The morning of the anniversary Old Mission Hills Fourth of July Party, I warned Adharsh, my admirer at the time who was visiting from New Orleans, about what to expect.”
“We’re affectionate of activity to stick out,” I said. “My family, I mean. We consistently do.”
“Speak for yourself,” he said, grinning. “I came prepared.” He pulled a crumb dejected polo shirt over his head.
Mission Hills, an ascendancy of Tudor mansions and adhesive haciendas looming aloft the hills, is the WASPiest suburb of Kansas City. Bounded absolute acreage developer J.C. Nichols laid out the affairs in 1914, accouterment to affluent businessmen who capital to move abroad from downtown. The adjacency is on the Kansas ancillary of Kansas City, adjoining Accompaniment Band Road. Evan Connell set his novels “Mr. Bridge” and “Mrs. Bridge” in the white-columned abode he grew up in, and Ernest Hemingway bound “A Farewell to Arms” while active on Indian Lane. A aeon afterwards the aboriginal houses were built, the boondocks has the accomplished average assets of any boondocks in the state, and is, as of 2010, 98.6% white.
Adharsh, is South Indian and frequently gets mistaken for black, but I ample he apparently still wouldn’t stick out as abundant as my mom would.
While the added women amassed about the barbecue tables in Lilly Pulitzer sundresses and Brooks Brothers golf separates, their albino beard bright in the sun, Mom floated by in her red and dejected tie-dyed dress. Her beefy clogs were the alone shoes not biconcave into the grass. Meanwhile, my dad manned the barbecue in a hardly beneath apparent untucked shirt and biscuit shorts, baking a brace dozen Hebrew Nationals.
Jews acclimated to be outsiders here, alike admitting Mission Hills was not one of the suburbs to absolute ban them. The aboriginal Jewish families to move actuality were additionally the aboriginal Jews to buy their way into the absolutely goyish Kansas City Country Club. They attenuated in quickly, adopting the neighborhood’s dress cipher and sending their kids to Pembroke Hill and the Barstow School. And they ashore calm — they still do. The Jews of Mission Hills are a tight-knit group, a abbreviate account of ancestors whose names beautify the assumption donor plaques at the New Reform Temple beyond Accompaniment Band Road.
I approved to chronicle some of this accomplishments advice to Adharsh on the car ride up from New Orleans, but I acquainted conflicted about my hometown. I adulation Mission Hills — it’s area I was aloft and area my parents, whom I am actual aing to, still live. I feel abundantly advantageous to accept developed up there, in an English Tudor on Mission Drive, with a huge backyard absolute for arena acted amateur with my sister Phoebe, like Civil War Orphans and In Hiding (inspired by watching our Holocaust survivor grandmother acquaint a bounded assembly of “The Diary of Anne Frank”).
But we don’t accord to any of the clubs, and, growing up, I didn’t apperceive best of the adjacency kids, aback they went to clandestine academy instead of Prairie Elementary, area Phoebe and I went. They played lacrosse on professionally manicured lawns and absolved with anniversary added in the summer to the country clubs, monogrammed canvas basin accoutrements slung over their bistered shoulders. They were affable to me every year at the Fourth of July party, but I don’t anticipate they knew my name.
In average school, I admirable one babe in particular, a human-sized Barbie with dejected doe eyes and absolute albino hair. She consistently had the appropriate affectionate of book bag and the appropriate clothes, clashing my rolling haversack and Old Navy overalls.
My ancestors sticks out politically, too, as liberals in this bourgeois stronghold. Afore the aftermost two presidential elections, Mom put up Obama signs in our advanced backyard and replaced them again aback they were stolen. Addition bald the Obama sticker off of her actual un-Mission Hills minivan. At City Hall voting booths, she was accepted as “The Democrat.” And there’s the adventure of how, afterwards one decidedly cringe-worthy address at the temple in which a above clergyman railed adjoin intermarriage, Mom confronted him afterwards in the lobby. On our way home in the car, she dialed bottomward the Bob Dylan announcement from the stereo and askance about to face Phoebe and me.
“Girls, I don’t affliction what Clergyman C. said — you can date anyone you want, as continued as he’s not a Republican.”
My parents weren’t like our Jewish neighbors, best of whom grew up with money. The men Dad’s age stepped into their fathers’ or grandfathers’ business, a coffer or allowance aggregation or accumulated aegis close congenital in the 1950s or 1960s, some abundant earlier. There was consistently the immigrant from Russia or Poland or the Holocaust survivor who, for some reason, bypassed New York and Chicago and acclimatized in Kansas City, Missouri, alone a few dollars in his pockets and barred from some of the Kansas-side suburbs. One or two ancestors bottomward the line, the move was fabricated beyond the accompaniment band to Mission Hills, Kansas, accouchement beatific to Pembroke Hill. Again east for school, weekends spent at the country club instead of at the JCC.
All of the Mission Hills Jews assume to be related, except for us — anybody is addition else’s “cousin.” Clashing the others, my parents aren’t from Kansas City, but Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mom was aloft Catholic, the fourth of seven. Hers was the aftermost white ancestors to move from arctic Tulsa in 1967, aback they confused to a bungalow on East 17th Place, three blocks from Christ the King Church, area my grandparents went to Mass every Saturday evening. In this house, Grandma Mary baptized me in the kitchen bore aback I was a babyish and my parents were at a movie, and Grandpa Frank set up boutique as the actionable adjacency Volkswagen mechanic.
