VIEW FROM THE HILL – Passage of time hasn’t been kind to childhood memories

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
In early September, Deborah and I took a short trip west. We visited some Kansas communities where our families lived years ago.

We even visited the communities in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles where I grew up. We traveled as far west as Felt, Okla., to visit the small village where my dad graduated from high school.

For those not aware of Oklahoma geography, yes, Felt is the name of a real town. A search on Google gives sufficient evidence to back up my claim.

Anyway, a short weekend drive gave us an opportunity to unwind before the fall schedule dictated available days off together.

We visited the old farmstead near Balko, Okla. The lone surviving structure was a windmill. The current owner demolished the entire farmstead and raises crops on the homestead site.

In my mind, I could see the well-groomed, tree-lined driveway. Mom’s green thumb transformed the place into a sanctuary of beauty. Spirea bushes, tulips, petunias, lilies, lilacs and holly-hoc graced the landscape around our small, two-bedroom farm home.

Dad planted a windbreak around the farmstead that protected us from the ravages of harsh winter winds.

As a favorite pasttime, Marilyn, my next oldest sister and I played “church.” We took turns delivering sermons to an audience of one. We usually used “hell-fire and brimstone” messages.

What can I say? We lived a “little house on the prairie” life. As children living in an isolated location, we imitated our dad. He was not known as a “fire and brimstone” preacher. However, we improvised and adapted the role for entertainment purposes.

We even conducted baptismal services. Nearby flocks of chickens were unwitting candidates for full immersion. They did their best to escape while we did our best to subdue and hold them under water for a second or two.

The audience of one assisted the preacher in the capture of identified “sinners.” Unrepentant to the end, they resisted all efforts at rehabilitation. Needless to say, we emerged from the experience, a changed people. The odor of wet chicken feathers haunted us the rest of the day.

Back on the road to Texas, another fond memory emerged. A special treat each week was a trip to the town of Perryton, Texas, with my father. Dad sold milk and cream at the creamery and purchased livestock supplies and repair parts for the farm. At noon, we ate at Joe’s, a tiny burger joint owned by the short-order cook.

He was the mirror image of the unshaven mess cook in the Beatle Bailey cartoon strip. His appearance fit the role, with an apron smeared with grease and a stained cook’s hat to match. In addition to the greasy attire, a cigarette dangled from his lips. However, the burgers, fries and chocolate shakes were the best.

Well, I do admit the image seems out of character as a testament to fine cuisine, but that’s how I remembered it.

Our next stop was Adams, Okla. My father was a pastor of the small Mennonite Brethren church for eight years.

This visit was the most difficult part of the trip. I recognized the houses and streets. I remembered the names of friends and the days of summer playing baseball and basketball.

The overall physical appearance of the village saddened me. The post office was closed. So was Schroeder’s gas station, the school, grocery store and Meier’s hardware store.

Idled long ago by the demise of the railroad line, the old elevator sat among overgrown weeds and junk. With few notable exceptions, most houses needed major repairs. Junk cars and old farm machinery littered the yards and streets.

Although Adams is located in a semi-arid region of the country, I remembered what it looked like as a child. Clearly, the passage of time was not good to this place.

The effects of economic desolation are ugly. As I viewed the surroundings, I remembered the names of people who used to call this place home, but moved away in search of better opportunities.

The names are still familiar to me; Nikkel, Hamm, Wiens, Wiebe, Fast, Friesen, Schroeder, Turner, Ensley, Wichert, Balzer and Penner.

In fact, I need not leave Hillsboro to find several relatives of these families. Some are employed by local industries, including Tabor College. Others have retired here. Adams’s loss is Hillsboro’s gain.

Our final destination before heading home was Felt. Back in the late ’20s and early ’30s, Dad’s parents moved near the town of Coldwater, Texas. Dad attended high school at Felt, graduating in the early ’30s.

On an earlier family outing nearly 30 years ago, we stopped at the high school and found his senior-class picture in the hallway of the high school. My mission on our trip was to take a digital photo of his senior picture and give copies to my siblings.

We arrived Saturday, mid-afternoon. Fortunately, a high school teacher happened to be nearby and gave us a tour of the school. Unfortunately, the pictures we wanted to see were removed, thanks to a renovation of the building. They were stored in an unknown place.

Our family has fond memories of this remote high school. Dad’s desire to further his education beyond high school began there. A teacher encouraged him to think beyond the boundaries of the farm and to pursue his dream wherever it would take him.

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