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Lewiston’s colorful spirit (02/13/2005)
By Janet Lewis Burns

In the days of unlocked doors and a cup of borrowed sugar, congenial, trustworthy neighbors, going about their daily routines, crisscrossed the mind's eye...and soon years unfolded into my adulthood. I call Lewiston "home" to this day.

Childhood memory has it that a tall, lanky guy with black-rimmed glasses, wearing bib overalls, regularly ambled by. Herbie Voss would greet us kids, in his slow, deep voice, as we played tag, jacks, or roller-skated. With his somber personality and pensive expression, he was as familiar to us as the cracks in the sidewalk.

Looking back, I can still conjure up images of the "gentle giant" swinging us kids and giving the merry-go-round a spin, at the old school's playground. We were perfectly safe with Herbie.

Today's world has forced everyone to assume that someone marching to the beat of a different drum would be a dangerous predator.

Jigs Kessler, another eligible bachelor, was one of those pleasantly off-plumb guys about town, a Lewiston figure as warmly regarded as the stone wall wrapped around the busy Gremelsbach corner. That artifact was destroyed in the 1999 tornado.

There goes Jigs! In later years, his treasured red sports car had been mended with silver duct tape, a wicked antenna bobbing in the rear, and Jigs barely visible, as his eyes stared through the steering wheel.

Jigs' conversations with himself kept him isolated in a private world. There is more to some folks than meets the eye...we lifelong residents share that connection.

Harley Seeman worked for Marvin Benike at the local creamery, which now houses Cliff Pierce's laundromat and car wash. Across the street, Sim's "little store" had been a nifty hangout on lazy summer days (because town girls weren't imposed upon to do all sorts of chores, like country kids).

At times, we'd get brave and peek into the steamy, putrid smelling creamery, where Harley, in his spiffy, stark white uniform, scrubbed the steel vat to a brilliant sheen. His eyes large with emotion, he told of getting stranded deep in its belly, flopping and flailing to get himself out.

Never married, it seemed the comical fella lived a lonely life, except for party nights downtown, within walking distance, where he was commonly over-served. Harley passed through the pearly gates last year, wearing stark white and his coveted Burns Builders cap.

Then there was Smoky, may he rest in peace. His excitable, high-pitched voice and giddy giggle were endearing to those who knew him. His ever-present pipe and thick, round glasses were his trademark. His laugh was infectious.

When someone gave the jovial guy a new cap, he wore it proudly - forever! Each instance when one of the town's own is taken from our midst, something is lost. No one can replace them - it's a totally different world today. City slickers need not apply!

Art Wire's Ford tractor putt-putted into Lewiston, from a house and barn in shambles, on the southern outskirts, for his usual onion sandwich. Elsie at the Lewis Cafe on Main, and Snooks down at the Recreation were forced to fumigate upon his departure. I know of no relatives left behind. His ramshackle place is history.

I can still see Katherine Duane, sitting in that cramped produce hut on First Street, candling eggs. Leon and Marge Morcomb's pint-size home on Second Street S. stood as the end of that block for many years. Today, modern homes, along additional streets, sprawl far beyond Morcomb's vacated lot, where cornfields once thrived.

Back in the old neighborhood, with party lines and clotheslines, there was no shortage of juicy conversation. That small town tavern is the only sanctuary where some of the lonely folks feel welcomed, free to be who they are.

Barstool banter, Sunday morning redemption, and good old fashioned friendship...the pulse of a small community...the beat of a kindred drum. 


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