Station Wagon Envy

Steve Jacobi is my first friend, the geography of friendship dictated this. Because he was my first, the memory of our first meeting stands out as brightly as my first kiss, or Kennedy’s assassination. It was a bright summer day; Aunt Clara and I were out in our front yard and Steve was in his; Steve and I were about four. Separating us was the always dangerous (to little boys) street.

Tim, Steve, and Ron Jacobi with Mike Deal Standing (I think), Nov 1963

Boyhood Gang: Tim, Steve, and Ron Jacobi (left to right) and Mike Deal (Tim Deal’s Brother) standing.

On my side there was some water running down the curb to play with. Clara was exhorting me to see if Steve could come over and play, or asking if I wanted to go over there. “Just be careful and look both ways before crossing Bobby,” she said. And so in an instant, in my memory, we were together trying to block the water’s flow with stick dams, or make sticks float down the mighty trickle.

The water in the curb must have been a source of pride and youthful ownership or at least entitlement. It came mysteriously from a concrete box several blocks north. Its source was Jack and Jill Hillcrest grocery store where it was used to air condition the store. Hastings sits on the Ogallala aquifer. It’s pure cool water was a source of pride to the city, and the source of the only issue I ever perceived between my parents. My mother wanted it untainted, and my father decided the best public health policy would be to fluoridate it. Every election with fluoridation on the ballot resulted in them canceling each others votes out. Continue reading

The Evening I Didn’t Kill Aunt Clara With Light-ling

I was 12 when I found out what it was like to kill a person you love, and my  best friend Doug can’t help but laugh till he cries whenever he hears the story. So here’s the confession of how I got into this mess: I loved to scare my mother.

In fact scaring my mom was on my agenda, like going to a movie, for a good time. Dad? Nahhhh, there was never a time I could do it. I’d jump out and yell “BOO!” and he’d look calmly up at the expectant me, looking like he’d heard an interesting bird call, and say something like, “There you are Bobby.” I’d feel unaccomplished, perhaps a bit embarrassed. Ahhhhh, but mom! She was so easy to get a scream out of. By her own admission, she could know I was laying in wait, and I’d still get the desired reaction. Life was good.

A few days after Independence day the sunlight was turning golden after super. The windows were open so the slight breeze could cool and freshen the house. And my new plan was to step up my scare game with technology. I had some Booby Traps left from the 4th. These were some of my favorite fireworks: unique, versatile, and not very expensive. They were small firecrackers with a string out each end. You’d tie the strings to two things that when pulled apart would cause the fire cracker to explode. It occurred to me how fun it would be to scare mom by cleverly tying one to the door knob and strike plate of her bedroom so when she walked in it’d pop and she’d do her usual scream. What fun!

One night a month during the lawn mowing season dad stayed in the trailer house we had at Harlan County Reservoir, an hour and a half drive away. One of the income streams for his auto shop was being a small engines parts supplier to shops in towns and villages in the area. This was the night he was away, so after supper it was just my aunt Clara, mom, and I in the living room. The light breeze was just enough to cause the door to click a couple times a minute against the latch. It wasn’t enough to latch it, or enough to cause the booby trap to explode but it was noticeable. If the breeze was just a tiny bit more forceful the whole plan would be ruined, so I was tense with excitement. Suddenly Clara stood up, “Oh for pity sake! What is wrong with that door!” and she walked quickly off to the bedroom, turning right at the end of the hallway and disappeared from my view in the living room chair. I thought, “This could be good!”, barely able to keep my excitement hidden, and smirk off my face, waiting for the exciting next moment! Suddenly the expected pop. Then everything started to unravel to disaster. I can still see it like it’s happening now.

Clara suddenly in view, staggering backyards.

Her back now against the corner slipping down the wall and slumping into a heap on the floor.

Mom rising up out of her chair and rushing down the hallway. She kneels next to her older sister, then her voice, imploring, “Clara!? Please don’t go! Don’t go!”

“OH NO!,”, I thought, “I’ve killed aunt Clara!” Continue reading

Nuke the Thanksgiving Turkey, Really

Thunderbolt Siren

Thunderbolt Siren

October 22nd, 1962. Two memories are bonded together on this day. The first is sitting around a table in the basement of our church, First St. Paul’s Lutheran. I’m with my fellow Cub Scouts looking at knots on a big plywood board and struggling to do the intricate patterns with the help of Mr. Goldenstein. It was sort of a leader and the twelve little apostles moment.

The other memory is coming home from the meeting for supper. It is after dark since daylight savings time wouldn’t be used for another four years. Opening the door to our dimly lit living room I find aunt Verna and mom are watching the president talking in shades of fuzzy greys and whites about Cuba and missiles. They hardly seemed to notice me.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“We may be going to war with Russia.” they say with a mix of anger, disgust, and worry. I was almost ten years old hearing something I only vaguely understood. Continue reading

The Angel of Death, An Introduction

 

If you wonder, no, this is not a fictionalized account. It is wholly (and holy) what actually happened, as good as my memory can make it.—October 1st, 2012

Prologue

Angel of Death Mask & Hood

Angel of Death Mask & Hood

October the first is an anniversary that brings on a familiar feeling that I can only describe as “ending-times”. The season certainly defines some of it, that smell of dying and drying plants, that crispness finally entering the air, the way the clouds look scudding across the sky, how the words “azure sky” become sacred in the purity of their manifestation. But these are just a backdrop, the props on the stage, to my mother’s illness and death; and learning about the modern fashion sense and business etiquette of the angel of death.

