“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.”  — Anthony Brandt

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.”  — Anthony Brandt

 I reported at 5:30 a.m., again this year, to 20th and Broadway to assist in checking in the PSU Homecoming parade entries.

A British accent is useful (not to mention Monty Python fun) in greeting the assorted drivers of floats, queen and king candidates, flat bed trucks, fire trucks, senior citizen buses, muscle cars, and tractors, etc. before directing them to their assigned spaces along the 10-block staging area.

“Hello mate. Here for the procession?”

“Huh? Uh … I’m here for the … uh … parade.”

“Right. That’s what you Yanks call it. In Britain the term parade is reserved for the military you know; for celebratory occasions such as this, the word procession is proper.”

“Well … uh … I guess I’m here for the procession.”

“Righto! Let’s see your procession permit then.”

“Permit? Uh … nobody said I needed a permit.”

“Just having a bit of fun, mate. No permit needed. Here’s your procession number. Motor slowly to your position where indicated on the rodeway … and mind the little nippers running about to get on trucks.”

My homecoming week began, as usual, a couple of days before at Harry’s Café with my son and the Adams brothers, Walter and Robert, back for their annual visit. We were joined for breakfast, this year, by John “Coach Kotz” Kotzman and his wife, Beth.

John, a Republic of Frontenac high school graduate — who loves a good story and has a gift for recalling detail — leaned across the table in front of Beth and related accounts of playing football for coach John “Spig” Spigarelli that ranged from legend to parable to yarn. A couple of times during John’s narrative Beth said with amazement, “Can’t you just imagine what would happen if that were to occur today?”

As usual, we also covered, the Adams brothers’ culinary tour, which included Barto’s Idle Hour, Chicken Annie’s, and Jim’s Steak House with Robert taking the lead gastronomic role, as he’s the Galloping Gourmet of Southeast Kansas. Mix in coffee, pancakes, eggs, toast, and juice, Walter’s staccato laugh, Bob’s wry commentary on U.S. politics, and my son’s two cents on all subjects from the younger generation, and you have the kind of homecoming breakfast that makes you want to linger, which we did on the sidewalk before I went off to work.

This year’s homecoming was extra special because it was also a coming home for the Knoll family. After the parade, lunch with the Adams brothers, a visit to Gorilla Village, one quarter of the PSU football game, some visiting with cousin Mike Fowler, and a much-needed nap, Linda and I headed out to the Republic to gather with four of my six siblings on mom’s sizable deck.

The weather couldn’t have been any better had we ordered it from the a bill of fare, which included grilled steak, salmon, shrimp, baked potato, tossed salad, and wine.

To complete the ambiance, brother Bill played CDs from his sizable collection — everything from big bands, to ballads, to Joe Nepote, to Elvis, drifting over the deck as the sun sank slowly behind the catalpas.

Of course there was plenty of reminiscing, not to mention a divergence of opinion or two, with some Little Balkans flowery language mixed in. But there was also a certain fragile ache in the air, borne of the realization that the number of deck gatherings with mom is decreasing with each passing year.

After supper, brother Steve pulled out the concertina he acquired just six weeks ago and took us back a hundred years or so to when it was common for the instrument to be played in southeast Kansas.

After a while, we moved into the kitchen where the dishes were being finished up. There Bill and I sang Amazing Grace to Steve’s halting concertina accompaniment, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; 'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far. And grace will lead me home.”

Sunday morning, as I drove out to the homeplace to see my siblings before they left town, I found myself imagining we are like a large jigsaw puzzle. One in which we change our shapes due to life experiences when we’re apart but, nonetheless, are called to find a way to fit into the puzzle when we come back together.

How do we do this? It takes a combination of logic, humor, compromise, patience, acceptance, and love.

Mostly love.

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Wellness Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net.