I imagine every small town that remains a small town will always possess some element of its beginnings: original buildings, refurbished or not, the main drag, town ancestors, a giant tree spared on some familiar corner, a R.R. crossing where the old depot once stood"¦but nothing stays the same forever.
I ran across the November 1998 magazine "Good Old Days"¯ that ran my article "Out Behind the Barn."¯ There were the photos of Mary, Ronnie and me sitting in our Radio Flyer wagon in 1949, and one of Mother drying dishes as Dad combs his hair in the mirror above the kitchen sink. Nostalgia washes over me.
"Out Behind the Barn"¯ came from glorious times spent on my mother's Wollin homestead, at Whitewater Valley's threshold in Utica Township. "The farm"¯ nurtured my desire to write as I pondered the mysteries of forest, stream, and rolling fields while wiling away fertile hours in country air and on mossy perches.
The people make a community what it is. What one doesn't see today is mothers and children weaving in and out of summer shadows - in their yards, at clotheslines, swinging in tire swings, playing in sandboxes, and sharing the latest news with neighbors across invisible property lines.
Downtown was where it was at! Lewis' CafĆ© after ballgames swelled with spirited young voices. A roller rink upstairs on Hruska's corner provided a swell place to meet friends. There was Haedtke's bowling alley next to the former city hall, where I set pins more than I bowled. Nussloch's Grocery resided in the present Land Stewardship building. My dad, the giggling butcher, exercised great patience as he weighed out the quarter pound of hamburger friends and I frequently ordered for homemade pizza.
When we weren't hanging out at Sim's "little store"¯ we small- town teeny boppers of summer strolled every sidewalk, eventually making our way to Kilmer's Root Beer Stand on N. Rice Street as evening June bugs and other nasty insects sizzled against yellow light bulbs. The sun-baked stone wall that wrapped around the corner of Main and Rice provided the ideal place to chatter as we sat and ogled the cool cats as their hotrods squealed and peeled by, as we longed to grow up.
That stone wall, along with Johnny Burns' house, was one of many poignant losses our hometown suffered during the tornado in July of 1999, which caused $1.5 million in damages. The citizens of our fine community came together, having rebuilt and restored. With business not quite as usual, Lewiston's losses have not been simply monetary in these latter years.
Sadly, many families shop in nearby cities, seemingly with no devotion to local businessmen or the town. Many of them have other hometowns elsewhere. Residents commute to other cities to work. Due to this present economy, that trend has become the way of life in small-town U.S.A.
Lost in time is the friendly banter up and down Main Street, and summer band concerts on weekends in that wobbly band shell, as car and pick-up horns blasted their appreciation, and farm wives got "to town"¯ to chat and to visit a store or two. A new family in town was an event! They were made to feel welcome in the community and invited to church (of which there have been five denominations for years.)
In those halcyon years children could run all over town with their buddies, more like the "our gang"¯ scenario, and play starlight/moonlight after dark. Parents had no need to worry about their safety. Baseball was one of the town's most cherished activities, as Lewiston's team competed with nearby towns, filling bleachers with sprightly good camaraderie
It's tragic to witness so much of the greater society's degradation being perpetrated in small communities. In jeopardy are respect, honesty, compassion, humility, and integrity. What are adults passing on to younger generations?
As folks wander back to their hometown, they will note physical expansion, some older businesses gone and a few new establishments. How disenchanting for them to discover that the heart of Winona County is skipping a few beats.
Janet Burns calls Lewiston home. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org