I must give you the prologue about the time before the call. My father, Clifford, had broken his hip just a few weeks earlier. I got a call about him at work and learned that my mother Joan (pronounced joe-ANN, thank you) and dad had closed up the fishing season and brought lots of things home from our trailer house by the lake to be re-oiled and refurbished during the cold winter months. Because of clotting in his legs, dad found it hard to walk down stairs so he would go down backwards. This time, as he was taking his tackle box down, he lost his balance, mom tried to grab him, but because he didn’t want her to get hurt too, he pushed her away and plunged down the stairs breaking his hip. His mother had broken her hip at the same home years earlier and never walked again so this was a very bleak outcome.

Three weeks later, and a week before the call, I was at my home in Hastings, the same home I grew up in. I was twenty-eight, married, and feeling good about life. On this trip we brought Doug, my best friend since the 1st grade. It was one of the grandest weekends of my life, all in vivid memory color. The trees were changing, the days were warm, the evenings chilly. We played Frisbee by Fisher Rainbow Fountain, leaves crunching underfoot. Dad was healing well and they thought he had a chance to walk again, and though mom seemed tired from taking care of him and making grape pies to put in the deep freeze, all seemed well and normal.

The first day

October the first, a few minutes before leaving for work, the call came. “Bob?! This is aunt Dot. Come home quick!” Continue reading

Dadden Stories — Introduction

To You, My Dear Gentle Readers

I recorded on July 7th, 1985 that my wife and I were in Allegany State Park in our VW Vanagon Camper. The back seat folded out to make a bed, but when it was up it enclosed a makeshift crib area for my oldest child, Stewart. He was happy and full as we were doing our cooking and dishes. I remember his sheer joy at doing a job well, in this case learning to stand, with the seat back acting as an aid to hold him up. During this good time he started calling me “Dadden”. The joy was shared when I heard that, and the name has stuck.

A few short years later, now with another son, Matthew, I was doing what I loved, reading stories to them before bed time. Some of our favorite stories were My Daddy An Me; The Ghost-Eye Tree; In the Night Kitchen; The Wreck of the Zephyr; Moo, Baa, Lalala; and of course Hot Air Henry. One of these times I asked if they wanted to hear stories of my growing up and they were enthusiastic so we started.

This grew into a common occurrence for a few short years. Favorites emerged, and eventually I recorded some of them onto tape. They became known as Daddy or Dadden Stories. I encourage all parents to offer this treasure to their children. This is a world that often seems disjointed and disconnected. Our children crave to know how they are connected to the past—how they have become. It is a small elixir and helps them become more resilient to life’s many many slings and arrows.

Years passed and children grow away from stories and into games, and hanging out with friends. For a time what came before is gladly disconnected from what they are trying to become. And yet something still remains, a seed. More years have passed and now they are in busy making their adult lives, dealing with jobs, loves, and other adventures. But last yule time Matthew’s request was for me to write down the Dadden stories he knew he had heard, but had mostly forgotten. Perhaps ten pages. It became a 30 page gift with the original recordings, for Stewart and Matthew. Shortly afterwards I began blogging and put out Hastings Nostalgia #1-My Bedroom. Getting many positive responses I’ve started posting more.

I wish I could claim some large purpose to this. A moral to the story. I can not. I have read about ants, and have become a beekeeper and from this have come to understand that these small creatures have a few simple behaviors to react with their environment and their family (in an ant nest or a beehive there is one mom and then only brothers and sisters). Indeed if you add up all the little bee brains in a hive they weigh about the same as a human brain. From each of these small interaction comes “emergent behavior” that is likely overlooked by each individual.

I remind myself of this as I write these stories. Life is mostly known by its small interactions. I appreciate “History”: dates, causes and effects, etc. But here I wish to write about a living, breathing, smelly, visual, tasty history. A poetic history. A heroic history such as all families experience. With such story there are good times, comfortable times, and difficult dangerous times. I believe if we leave out parts of the story we leave out parts of experience that may be so vital to what is to emerge. From all of it I hope something good will emerge, even if we are unaware of what that something is.

To You, My Precious Sons

I wish to declare here, to you and to the whole world, that there has been no experience of joy and of love that’s ever been better than what I’ve had with you. You have made life worth living. Someday I hope you will tell your Dadden stories to your children. Perhaps they will be of riding on my shoulders, or sitting on them in a chair while making out your Christmas wish lists from the Sear’s catalog (including item name and page number, you know, to help Santa). Perhaps of your first backpacking experiences and reading Scary Tales while skunks probed the perimeter of light around our campfire. Or so many other things.

For letting me experience this wonder and joy I thank you and love you.

