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An English Country Girl in Kansas

by Lisa Quested

Lisa Quested and the Kansas Horizon
Lisa Quested and the Kansas horizon. Photo by Liz Ponting, Editor, Marquette Tribune.

As an English country girl, arriving in Goodland, Kansas, at the age of 20 was quite an awakening to life beyond Europe. We only ever could see the horizon looking out to sea. Here there was no sea, no volume of water of any kind, yet the skyline surrounded me for the first time in my life.

I am from the southwest of England where my family and I lived in the county of Cornwall with Plymouth being the nearest city to us, although it was in Devon.  This region is known for tourism primarily because the southwest of England has an especially beautiful coastline.

We dairy farmed in my home parts and any field of cows always had the traditional green hedge row surrounding it, only visible when heading down hill or by a peak through a gate way.  Although in my family we did not farm ourselves, my best friend's family had a dairy farm. On the weekends I stayed with them and we would have to awaken early to help bottle feed the calves.  So I have always had a keen sense of the farming way of life.

I studied culinary arts in Plymouth which involved a six month exchange to Germany. I worked as a chef for 2 years in Germany and it was there that I met my ex husband.  We married in Germany, and because he was Army we soon left for his home town of Goodland, Kansas.

Once there, on a dark, thundering evening, I was introduced to Kansas “extreme” weather.  Tornado Shelters?  Sirens?  New concepts to me! “Severe weather” in the UK meant blinding fog or torrential rain. Scorching heat, dripping humidity, and air where breathing became a chore led me to believe I was in the desert. Thank goodness for another fresh idea: the air conditioner. I didn’t know what it was at first, but I loved it!

This I soon learnt was only the beginning of 15 years of surprises living in Kansas.  I soon realized that when ordering tea I was going to receive it in a glass of ice and not in a steaming pot.  Chips no longer were the accompaniment to fried fish, and where were all the flavors?  And who on earth would eat gravy on a cookie?

Eventually I figured it all out.  Biscuits here were a bread not a cookie, and the list of different foods goes on.  But after fifteen years I still have to stop and think about quarters.  A hexagonal mini coin with face value of 20 pence replaces it in the UK.  Also driving is a battle yet today – it’s amazing that what is instilled in your mind as a child stays with you instinctively through adulthood. Chanting “stay right, stay right” seems to help!


Lisa Quested in front of the Valley Cafe
Quested in front of her Valley Cafe in downtown Marquette, Kansas. Photo by Liz Ponting.

Soon after arriving in Goodland we moved to Salina.  It was there I saw a little cafe in Marquette for sale. Upon viewing the Valley Café, downtown Marquette, I knew I had to give this a try.

I began offering all the typical fare that farmers crave, hot beef sandwiches and the like, plus I immediately dove into providing an English menu, European specialties etc. This proved only to be popular on special evenings and not day to day. For example, the cafe fills up for our occasional German buffets. However, the main stays have been fish and chips on Saturdays and Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sundays.

bikersIn our diner, farmers mingle with Harley riders. On the third Saturday of every May Marquette plays host to the "Thunder on the Smoky" motorcycle rally and so we offer special biker breakfasts every third Saturday year round. In fact the Valley Café is located next to the Kansas Motorcycle Museum in Marquette.  

Heritage is important in Marquette.  I am proud of mine and they of theirs, and so we have found mutual respect. The local Lutheran church, a wonderful support of the café, fixes an amazing Swedish supper every December whilst our local grocer (also dedicated Mayor) offers Swedish foods daily.

festivalI have grown to love my new home although I miss my family in Europe tremendously. Every day of my life I live with that painful void.  I miss meat pies and chippies. And these schools without religion? A Christmas program without the birth of my savior was an adjustment. But we found a wonderful, faith filled community where we operate our café and we have been open for 3 1/2 years now!

more bikersIt is amazing to me how things turn out.  How a college exchange to Germany led me to Kansas courtesy of the American Army.  How through a failed marriage, I found my new life.  God always has a plan! Although times are still tough, and maybe we won't make it, I have no regrets. It is the unfortunate story of small town America that one by one businesses close. I hope that the community spirit here will prevail and Marquette will be thriving in many years to come.

(The Valley Cafe is located at 114 N. Washington, Marquette, Kansas. For more information call: (785) 546-2353)

 

 

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Last Updated August 28, 2006
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