The Road Trip: Day Six

Posted: August 1, 2016 by timjollymore in Uncategorized

The wisdom of local

They call it the “open road” which is usually interpreted to mean free with wide, far horizons, plenty of room. Another reading of the phrase indicates that when traveling on the highway you “open” yourself to whatever the “road” will bring. Most guard against this. The few accept it as the price of traveling.  from “The Open Road” a short story by Tim Jollymore.

Day six is an example of the second meaning: you open yourself. True, I forced myself to go back in and talk to the slim septuagenarian I’d seen working so patiently at the bulletin board, and that opening proved an astounding introduction to the Nebraska road: I met Doris.

Doris has been working at tourist information on I 80 outside Ft. Kearny, Nebraska for the last 18 years.

When she started, she was a volunteer. The bureau offered training tours of the state wherein volunteers bussed to the sites they were telling drivers about, first touring the eastern third of the state one year, then the middle the next year, and after two seasons, the western third. The next year, when the cycle started all over again, guess who signed on for touring again? Doris.

There was a difference she told me that fourth time.  This bus tour, once again through the eastern third of Nebraska, was packed. “Someone had said, ‘If you’re going to train people, you’ll have to pay them.’ So we all became employees. That was why the bus was full. We were getting paid!” Well, you didn’t have to pay Doris to learn about her state, though I imagine the money was welcomed. Was it wisdom that led me to ask for a few recommendations, ones that didn’t cost anything? My request and ready-to-listen stance opened her knowledge-hord. Here is a sampling:

The Strategic Air Command (SAC) museum south west of Omaha. The state capitol building in Lincoln. The Great Platte River Road Archway. None to my liking. Then we got down to the less touristy choices. First a word about Doris.

Doris grew up on a farm near Bartley, NE not too far from Indianola, the site of a German soldier POW camp during World War II,  which she could see from the hilltop school she attended.

“Well, you tell any young girl that there are enemies jailed in the neighborhood, and you scare the pants off her, especially since all the young Nebraska boys were off in the army.” We talked POW camps – an acquaintance of mine is working on a book detailing such a camp in Kansas. I mentioned David Treuer’s Prudence (2015) and  Louise Erdrich’s Master Butcher’s Singing Club as other books that portray the camps in Minnesota and North Dakota. Well, Doris one-upped me with Mari Sandoz‘s Slogum House, a very dark look at life in pioneer Nebraska, featuring the pure evil of its heroine Gulla Slogum.  Further in a lighter vein, still not to be out done by an author, Doris brought up Bob Greene‘s Once Upon a Town (2014)which details “the sandwich making” patriots just down the road from her hometown, Bartley. In  McCook one town over from Indianola, women “who had little to eat during WWII rationing,” made up sandwiches to offer troops passing through by train. “Those first were Nebraska boys, but pretty soon the McCook women were making basketsfull for all the troops passing through.” There may have been Gulla Slogums in Nebraska at one time, but mostly there were good hearts on the plains as Greene  and Doris attest.

From there she went on about Mari Sandoz’s The Son of the Gambler, a book about Robert Earl Henri, nee Robert Henry Cozad, who followed his father, John J. Cozad, on the lam from the town he founded, Cozad, NE on the “lucky” 100th meridian.  The son, Henri (a name adopted to keep the sheriff off the trail of the family) participated in founding the “Ashcan” style of painting, spurning the genteel impressionistic subjects while using its techniques. Anyway, Doris liked the story, I think, mainly because it started in Nebraska when Henri’s father had shot and killed a man, and the whole family had to go on the run.  The book is published by the University of Nebraska press.

“Long way round is often times best; don’t jump over the cucoo’s nest,” they say. I dared to presume to talk to Doris and received an education in Memobraska, minutae with meaning. Though I left the road by only a few hundred feet, I gained local and literary knowledge with an authentic resonanace. Not a bad bargain.

 

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Comments
  1. Salim M Diab says:

    Tim,
    I was delighted by your conversation with Doris. We all have a DORIS in our life…hehehe. Your trip brought back my memories of Kearney State College, a university today, when I was there in 1969.
    By the way, I am a good friend of Beverly Korby. She lives about 3 miles from me in Illinois.
    I hope to meet you someday when you come down to visit.
    Blessings,
    Salim Diab

    Like

  2. Aunt Marylyn says:

    I’m enjoying your trip, Tim! Keep the good news going! I called Curt and I think he’s probably reading it, too.

    Like

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