Going to Where I’m From

I wonder how many times I’ve driven I-76 and I-80 between Denver and Columbus, Nebraska? Hundreds, probably, or close thereto. I seriously never get tired of it. Well, I don’t get tired of I-80 anyway; I have to admit that I-76 running through the eastern plains of Colorado is a bit of a snoozer. While I don’t want to lapse into hyperbole, there is virtually nothing on I-76.

In fact, one time many moons ago, Bill and I were driving back from Chicago in the middle of the night. We incorrectly assumed we could find a place to get gas along I-76; however, there were absolutely no gas stations open and paying at the pump was nonexistent. Anyhoo, by time we got to Keensburg (about 48 miles northeast of Denver), Bill insisted that we go no further since our gas gauge was hovering on empty. We slept in the car at the gas station until 6 o’clock or so, when someone finally opened up the station and turned on the coffee pot.

We made the trip this past weekend so that I could attend my 45th high school class reunion. Seven hours up on Friday and seven hours back to Denver on Sunday. Quick trip, but well worth it.

I never really entirely forget just what growing up in the Midwest was like and how it shaped who I am. However, when I am away from my Nebraska roots – either in Denver or in AZ – I give little thought to how much rain we’re getting or the price of soybeans. I worry instead about what color we will stain our hardwood and what I will make for dinner.

But the instant I drive over the Loup River bridge into Columbus, I’m 12 years old again. I find it funny that it always feels like I’m coming home, though I lived in Columbus a mere 18 years, and have lived in Colorado over twice as long.

The first thing I always notice is the sound of the train whistles. Columbus is a major thoroughfare for the Union Pacific railroad. The sound of the train whistles is heard regularly throughout the day and night as the trains – barely slowing down – go through the center of town and on to their next stop. When you live in Columbus, you get used to the sound of the whistles. Though our house was maybe half a mile from the tracks, I had many aunts and uncles who lived so close you would think the train was going to blast through their living room. Bill and I stayed at one of these houses when we were first married. In the middle of the night, Bill rolled over and said, “I have never heard so many trains in my life.” I had barely noticed……

To this day, the sound of a train whistle in the distance makes me nostalgic.

We ate dinner at Husker House Restaurant, about which I’ve spoken before. HH is the restaurant at which our family celebrated nearly every important event in our life until we moved to Colorado. The food is good and the décor hasn’t changed a single bit since I was a child…..

Bill and I had dinner with my friend Susie and her husband Sean.

Bill’s happy if he can stop at Glur’s Tavern (which proclaims to be the oldest tavern in Nebraska, and who am I to doubt?) and have a burger…..

I find a stop necessary at Ole’s Big Game Bar (in Paxton, NE), where you see the mostly-endangered-species that have been part of their décor since the species were not endangered…..

…..and a fried chicken dinner still costs only $8.99…..

But perhaps the most notable thing when I make my trip back to Nebraska is just how absolutely down to earth and funny and kind and interesting (and interestED) the people are. Most would agree with Tim McGraw that you should always be humble and kind.

I’m not sure when I’ll get back next, but I’m pretty sure things won’t have changed much. That’s something you can count on. There might be fast food restaurants that weren’t there when I was a kid, but at the end of the day, Nebraskans are still Nebraskans…..

Go Big Red.