Atchison’s Good Ol’ Days

Grandma Moody

Grandma Moody at my wedding in 1989. Kansas City, Kansas. Photo by Kaye Vessar.

My grandmother has been on my mind a lot lately. Not sure why. I just miss her. She shuffled off this mortal coil a little more than fifteen years ago. The last time I saw her was at Kansas City International Airport. My wife and I were headed to the island of Kwajalein in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. This was not the first time we said goodbye from KCI. In 1998, my wife and I both accepted teaching positions in Kurashiki, Japan and we lived and taught in that central Japanese city for one year. During that year, I received a letter from my Grandma Moody once a week, like clockwork. In one of those letters, was an article that she cut out from her local newspaper about the “good ol’ days” that also included an invitation to submit an essay about Atchison memories. So I did. I wrote an essay titled “Atchison, Kurashiki, and the Moody Blues” (Moody Blues as in missing my Grandma Moody, not the prog rock band…although they rock!).  It was published in the Atchison Daily Globe on January 5, 1999. I even found it in the on-line archives of the newspaper! In memory of my Grandma Moody, I now share it with all of you. And how I truly wish the last paragraph was still possible today. I miss you Grandma.

Atchison, Kurashiki, and the Moody Blues

I have not actually lived in Atchison for over twenty-five years. I never attended Atchison High School or Maur Hill. I only swam in the Atchison Pool a couple of times, and was an occasional customer on “the mall”, specifically at Doman’s Drugs for a tenderloin sandwich. My family moved away from Atchison when I was in the second grade. Not far, mind you. Only about fifteen miles west to a little town called Effingham. I graduated from Atchison County Community High School and attended college in the big city of Topeka! I soon graduated and found myself married, teaching, and living in Kansas City. But there was always a little life-line that kept me attached to Atchison…my grandmother. She was, and is, a big part of my life, so Atchison has also remained a big part of my life. Although now that relationship is from afar, as I live and teach in Kurashiki, Japan.

So why am I now writing about Atchison? Because of Ilo Moody, my grandmother. 

Atchison Daily Globe

My essay “Atchison, Kurashiki, and Moody Blues” in the Atchison Daily Globe. Jan. 5, 1989.

Living in Japan can be quite lonely, so the mail becomes very important. She sends me a letter once a week, like clockwork. Today I was feeling a little blue and, as grandma would say, “out of sorts. The day did not go quite as expected and I had to bike home from the school where I teach in a torrential downpour, courtesy of the now exited typhoon # 7. When I arrived at my apartment, there was a letter from my Grandma Moody waiting for me. I had already received this week’s letter, so I was surprised to see the red, white, and blue air mail envelope with the familiar writing in the return address corner. Perfect medicine for the blues in Japan.    

This was a “just thinking about you note” with a little extra…an article from The Atchison Daily Globe entitled “Atchison’s Good ‘ol Days” My grandma and her Moody’s Drive-In are mentioned in this article and I must admit…it got to me. I sat down and cried and was truly homesick. And then I got to thinking…about the good ‘ol days.

Before my family moved to Effingham, I attended Franklin Elementary School. I remember to this day my first grade teacher, Ms. Vickers. I had the biggest crush on her! The year was 1970 and she had a Mary Tyler Moore hair-do with a brilliant red tint. She wore clam diggers, had a beautiful smile, was loving and caring, and she made me feel special. Recess was always on our minds and how we could keep a certain girl from pinching all of us, especially the boys.  (Don’t worry Shelly, I won’t name names!) I hated to say goodbye to Ms. Vickers and my friends, but the move was inevitable.

Effingham is only about fifteen minutes from Atchison by car,  so I spent a lot of time in Atchison visiting my grandmother and often spent the entire weekend with her helping out at the diner. I remember the days of  Moodyburgers and Zipburgers, although I’m afraid I never really appreciated them until after the diner was long gone. I was always a cheeseburger, fries, and a Pepsi kind of guy. That’s what I always had. Every now and then I would have a tenderloin with cheese and mayo just to mix things up a bit. Nobody makes a cheeseburger like Grandma Moody. I washed dishes, waited on customers, and even flipped a burger or two. My grandmother and the regular customers  made that little diner one of the warmest places to be in Atchison. Bob “The Rainbow Bread Man” Christian and good ‘ol Fred Messina made the days eventful. In the summer months I spent as much time as I could with her and that often meant I was at that diner twelve hours a day, but it was worth it. I would not trade that time for anything in the world.

Grandma at her diner, Moody's Drive-In

My Grandma Moody at her diner, Moody’s Drive-In. Atchison, Kansas. Circa 1970.

Most of the grocery shopping in Atchison was done at Arensberg’s IGA across from the West Lanes bowling alley. I had a part-time job at Litwin’s downtown and my boss, Mr. Feldman always told me, “I’ll make a sale to the first person that enters my store today and to the last to leave”. And somehow he always made good on his statement. I remember going to the Fox movie theater to see such classics as “Jaws”,“The Towering Inferno”, and “Rocky” and going to the Frontier Drive-In with high school chums. Funny thing, I can’t remember a single movie I saw at the Frontier! I remember the smell of Midwest Solvents as it wafted its way to my grandmother’s yard. July 4th was very often spent at Amelia Earhart Stadium watching the fireworks display and eating ice cream.

Atchison has grown up a lot since I’ve been away. There is even a Walmart and a Country Mart now. Walmart? It used to be that  Diebolt’s, Litwin’s, Gibson’s and TG&Y were the main shopping stops. Boy, things have changed. If you wanted good food the diners of choice were Moody’s Drive-in, Jerry’s Restaurant, and Palucci’s. There may have been others; I have only mentioned those that I remember well.  I also remember when the only fast food chains around were Dairy Queen, Pizza Hut, and Taco Grande. McDonalds, Wendy’s, Long John Silvers, and Taco Johns arrived after I was long gone. The people of Atchison have far greater choices  when it comes to fast food these days.

For me, Moody’s Drive-In is alive and well. Every time I visit my grandmother, she greets me with a hug, a  kiss, and sits me down to a good old Moody’s cheeseburger, fries, and a Pepsi, catching me up on everything that has happened since my last visit. We will have a lot to catch up on when I return next year. It is the anticipation of that hug, kiss, and cheeseburger that help cure my Moody blues here in the land of the rising sun. They will be there, in good ‘ol Atchison, waiting for me. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

©1998 MizushimaBlues. All Rights Reserved.

© 2019 Greg Vessar. All Rights Reserved.



Categories: Family, Japan, Memoir, TravelTags: , , ,


  1. Wow, flood of memories. Missing grandma and mom even more. I remember being at the diner and washing dishes, making hamburger patties and milkshakes. Remember learning how to count change back to a customer? Grandma always made sure you counted the change back.

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