Kenneth Knepper: Flat-as-pancake little ‘boy’ finds local adventures

Kenneth Knepper

It’s not often I’m asked to assist my nephew with a class project since his family lives more than 100 miles away, so when his mother — my sister called seeking my family’s input, I jumped at the opportunity.

The project for his second-grade class involved “Flat Stanley,” from a story by the same name, in which a boy is accidentally squashed by a bulletin board only to discover many advantages of being flat as a pancake.

The project called for our family to pose at several venues around town with a Flat Stanley that was mailed to us and then write a narration about his adventures.

It seemed like a simple task, except with my 10-year-old son, who is just beginning to understand embarrassment — especially when posing in front of his school holding a paper doll.

We accumulated 11 photos from the adventure, including images at parks, a soccer game and even our front yard.

All of them involved our family, although only one photo included me.

Later, when I wrote a story summing up Flat Stanley’s day, I tried to feature the entire adventure — even adding some important trivia about our town from the places we visited.

However, days later I wondered if my story truly captured the spirit of a paper person’s travels through the mail service and then, spending a day with my family.

After much consideration, I created a new piece through his point of view. 

It may not meet the criteria of second-grade reading assignments, but I suspect it’s closer to what Flat Stanley really experienced.

I arrived at the house on Saturday, via the U.S. Postal Service, and that’s exactly where I remained until the next day.

Apparently, the family missed the memo announcing my arrival and went on another adventure, leaving me curled up inside a legal-sized envelope.

Have you ever tried keeping your arms folded tightly against your chest for 48 straight hours?

When they finally arrived and looked inside their mailbox, which was filled with newspapers, bills and me, they packed me inside a camera bag like a lens cleaning kit, and drove to another town to watch a soccer game.

Sure, it would have been great to see where we were going, but I didn’t complain — only because my mouth is a non-functioning smile.

When I finally was let out of the canvas imprisonment, it rained with an accompanying wind strong enough to blow me a couple of counties north.

Even though I flopped around like a windsock, the husband and wife seemed to take pleasure holding me in a variety of positions facing away from the action as they clicked away with the camera.

Then I was returned to the camera bag.

I didn’t watch one full minute of the game and certainly couldn’t tell you who won.

But, in case you’re wondering the color of the inside of the camera bag, it’s black — as in “darkness.”

The next thing I knew I was pulled from the bag again, using my head as a grip.

I was taken to a sculpture where I had to endure several more photos.

We continued this nonsense until I was left with little dignity — a tough accomplishment, considering that a few months ago I was part of a tree.

They even forced their fourth-grade son to sit in front of his school holding me, as if I was his favorite paper doll.

Trust me, the expression on his face spoke volumes about his real feelings … he wanted to wad me up and toss me into the bushes.

We shot photos at several more historic sites until they must have decided all of us were humiliated enough.

I was never more ready to climb back inside an envelope — folded arms and all — just to avoid further embarrassment of being held high in the air while passing motorists looked on.

Being wadded up beneath a bush didn’t seem all that bad.

Ken Knepper is publisher of The Newton Kansan and The McPherson Sentinel. He can be contacted at kenneth.knepper@thekansan.com.