I received a very precious Mother’s Day gift — one that touched my heart.
One of my daughters’ commissioned (probably badgered her) a friend/artist/former teacher to create a painting for me. It didn’t include a bowl of fruit or a cherished oak tree but a memory from my childhood. She gathered photos of me as a little girl and the place special to me and her friend turned it into a wall hanging I now cherish.
Keep in mind, this daughter impishly smiles and reminds her sisters and brother she is the favorite — always thinking about brownie points!
A fond memory of mine is going to “the station,” as it was affectionately called by my family, with my dad. He would buy me a bottle of Coca-Cola and a Hershey candy bar — sometimes he even gave me 15 cents to buy it myself — and I would sit outside on the steps of the St. Helena Store. My dad would go in the back of the store to talk to the owner, Ted Bonertz, maybe play one (or two or three) games of Sheephead or even have a shot or two of whatever bottle was open that day.
Well, I was supposed to sit and behave. That was the deal. If I went with Dad, I had to sit and wait until he was done with whatever it was grownups do in the back of the station.
Of course, there was work going on back there. Ted fixed tires and probably other stuff I was too young to know about. In the front, he operated one of the first convenience stores in Cedar County. There were other owners before him and a couple followed, but he is the one I remember fondly.
Along with pop and candy bars, there were fruit and vegetables, sugar, flour, breakfast cereal, bread, condiments, cold meat, pencils, pens, lined paper, cigarettes, beer and liquor — all the basic necessities of life. He also pumped gas and offered air for low tires. If you needed it, Ted could probably get it. I can still remember the discolored dark wooden planks on the floor and the sawdust Ted would spread so the dirt was easier to sweep up.
So the painting artfully done includes a Mini-Linda sitting on the front step with a bottle of Coke and a candy bar — priceless. The big difference in the painting is it is of a photo taken now. My daughter didn’t realize that, over the years, there was an addition to the building for an on/off sale bar area. But this is minor in comparison to the feelings the familiar scene evokes.
Outside, it was not nearly so clean and neat either. Tires of all shapes and sizes, bad tires, new tires, tires needing to be fixed, lined the buildings. Oil and grease and tools and iron covered the ground — it was a place where hard work was done.
Still, the rendition is excellent and I want to call my dad and tell him about the painting. But I can’t. I wish I could show it to Teddy, as he was called, but he’s gone, too. They would get a big laugh and then the storytelling would begin.
The two would talk about baseball or Homewood Park or the parish priest, Rev. Halemba, or the sad state of the world. Then they would have another shot or play another hand of Sheephead, and hoot and holler when one beat the other or even better, set them. Such a simple time …
When my granddaughter showed me the painting, I held my breath — was this for me? So many memories came flooding back and I am grateful for all of them. Good times, great places and special people — memories of a village that raised me.
But now, sadly, this small town business is closed. It has gone by the wayside as many small businesses in rural Nebraska do. I’m sad for all the memories which will be lost — sad for St. Helena and the surrounding rural community.
My melancholy is showing. I’m getting older. Who am I kidding? I am old! But with my age has come some wisdom, I think. I’m not sure progress is not always a good thing. Would that we could mix new in with the old? Mix simple pleasures with new? Maybe … someday.