Dadden
All Saints Day, 2012


Other Dadden Stories

Smoking

Islands Cafe

When I think of smoking in Hastings I think of three things. The first involves my father. He owned an auto shop at 3rd & Lexington and owning a business means you have long hours so he’d often go in early and once in a great while I would come along. I learned then that he didn’t always go right to the work but occasionally went to The Islands Cafe.

When I think of the Islands Cafe an image like a modern commercial comes to mind. It’s a monochromatic blue with the only other color being golden brown pancakes. The air is filled with blueish cigarette smoke, the walls seem blue, enhanced by the fluorescent lights. The many shirts on the men are blue with white ovals over the pockets that say “Ed”, “Wayne”, “Roger”, “Lloyd”, and the like, while the middle-aged waitresses move around in blue uniforms with blue pads, and say things like, “How are you doing honey!”, and “What can I get for you today!” It smells in a cacophony of hot griddle grease, butter, engine oils, coffee, pancakes, toast, sausage, hair oils, and tobacco smoke.

This was the world of men. Men who, when barely older than I was, carried guns into war against the “Japs” and “Krauts”. Most of them had seen the hardest days of the depression and dust bowl. These experiences didn’t harden them but quite the contrary, they had easy smiles and a gentleness. They welcomed me with a smile and seemed interested in what I was doing which was confusing to me at that time in my life when I still felt awkward even about shaving.

They would chat about the important things in life. Who was having babies, what the children were doing or not doing, and who might be getting a divorce. Cars were important too with new features like automatic transmissions, air conditioning, and power brakes beginning to appear and compared. Weather too would come to mind and how it might affect the crops. And what was I going to do today and with my life? At the end of the food was just enough time for a cigarette, then plans for a coffee (and cigarette) break at the lounge at 10:00. Sustained now, off we’d go.

One of the more startling things to me now is to watch old movies, and TV shows and seeing all the smoking. Yet at the time this was a normal and casual part of life. Continue reading

Fisher Electric Rainbow Fountain

Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.—Don Draper, “Mad Men”

Fisher Rainbow Fountain

Fisher Rainbow Fountain

If I could have only one memory of Hastings as a town it would be of Fisher Fountain. When I describe Hastings to people as a Norman Rockwell picture done in the Midwest, I think of Fisher Fountain and how he would have been envious he didn’t have it for his New England towns.

It was originally built for the 1932 county fair, but it was loved so much in those hard dust bowl times it was moved to a permanent location in front of the Public Utilities building. (For those gentle readers who are not from Nebraska: Nebraska is a socialist state with all power plants publicly owned. This has caused electric rates to be so low that an economist specializing in this area recently told me getting wind power in this windy state has been a tough economic sell.)

History records that this was a “sign of hope” for the citizens of the town during these depression and dust bowl days. My folks had a different take on it. They told me they remembered those incredibly hot dust bowl nights, when people would lay out blankets and sleep around the fountain to enjoy the cooling mist.

My father’s parents lived on the east side of town near 7th St and the railroad tracks. We would go over to their apartment two or three times a week. It looked like a large two story Victorian era house, but it had two apartments on the first floor and steep narrow stars to the second floor apartments. Cora and Ed Losee, my grandparents, moved into town after they gave up running the farm they owned.

My grandparents apartment's front window was on the porch shown here.

My grandparents apartment’s front window was on the porch shown here.

I found the place interesting. There was always cans of “Fruit Juicy Hawaiian Punch” in the refrigerator along with Hershey’s chocolate bars for my diabetic grandfather. Go figure. He claimed it was for the grand kids but we all knew he had them too. There was a large porch with metal chairs for the residents to sit on and watch the cars go by or thunderstorms flash. There was also mystery to the place in the form of the neighbors, friends of my grandparents, Glen and his wife. Glen wouldn’t eat his wife’s cooking believing she was out to poison him. The mystery was why he wasn’t dead (maybe because he openly talked about this threat) or why he stuck around if he believed it.

There was fun there too. Often times I’d find my other cousins there, Vicki, Gayle, Rodney, and Barbara. After a raid of the refrigerator we might go out and play a game with no name (now I might call it road kill). We’d go out to the curb and wait for a car to come down the street, then run as fast as we could to reach the steps of the porch before the car was directly in front of those steps. If you waited too long and got caught away from the safety of the porch you’d be “dead”. Last one alive won. Think my sons of the profound differences from your electronic more sedentary growing up years.

At other times I’d be dropped off by my parents, my dad in his fez so they could go to a Shriners dance, or in his suit so they could go to the church’s annual meeting, or other odd adult events. I’d play Chinese checkers with my granddad, who would inevitably win. Wearing his usual suspenders and with hardly a hair on his head he would often kid me asking, “So Bobtail do you have a girlfriend yet?” I’d be so embarrassed. There were no girls of any note in my neighborhood and being a friend with one was an uncomfortable thought.

The most comfortable memory I have there is sitting in front of the black and white TV watching the shadows and lights revealing Nat King Cole singing, Bonanza cowboys winning in the West, wrestler Mad Dog Vachon once again showing his evil eye, Continue reading