M. Giant's
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Tuesday, May 08, 2007  

Seriously bummed about Greensburg, Kansas this week. When I first heard about the tornado that flattened the town, it was also the first I'd ever heard about Greensburg. Or so I thought.

At first I thought they'd said "Greenbush, Kansas," which is where my mom grew up. There's not much left of Greenbush, either, but it died a less abrupt death. The next town over from Greenbush is Girard, a much bigger place. When my grandma moved from Greenbush to Girard, none of us went to Greenbush much any more. As far as I knew, it pretty much ceased to exist at that point.

There's a story behind Greenbush. It seems that back in the 1800s, a traveling priest was caught out in a horrible storm. In Kansas. There's precious little cover there now, but in 1889, the only protection for miles around was a green bush (hence the name). While hiding under his saddle, the priest made a deal with God that if he survived the storm, he'd build a church on that spot.

Apparently these terms were acceptable to God, at least initially, because the priest lived to build his church. And then God knocked it down again.

It wasn't the ideal spot for a church to begin with. At the time, the land was part of the "Neutral Zone" that separated white settlers from Native Americans. Or the Romulans, I'm not sure which. Whatever the case, it wasn't a heavily populated spot. Pretty much the only thing that recommended the location was that a priest had failed to die there like he really should have. I don't know about you, but when the only thing I know about a place is that it was the site of the worst storm I've ever seen, I'm not inclined to stick around. Perhaps in later years the priest lamented the fact that he'd been too panic-addled when it mattered to promise to build a church in New York or Virginia instead.

Over the next century, not one but two churches were built on the site as disaster followed disaster. The congregation shuttled back and forth between the two buildings, like a Jaguar owner who has two of them so he can drive one while the other's in the shop. I've been to masses inside both structures, and I never knew which one we were going to until we got there.

In 1982, God's buyer's remorse finally got the better of Him and the stone church burned down after being struck by lightning. The stone church. Burned down.

Greenbush had a population of 150 in the 1990 census, and didn't even make the 2000 census. After the fire, the spare church was brought back into service, then shut down a decade later. There just wasn't enough of a congregation any more. Mind you, I’m not mocking. I've got relatives buried in that churchyard. If my mom's life had gone differently, I might be living in Greenbush now. Or at least Girard, or Pittsburg. If I existed at all, that is.

I thought about Greenbush for the first time in a while this weekend, when I heard about an entirely different town named Greensburg that I don't even remember driving through one night in 1993, even though I did. This other place, not far from where Jericho would be if it existed, is now completely unrecognizable even to the people who live there.

A lot of people say they'd never live in California for fear of wildfires and earthquakes, or on the East Coast for fear of hurricanes, or here for fear of a little snow. Me, I wouldn't live in a small Kansas town whose name starts with "Green" if you paid me. I suck at building churches.


posted by M. Giant 8:07 PM 1 comments


My mom and grandma also grew up in the Girard/Pittsburg area. I haven't heard of Greenbush - I can't imagine a town being smaller than Girard.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at May 9, 2007 at 6:36 AM  

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