The otherwise gradual demise of Small Town USA is picking up intensely. What seemed to be an ideal place to raise a family is turning into alien, fragmentary, and backstabbing communities in an “I want society.”
Shopping has become the great American pastime, as entire families spend scads of money on gas to drive to malls and big name conglomerates for superficial, trendy, and gimmicky merchandise. People don’t seem to feel any loyalty to support their local businesses. Family establishments carry the burden of bills unpaid, cutthroat competition, and harsh criticism for charging the prices they must to keep their doors open.
Small Town USA once reverberated with mutual respect, honesty, neighborly compassion, values, trust, and all those other moralistic virtues that carry families through during thick and thin times. Now - strangers remain strangers…friends become rivals…businesses fold deflated… lying is the accepted new age strategy…etc., etc.
This is an old story. He was an amiable, compliant, and soft-spoken man, the type of person who never seems to change physically or in disposition. He had, in his Gamble store on Main Street, a mishmash of innumerable items of every sort, for tinkerers, tree houses, farmers, Mr. Fixit, and the housewife, along with cheerful banter.
It was not unusual to head up to the checkout with your purchase only to discover that the man in charge was nowhere to be found. After a coffee break at the café up the street, or noon dinner at his home three blocks away, or from out back scrounging for a part for someone’s garden cultivator, he would find upon his return a customer’s note and payment left by the cash register, give or take a nickel.
That is a typical example of small town integrity and goodwill, way back in Elmer Erbe’s time, when Lewiston residents and nearby rural folks all seemed to know one another’s family roots and to live in harmony. Residents shopped at three grocery stores on Main Street back then: Selvig’s (which became Duane’s and the locker plant,) Bude Prigge’s Grocery, and Nussloch’s.
I loved the way it was back in my younger days. (I never dreamed that those words would come out of my mouth.) I liked the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, when a bunch of kids could get a softball game going without the pressure to excel, and the littlest kids got a fair chance to swing the bat. The days when Mom and Dad expected you to mow the elderly neighbor’s yard and not to take any money for doing it. (Homemade sugar cookies and lemonade were acceptable.)
Time was when folks could have a conversation with someone downtown in the local café and not worry about a distorted rumor taking wings. Mom and Dad bought only what they had the cash for, and we kids knew better than to beg for stuff because they were doing the best they could. Besides, what more did we need than our metal roller skates, banged up bikes, used ice skates, cap guns, and secret hiding places!
Dad’s thing was taking Sunday afternoon drives in his prized Ford, and picnics at the Arches and Lake Winona, with Spam sandwiches, pork ‘n beans, and Kool-Aid. We kids got a cheap thrill when Dad drove real fast over what he dubbed “whooptidoops,” which were steep slopes in gravel roads. The best one was a railroad crossing near Utica.
But let’s not despair! There may be hope for Small Town U.S.A! There’s a rainbow connection, the “group hug” in times of tragedy and frustration. Positive energy begs to be uncorked! Gasping for air, the upcoming generation is sick and tired of greed, addiction, deception, prejudice, whining, disloyalty, killing in the name of peace, and narrow-mindedness. It’s time to grow up!
Tough times don’t last…tough people do!
Janet Burns has lived in Lewiston all of her life. She can be reached at email@example.com.