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Alternative venture creates pleasant memories

By Lori Pankonin

A recent venture found us on an alternative schedule as we took part in the NCTC conference in Kansas City. What’s NCTC? I wondered the same thing when my hubby asked me to accompany him as he represented Allo Communications.
We’ve been a team in the newspaper world where I’m just as involved in the press conventions as Russ. But my responsibility level at this National Cable Television Cooperative conference was low key. I could thoroughly enjoy the amazing speakers, delicious meals and top-notch entertainment but had time to spare during the daily sessions.
The first stop on our venture was to pick up Tayvin, our seven-year-old granddaughter. She and Ayden, our niece Michelle’s daughter, are like two peas in a pod and they were ecstatic for the chance to spend a few days together.
We’re getting closer, became my response to the repeated Are-we-there-yet question as we made the trek through Nebraska, into Iowa and Missouri before reaching our destination in Kansas.
How travel entertainment has changed with iPad games, etc. Grandpa moved to the back seat to join Tayvin for the movie “Frozen.” “You REALLY haven’t seen Frozen?” Tayvin questioned in disbelief. Really? That took me back a generation when Russ saw the age-old “Cinderella” for the first time with two-year-old Brooke. It’s amazing what activities little girls might spark in a guy.
Alas, we arrived. That clutching embrace with precious smiles of two little girls remains vivid in my mind, such a heart-warming moment. It was great to see the beautiful Phifer home and its quaint décor, including memorabilia of Michelle’s grandmother. The fireplace looked oh so familiar as I’d seen pictures. But now I had a more realistic perspective of the surroundings.
Off we went to our conference. The evening tailgate party found us donned in Husker attire as we joined others in varied jerseys. Russ managed to mingle with the Kansas City Chief cheerleaders as they made their way around the crowd for photo opps. The amazing drum corp with young drummers set the mood for enthusiasm along with the jivin’ dancers.
Attendance was huge with 750 folks at meals. Bobby Flay, a popular Food Network icon, was an intriguing guest speaker at lunch. While we enjoyed the unique cuisine, he later told how his mind was behind the scenes with the chefs. Just think what an art of timing it is to serve 750 guests within a 10-minute time frame so that the bacon-wrapped chicken and tasty side dishes are at their best. Wow!
John Ratzenberger, who played Cliff, the mailman on “Cheers,” provided an eye-opening perspective of life as an actor, representing Christians in Communications. His famous voice brings characters to life in all the Pixar films. Hamm the piggy bank in “Toy Story,” Mack the truck in “Cars,” Moonfish in “Finding Nemo.” Seeing the trailer “The Woodcarver” found me determined to see his latest movie.
Fortunately, we also had the opportunity to partake in fabulous Kansas City renowned BBQ with various caterers showcasing their special mouthwatering flavors at Union Station. Randy, my older brother, joined us which allowed nice catch-up time.
Putting our luck to the test at one of the blackjack tables provided more fun. Fake money. That’s my kind of gambling. You watch the chips come and you watch the chips go without the fear of losing.
How great to connect with special family, famous people and to engage in a fascinating conversation with a therapist at my table. But it was Larry, a volunteer, who provided a refreshing confidence in humanity. His girlfriend, Lisa, was responsible for organizing and overseeing the well-planned conference activities.   Larry kindly inquired if he could be of assistance one morning.     
He allowed me to enter the members-only area to look for Russ, to no avail. I mentioned that I was going to slip out to spend some time with family and I had failed to get some cash.
He opened his wallet and asked how much I needed. Wow. Although hesitating, I accepted. The next day I sought him out to return his stash and we had a great chat, parting with a hug. How comforting.     
The final night, we picked up Tayvin to make memories at Worlds of Fun. She had our full attention without having to share with her brother and sister. And we didn’t have to referee the common sibling tiffs.
The saga of special moments continued. Similar to the thrilling embrace when greeting Ayden, Tayvin ran with delight to jump into her mama’s arms upon returning. Despite the fun excitement of new adventures and connections, there’s no place like home!