Friday, May 6, 2016

Winside: In My Memory

When I was growing up in the 1950s, Winside was the family gathering place. My grandparents, Mary and Clint, and uncles Carl and Jim and their families lived there. Before Grandpa died in 1949, we gathered at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Then the gatherings moved to the uncles' homes. Sometimes we went to Aunt Nevilles' home at Laurel in the next county north, or to our house (Verne's) at Stanton, in the next county south. I suppose we went to Aunt Virginia's house, too, but that's not clear in my memory. She lived farther away at Fremont and then Boys' Town. Mostly, I remember family gatherings at Winside.

That's also where the Old Settler's Picnic was held. It was a big event on our yearly calendar. There was a parade with floats and fire engines and bands and politicians. But mostly there was food and family fun. Everyone brought picnic baskets and we ate at the park located south of Main St. on the west end of town. My grandmother, mother, and aunts made the best fried chicken I've ever tasted, the best pies and cakes, too. The grown-ups sat at picnic tables or on blankets spread on the grass and talked. Sometimes the men stretched out on the blankets and napped. The children ran and chased each other and played games. The teenagers eyed each other and flirted. Sometimes there were organized games and prizes.

One year when I was five or six years old, I entered a foot race for children. I think it was a hundred-yard dash. I remember running has hard as I could on the course on that wide Main Street, pumping my little arms and legs and glimpsing the other children trying to catch up to me. I won! My daddy was pleased. His laughter rings in my ears. I think my prize was a silver dollar, which I probably spent on candy.

Free use map of Winside,, Nebraska.
The farm where I grew up in Stanton County in the 1950s was straight south of Winside about 17 miles. On the map above, you can see the road going south toward Stanton. Countless times we drove that gravel road to and from Winside, the dust flying behind our car on hot summer days, windows down letting the outside air blow on us, no air-conditioning. I looked forward to crossing Logan Creek (although I didn't know the name until I saw it on this map) and driving into Winside, past my Uncle Carl's grocery store on the corner of Main and Hunter (another street name I didn't know before this map), past Uncle Carl's big two-story house just a block past the store on the right, and straight on north through town to my grandparents' farm a mile and a half from town, east side of the road. Mostly, I remember driving a mile or so farther north to Uncle Jim's farm where we often gathered for holidays to feast and fellowship.

Winside's literary claim to fame can be attributed to Laura Ingalls Wilder. In her book, On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894, she describes the route she and Almonzo and daughter Rose took through Winside: "Crops are poor since noon, country about as dry as Dakota. Went through Winside about 4 o'clock. Roads are awfully hilly. . . . The soil in Wayne County is very fine and close, not exactly clay, but clayey. The people here claim it is the best soil on earth to stand drought."1 In the very next paragraph, she describes going through Stanton. My imagination soars with thoughts of her and Manly bouncing along on the seat of their covered wagon on the very road we traveled from Winside to Stanton.

Main Street, Winside, c. 1949, a winter of heavy snows.
In college, I had a poster on the wall of my dorm room that said, "Part of you remains wherever you have been." If it's true, a part of me remains in Winside. For certain, I carry memories of Winside in heart.

1. Wilder, Laura Ingalls, On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894 (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962), p. 32.

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