Dad grew up beyond boondocks in a GI suburb, the son of a aerial academy dropout from Brooklyn and a Polish Holocaust survivor. My parents met at Booker T. Washington High, area they both transferred the year that the academy reopened as the state’s aboriginal voluntarily chip school. Dad, a senior, was allotment of the aboriginal chip class, and Mom was a sopre, two years behind. Her face is huge in her annual account compared to the added snapshots, which had to be zoomed out to accommodate massive Afros. Their aboriginal date was a Rolling Stones cine at the Brookside Theater. The amphitheater still stands, and Mom retells the adventure whenever we drive by it on visits to Tulsa.
“I was dating addition abroad then, and I was declared to acquaint him to all my Jewish friends,” she says. “But I admired him, so I didn’t. Also, I didn’t accept any Jewish friends.”
Mission Hills Jews about accord to the New Reform Temple, the abbey area Phoebe and I were bat mitzvahed and confirmed. At Aerial Holiday services, Phoebe and I petted the fur covering slung over the pew in advanced of us. The grandmothers — garden gnomes in red lipstick and clouds of Chanel No. 5, earlobes billowing with golf ball-sized chaplet — bankrupt my cheeks and purred accost in German accents.
It is the alone abbey in Kansas City, a baby aggregation of Jews who accept belonged for generations. This is a citizenry audible from the Jews in the extensive suburbs who ample the alveolate mega-temples that crank out two or three bar mitzvahs a Saturday. I met some of these kids aback I aing a Jewish adolescence accumulation in aerial school. They threw parties in ex-urban, treeless aback yards, and, like me, went to accessible school. It took me about an hour to drive out to some of their houses, tucked into subdivisions with faux-British names, area I got absent in the cul-de-sacs belted by identical biscuit split-levels.
I spent every Sunday afternoon out at the Overland Park Jewish Association Center, the armpit of aftermost spring’s shootings. From New York, I watched the account cameras browse accomplished the parking lot area we had accumulated into buses for conventions in Omaha and St. Louis, the antechamber area we would array with bagels from the adjacent band capital afore account affiliate meetings. My ancestors and I were not associates there, and there was no adventitious my parents would be bent in the violence, but I alleged them anyway, fabricated abiding anybody was all right.
Back at the Fourth of July party, Dad accomplished assay the hot dogs, and mothers chased kids about with napkins, dabbing ketchup off of linen sundresses. The array commenced bottomward 59th Street, with the blaze barter and a best white convertible, Mission Hills Fourth of July Queen perched on the jump seat. Mom alien Adharsh to everyone. Soon afterwards the parade, the men began to alluvion abroad to comedy in golf tournaments that anniversary of the clubs held, abrogation their wives to apple-pie up. Adharsh helped me backbone dozens of little American flags from the curb. I said goodbye to a adolescent brace from the temple who had aloof confused aback to the neighborhood. They kept talking about how acceptable it acquainted to be aback home.
Later that night, Adharsh and I sat on my balustrade swing, while fireworks from the Mission Hills Country Club thundered in the distance. The aing morning we would drive aback bottomward to New Orleans, area I was active with him for the summer. He was administration a bifold with a scattering of added med acceptance in Central City, a adjacency far added bright this one. Our canicule bottomward there were abounding with account paperbacks on the balustrade and cooling off with $2 beers at our admired bar on Napoleon Avenue. I fit in in New Orleans in a way I didn’t in Mission Hills. Alike the Jewish association there was beneath stuffy. As an apprentice at Tulane, I abounding Shabbat dinners at Hillel with my friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, area we devoured hunks of bootleg challah and got addled from Manischewitz.
Mom came home from watching the fireworks on the added ancillary of the country club fence, announcement their accession with a Tarzan yell. Bottle of wine in hand, they aing us on the porch. Mom plopped assimilate the hammock, and Dad pulled up a chair. It was dark, but we didn’t about-face on the lights. Fireflies glittered beyond our yard, and the moon shone through the sycamore branches. There was a addled hum alfresco of neighbors walking aback from the country clubs, their affable amusement accustomed uphill.
If Jews, as a group, aren’t absolutely advised outsiders anymore here, my ancestors still is. We are the amiss affectionate of Jews for Mission Hills. Mom wears the amiss clothes, Phoebe and I went to the amiss school. There are no snapshots of Mom in the association pages, corrective up and smushed aing to our neighbors at a Children’s Mercy Hospital fundraiser. She never shops at Halls administration abundance on the Country Club Plaza. Dad doesn’t absorb his Fridays arena golf at the club. My bat account affair took abode in our active room. There were alone a few Jewish kids there, and alone one from my Sunday academy class. She sat in the corner, cutting the appropriate clothes, allurement her mom aback they could go.
Sophie Unterman grew up in Mission Hills, Kansas. She currently lives in New York, area she is a alum apprentice at Columbia.
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