Entertaining Matt

Do you know how to entertain a fifteen-year-old boy? Yeah, neither do I. Luckily my son is pretty easy-going.

Around here, school ends at Memorial Day weekend. The first week of summer vacation I keep my expectations low. My kids have worked hard, and they need a few days to do as they please before I unfold the grand plan for summer. Each child unwinds in their own way. Betsy binge-watches Netflix. Emily makes plan after plan with friends. Matt plays online games with his school friends.

This free-for-all lifestyle does pall after a time. Thursday afternoon when Matt emerged from the basement, I said, “Let’s go somewhere tomorrow,” and he readily agreed. He didn’t even flinch when I offered to be in charge of the adventure.

Friday morning I suggested we go to the new disaster movie, San Andreas. I’m not big on action flicks, but boys seem to like that sort of thing.

He dismissed the movie with a wave of the hand. “Too generic.”

All righty then. “We’ll go with my second choice,” I said. “I’m not telling you where we’re going until we get there.”

He gave an agreeable shrug. What did he care, as long as I bought his lunch?

After lunch, we headed north to Shawnee. As we exited the highway, Matt broke down. “I want to know where we’re going.”

I hid a triumphant smile. I finally had his attention. “We’re going to the Johnson County Museum to tour the 1950’s All-Electric House. I’ve always wanted to see it. Now, tell me what you know about life in America after World War Two.”

The 1950s All-Electric House
The 1950s All-Electric House

We discussed the GI bill, the baby boom, and post-war prosperity until we reached the museum. Our trip took longer than it should have. I’d looked at Google Maps before I left home, but my memory’s not what it used to be. Ah, what’s a field trip without a detour?

The All-Electric House was worth the trouble. Originally a model home built by KCP&L to showcase the latest in electric technology, the house typifies the suburban American dream of the 1950’s. Matt appreciated the automatic drapery pull and the television set hidden behind a framed oil painting. He found it hard to believe that a family could live with just two bedrooms and one bath, but I explained that the children wouldn’t have spent much time indoors.

I stepped into the house, sniffed the air, and felt the oddest sensation of the present sliding into history. I’ve been inside homes with identical floor plans, and similar smells, many times. The vital northern neighborhoods of Johnson County are full of them. These houses are far from obsolete, and yet here was one in a museum.

We ended our visit by touring an exhibit on Modernist architecture. We studied the requirements for Mid-Century Modern homes, and watched a PowerPoint presentation filled with examples. Then I took my son hunting.

Vintage advertisement for a Mid-Century Modern design
Vintage advertisement for a Mid-Century Modern design from becuo.com

We headed east, and at Mission and 67th, hit pay dirt: An entire block of textbook MCMs, with clean lines, sloping roofs, and big picture windows that bring the outdoors in. We stared out the car window as I crept past.

These sprawling homes were never my cup of tea when I was young. I wanted a house with lots of historic charm, which I defined as bay windows, hardwood floors, and crown molding. But time and education change a person’s perspective. The mid-twentieth-century is now 65 years in the past. With the passage of time, Mid-Century Modern homes have become unique and special. And now that I’ve bothered to learn about the ideas behind the buildings, I see their beauty.

We wandered through Prairie Village street-by-street, and down Lee Boulevard, pointing out MCMs as we went. We also discussed the current practice of buying a house, tearing it down and building a McMansion in its place. Matt vehemently disapproves. I can see I’m raising a preservationist.

At one point he said, “This is fun. I’m glad we did this.” I think he meant it.

I ended our tour by driving down the street where we lived when Matt was born. I pointed out our former ranch-style house with its MCM features. “This is your history,” I said. “These are your roots.”

It’s good to know where you come from.

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