Saturday, April 19, 2014

Friday, Feb. 08, 2013

Jim Bradford - A new definition of family

Special to The Star

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Most of what I know about when my family first met the Meutens has been passed on through stories.

See, when we moved into the house where my mom and dad still live, I was a couple of months from turning 3. Needless to say, I don’t remember much of that time.

Behind us and is where the Meutens lived — and still live. My mom and dad made an instant connection with Dick and Nancy Meuten. And so did my older sister and I, or so I’m told. I wouldn’t realize it for a couple more years, but the connection was instant.

The Meutens were new to the area. They were from the East Coast, up around Cape Cod. We moved into the close-knit neighborhood in the fall of 1972. When Christmas rolled around a couple months later, my parents asked the Meutens to join us. It’s been that way ever since.

And not just Christmas, either. There have been Thanksgivings, Easters, birthdays, baptisms, graduations, marriages. You name it, and chances are there was a Bradford and Meuten involved. Sometime in the mid-70s, the Meutens and Bradfords went from being neighbors to being family.

Three weeks ago, we got together — as we usually do — for a January birthdays celebration. There are a handful in January, so we always get together to celebrate them at one time.

That was the last time I saw Dick Meuten. He died in a car accident two weeks later. The news was numbing. And perhaps it truly hasn’t even sunk in yet.

But this is less about mourning the death of a man who was like a second father to me and more about the celebration of a relationship between two families that have no blood relation whatsoever.

To say we are friends just doesn’t do it justice. That’s the case for many of the families that live in “the valley.” The small neighborhood on the northern edge of the Olathe School District, hugging the western border of Lenexa, was so much more than your run-of-the-mill neighborhood. When we were growing up, there were about 15 or so houses in Hidden Valley. Each of them sat on about an acre of land. There was one road in.

If you were down in the valley, chances are you lived there or were there to visit someone. The low traffic flow made the entire neighborhood our playground. Not only did everyone know each other, but the burgeoning neighborhood was home to a lot of young families with plenty of young kids. We had carte blanche anywhere we went. We could play in the streets, in anyone’s yard and most anyone’s house, as long as we were home when we heard the whistle — my parent’s method of corralling us.

As we gathered a couple of weeks ago for a celebration of Dick’s life, many of us were there, talking about Dick, talking about memories of “the valley,” but this time we were adults. We had children. And we talked about how great it would be to raise our children in such an amazing, carefree environment like the one where we grew up.

Things were, and still are, a little different in “the valley” and that made us all a little closer than just neighbors. But with the Meutens it was always even more than that.

Nothing is going to be the same without Dick, but at the same time, there’s no telling how life would have turned out without him.

I’ve thought a lot about growing up in “the valley” in the last week. It’s one of the things I’m most grateful for in my entire life. It’s where I grew up. It’s where I met the Meutens. It’s where I met the rest of my family.

Jim Bradford is a former sports editor of The Olathe News.

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