Bargell: Nebraska in the rearview mirror
When our youngest completed a recent investigation of her family heritage we unearthed photos of distant, and sadly forever unnamed, relatives from the turn of the century. Stern faces staring back at the camera, unaware a Summit County middle-schooler would wonder just who they were, and how they contributed to who she is today. I’m pleased the school takes the time to connect kids to their distant heritage in humanities (for those unaware, a class formerly known as social studies). Through the years we’ve made countless Swedish rosette cookies, my husband’s contribution to the family mix, and I often speak wistfully about their grandpa who immigrated from Scotland to make a better living mining coal underground. I’d venture to guess he was not quite as nostalgic about the brutality of the mines that robbed him of two brothers at a young age, and one has to wonder how bad life was to make being underground 12 hours a day an improvement.
Our history bent continued on a recent trip through the Midwest. In search of “different” attractions on our visit, we noted signs for “Nebraska’s #1 Attraction” in various stages of dilapidation sprinkled alongside Interstate 80. The signs prompted my husband to reflect on the field trip he made to the attraction, Nebraska’s Pioneer Village, during his junior high years (now known as middle school). He seemed genuinely chagrined that he somehow missed seeing the world’s smallest violin on the trip. Recognizing our opportunity to remedy this childhood deprivation with a mere 13-mile detour we headed directly to Minden, Nebraska, population not quite 3,000.
The seat of Kearney County, the town has boasted a post office since 1876. It’s also the site of the Pioneer Village, the home of “Authentic Americana.” The village turned out to be a 2.2-acre museum and brainchild of Harold Warp, a Nebraska native who managed to invent, and patent, all types of plastics, including Jiffy Wrap. Warp, who died in 1994, spent a good amount of his fortune to acquire American artifacts and build a place that ensures these pieces of Americana keep a name and identity for many generations to come.
The story told in the 30 different buildings and through the 50,000 exhibits — including the violin we successfully located in Building 13 — was not so much about the melting pot that often takes center stage during the social studies unit. It was instead an American tale, making me again consider the grainy photos tucked away in our basement, the ones taken in small towns from Muskogee, Oklahoma, to Alto Pass, Illinois, places where the population often never topped 10,000 people, and where continuing decline is on the horizon. The museum reminded me that our family has a migration story as well as an immigration story, and our visits to Nebraska, where folks still wave at every passing vehicle and sit on the front porch in the evening, remind me of a rural heritage that, without the likes of Harold Warp, could too easily be forgotten. A place where the pace genuinely is just a bit slower, where there’s still plenty of time to say the blessing at dinner and to linger over a cup of coffee. Sure, it’s idealized a bit, but I miss that mentality when I see Nebraska in the rearview mirror.
Summit too has so many of these characteristics. We know there’s always an extra set of eyes, or two, on our kids. It’s a place where it’s good to lighten the lead in my foot because the person I’m so intent to pass usually is a parent from down the road.
With election season just around the corner it’s a place I know I’ll have to be content to disagree with many a neighbor about ideas, ideals and issues. That does not make them any less my neighbor, part of the fabric of my migration to the mountains, and our small piece of Americana, not to be lightly left behind.
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom who lives outside of Silverthorne with her family. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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