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

My Bedroom

My sons have loved to hear “Daddy Stories” during their lives.Originally I just talked, but they took such delight I recorded some of them when they were barely old enough to be in school. Last year one of my sons, recalling he’d heard them (and forgotten many of them), asked me to write them down as a Christmas gift, “After all,” he told me, “you are getting older.” Thanks Matt! With that observation I also found the old recordings, with him giggling at five years old, and copied them into a downloadable format. For their fun and yours I thought I could write some down and put them on my blog.

It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to
I’ll write what I want to
I’ll write what I want to [sung to “It’s My Party”]

Hastings Power Plant

Hastings Power Plant

I grew up in a small town in south central Nebraska called Hastings. I have come to think of it as a Norman Rockwell painting done in flatlands and cornstalks. Skies there were huge, thunderstorms violent, stars brilliant. My house was built when I was two. I think it’s one of my first memories, because I remember this odd house with walls I could walk through, undoubtedly the framing going up. It was three blocks south of the new high school, and three blocks west of the museum and planetarium that I loved.

My family was prosperous but not rich. My mother was a beautician in our home with two chairs, and a hair drier, my father owned an auto repair shop with my mom’s brother. Mom and dad were stable and loving. In my entire life I never heard my parents argue. In fact the only pique I recall at all is my father, a rational and scientific man, wanting Hastings to have fluoridated water. Mom didn’t want anything done to it saying,  “Good ol’ Hastings water is the best in the world!” They laughed about canceling each other out whenever it was up for a vote.

The Blanket of a Cold Winter Night

When I think of Hastings I often think of my bedroom. On some nights the silence and bitter cold lay on the town like a down comforter, muffling the sounds. I would look out the window on these nights at the power plant chimneys. The more smoke pouring out meant the colder it was, and they told of the wind direction, if there was any wind at all.

Mom and dad didn’t like to waste money heating a sleeping house, and they liked it cold for sleeping anyway. I’d crawl into a cold bed on these nights and lay absolutely motionless waiting for my body heat to warm the several thick blankets. Inch by inch it would slowly spread out, with me following it to spread the warmth inside my cocoon.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, in that absolute stillness, I’d go to that borderland between sleep and wakefulness, where things get blurred. There I’d notice something that was so borderline between the heard and unhearable I wondered what that presence was, Continue reading