The Bluffs, several small agricultural towns at the western edge of Nebraska leading into the nether regions of Wyoming, led a quasi-sheltered existence until the 1960’s when the Viet-Nam war rocked America. Had I been born in the late 1800’s I would call the change around World War I, similarly with WWII if my birth had again timed itself differently. But, I was born in the 50’s and as such, my world rock and rolled to its own drummer.
This was a community of hard working people, mostly of German and Russian heritage, and later with many from Mexico. The downtown was a hopping place filled with shops, restaurants, theaters and clubs. Thursday nights, people came to town by the carload as shops stayed open late. Having made it past the greatest war to end all wars, people began an affluent rise, wanting more for their families and even greater freedoms for themselves. There weren’t any princes in our town, rather a quiet kind of satisfaction, a wholesome place where hard work was rewarded.
As with many small American communities, the advent of the strip mall and the Mall itself made significant changes, derailing the nature of what used to be the heart of a community, its downtown. Growing up, I didn’t see this occurring, as these were just places to shop and ‘hang out’ but now, it is poignant in retrospect.
For me, life has always been filled with choices. We spent many hot summer days at the ranch, rounding up the horses, kicking the dry dusty dirt with our cowboy boots as we roamed the corrals, longing to just take a swim in the cement stock tank. Later, I would drive out there alone in my dad’s ’42 Ford army jeep, the one with the imagined bullet holes in the back, but no doors or top to confine me, just the freedom of a great driving experience. Sometimes I’d even lay the windshield down to feel the air as it rushed over me. I’d enter our ranch at the north gate, some twenty miles northeast of town. Being careful to not trap a hand in the ratchet of the gate latch, I’d carry the gatepost of barbed wire strands to the side, hop back into the jeep and then reverse the process. By this time I’d be remembering the smells of my youth much before the onset of my teen years. My parents always had a gallon thermos jug on trips to the ranch and there was this cool yet dry, dusty smell to the water in that big stainless cup that screwed on the top.
The ranch was wide-open prairie, not one tree on three thousand acres, just rolling hills of native grasses, golden rod, thistles and cactus. I loved the sandstone buttes, the draws and washouts where I’d pretend to be a racecar driver along the white washed draw bottoms.
Sometimes I’d saddle my horse and ride to the southwest to a hill that overlooked the Scotts Bluff valley and Lake Minatare, the reservoir about 5 miles away. Other days, I’d stay in the north pasture and sit by a teepee circle, steeped in the history of nomadic Indian tribes. I think I soaked that nomadic way to the heart of me as I have carried my life forward as a nomad, reaching, and exploring as an experiencer.