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The old neighborhood II (03/19/2006)
By Janet Lewis Burns

As we travel to our camper in Chetek, we pass through many bergs with storefronts boarded up. All over the countryside abandoned barns and deserted farms tell the tale. Yet, one will find rural community cafes open for business and serving fabulous meals.

"Most of these small towns are full of dead business buildings." "Modern corporate marketing has not been kind to small places." "Cafes and taverns are always the last businesses to close down in dying towns." - Bill Holm, from "Small Town Minnesota - A to Z"

My hometown of Lewiston has as many bars that serve folks as there are churches that save. We've always had a doctor and a dentist. I can go as far back as Doc Clay, whose shiny drill snaking above his foreboding dentist's chair invoked white-knuckled fear in all of the town's children.

Then there was Mary's near-death conundrum. I can still remember two little girls playing in a blacktop puddle over at the school's basketball court when Mary's lower arm was slashed by broken glass. That was my first exposure to someone else's bleeding flesh.

I had never been so scared in my short life! I hustled Mary, one year younger than me, across the field of clover, past our huge garden and into the back screen door. Here's where stay-at-home neighbors came to the rescue! Since we were little shavers, Mother dropped me and Ronnie off next door at Gretchen Kletske's house, as she waited on pins and needles for Dad to briskly make his way home from Selvig Grocery's meat counter on Main Street.

Mary was rushed to Doc Satterlie's office. She was a trooper, considering Doc's bedside manner was crude at best. He minced no words, announcing that the cut was a mere centimeter from severing her main artery - and then, who knows! With no anesthetic and sparse comfort the good doctor stitched up Mary's cut and set the Lewis' on their way, relieved and shaken.

There was a Dr. Neumann in town, as well. He removed my tonsils and adenoids when I was about eight years young, in a cramped room smelling rank and medicinal. His was a dingy office, up a steep flight of stairs and adjacent to Dr. Clay's sterile, bright room. I was placed on an uninviting, narrow table next to a window overlooking an alley. There, in a stupor from the ether, my dreaded surgery took place.

I was expected to spend the night, as nurse Mae Larson stayed by my side. Other than her consoling presence, I don't recall much else. The flaming pain in my throat meant several days of milkshakes, mounds of Jello, jugs of juice, Popsicles, and melt in your mouth candy the other kids would sneak for me.

These days our Lewiston Clinic serves the public well and is greatly appreciated.

From Minnesota, Minnesota, writer and poet Bill Holm muses, "Is it the sort of town intelligent children dream of escaping?" "Could a human being love this place?" "Could poetry be written there - or great symphonies composed?" "But even here there is something to love if we start with love inside us."

The Grandma Benike house on the corner has been shelter and haven to countless families throughout the years. Back in my youth, three schoolteachers resided there. Mrs. Vatter, Joe Rivers, and Miss Hagen walked past our house each school day. There I reclined after school, in my uppermost perch in our front yard tree.

I couldn't help overhearing tidbits of school talk and other prattle, which opened my eyes to the numbing discovery that teachers do laugh and carry on just like normal people.

As dating and moody teenage blues grounded me, the tree I climbed faded into the sunset of my naivetΓ©. Coming home at night, as the moon winked through its nodding branches, I was assured that this would always be "home."

More to come from the home front...later dates! 


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