Day 102/ June 8th – Plattsburg, MO to St. Joseph, MO: A slight shower

We saw the first lightning flashes about an hour into our walk today, just as we had left Plattsburg behind and entered open corn-fields.  The corn was young and still only knee-high, which meant that, although neither of us are very tall, our heads were the highest points for at least half a mile in every direction.  The local weather teams had been excitedly forecasting severe storms as we left our B&B just before dawn, and the rain arrived suddenly in a dark shard that cut across the sky and turned the bright morning to dusk.  It poured down on us.  After searching our memories, we decided that while we had both seen rain as heavy as this before, it had generally been through a window with a steaming mug of cocoa in our hand.  We spent the next ten minutes drawing thin comfort from this shared first, and drafting sarcastic letters of complaint to the marketing department at Gore-Tex.

Storm near Plattsburg, Missouri

Darkness falls o'er the land

Out of the murk ahead loomed a white farmhouse.  We ran towards it, hoping fervently that there was no such thing as a rain mirage, and huddled in a small dry patch of driveway under the lip of its garage roof.  Although she was almost eighty, and lived alone at least a mile from any other building, Mary-Ellen, to her great credit, didn’t rush to the phone and alert the authorities to the presence of two soggy vagrants on her property when she caught sight of us from her sun-room fifteen minutes later.  Instead, without missing a beat, she welcomed us inside to dry off and wait out the storm.

While we took off our raincoats in her porch, she shared a cautionary tale of the perils of Missouri storms.

“I knew a boy once, he and his father were fishing at a pond out in the country – musta been years ago – and they noticed thunder in the distance.  They said, we’d better get back in the car and get outta here.  They were walking back and the dad heard an explosion, turned around and his son was on the ground dead.  His shoes were burned off, and his plastic raincoat had exploded.  He had two little children.  So I don’t mess with lightning.”

We were in Clinton County, a few miles outside Plattsburg.  During the 1830s it was briefly one of the westernmost settlements in America, originally called Springfield, until it was discovered that there was already a Springfield in Missouri.  How this could have escaped the notice of the town fathers isn’t entirely clear, but they were evidently an uninspired bunch when it came to naming, and simply changed the name to Plattsburg, after the capital of another Clinton County in New York.

Victorian house in Plattsburg, MO

A typically modest home in Plattsburg, MO

It was a curious little town, filled with Victorian Gothic mansions, all ornately carved turrets and gaudily painted porches, as though the Addams Family had moved in and built themselves a house each.  We stayed at one of them, the Pink Rosebud B&B.  It was run by John, a slightly taciturn man in his fifties, with the manner of a father interviewing a prospective son-in-law, but who nonetheless discreetly hove into view from time to time with a plateful of delicious home-made brownies, and got up at five in the morning to make us breakfast before we set out.

“Oh, we get a lot of turkey and deer hunters through here,” he said, when we thanked him. “Five am is nothing.”

Although she lived several miles out of town, and in considerable isolation, Mary-Ellen was well up on Plattsburg gossip.

“You stayed at the Pink Rosebud?  For years it was empty, and the yard was just weeds.  I was so glad when someone bought it and made something of it.  John does the cooking – imagine that – and gets a lot of groups in for lunch.  He runs an antique store uptown too.”

At Mary-Ellen's near Plattsburg, MO

Enjoying a warm and dry hour with Mary-Ellen

Over a round of Cokes, she told us about her life.  She had been born in this house, into a farming family, and had gone to work in the early Fifties as a secretary in a consulting firm in Kansas City, where she had soon been earmarked for promotion.

“One day my boss called me in and handed me a slide rule and a stopwatch and said, ‘Here you are, kid, go to it’, and I took time and motion studies in factories.”

She had become one of the first generation of female management consultants in America, a job she had evidently loved.

“I liked it.  I can honestly say I never, ever had one day that I hated to go to work.  All my working career, I basically worked with married men.  I was the only woman.  My peers were all married men, so people thought I must have had all these friends from work, but not really.”

Mary-Ellen had never married, and now lived in great contentment in her childhood home – on 200 acres – surrounded by photographs of great-nephews and nieces on whom she evidently doted, and by piles of paperwork for the various local church groups for which she volunteered.

Crayfish in Missouri

Word up! A crayfish ponders his new life on the edge of a Missouri corn-field

On the TV in the corner, local weathermen were tracking the progress of the storm through the pixels of interference that it was causing on the screen.  After an hour or so, it abated, and we set out again towards St. Joseph, laden down with Cokes from Mary-Ellen’s fridge, along an unsealed country road covered with fingernail-sized baby frogs and even a tiny red crayfish, deposited there by the fury of the rain.  The road rose and fell gently over the hills all the way into St. Joseph.

“I remember going sledding out on that road when it froze,” Mary-Ellen had told us, peering out of her front window.  “About, ooh, seventy years ago now.”  It was lucky for us that she was still here.


2 Responses to “Day 102/ June 8th – Plattsburg, MO to St. Joseph, MO: A slight shower”

  1. LINDA Says:

    One of the great joys of this trip must be meeting people like Mary Ellen. She looked and sounded so nice I feel like I almost know her.

  2. Dave Says:

    Quite a trip. Just a note: the photo from the Nebraska State Capitol ( is looking south, not west.

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