult to ascertain whether we gain or lose as we progress.

So when people begin to compare our sour attitudes with those in states where the pollution is so thick that folks have lost their ability to force their lips into smiles, I’ll have to start using the past tense when I refer to our winning Missouri ways. It would be easy enough to blame our ugly dispositions on out-of-towners, but a lot of this hostility looks like it’s homegrown, festering in the background. I know people, for example, who still harbor resentments against Jane Fonda for her protests of the Vietnam War.

While I realize the price of gas is going to hurt summer travel, I hope those who plan vacations will consider taking a few day trips and visiting the wonderful tourist attractions across Missouri. Why not leave your politics at home and enjoy some great fishing trips at our beautiful lakes that are so well-maintained by the Department of Conservation? Drive to Independence and take the family to visit the Truman Presidential Museum and Library. Go to Hannibal and take a trip down memory lane with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Maybe it’s time to renew our spirits by reacquainting ourselves with our heritage. Let’s put our attitudes on hold. Surely, out of the gifts of our glorious past, we can rekindle our energies and push forward toward a new day when Missouri can become again the Show-Me State of friendliness and hospitality.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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