Sunday, September 09, 2012

community building takes passion and hard work

i think a lot about community-building these days - both in a work and a volunteer context. this summer, when we were visiting the little town where i grew up, we had a chance to visit the local museum that volunteers are setting up there.

it's housed in a building at the north end of main street. i can't really remember what used to be in there - perhaps it was a garage that belonged to a car dealership? (it's been awhile and my memory is increasingly like a sieve). but that doesn't really matter.

what matters is that the community has come together to create a little museum, showing mostly what the town used to be like (as museums are wont to do). there are beds from the local hospital, mailboxes from the old post office, uniforms from hometown boys (and girls?) who have served in the military over the years, tools, machinery...

there are areas which replicate the local drug store, a local grocery store - which was still open when i was a kid, a home, the local newspaper (which i know a little something about) and they had just begun putting together an exhibit featuring the local jail.

there are all kinds of things which make you feel nostalgic, from bicycles to a horse-drawn carriage, to machinery, tools and even a lovely doll collection that a local family has curated and shared.

local artists have done murals depicting rural life across the decades. the town itself became a town in 1900 when the railroad came. a number of buildings were moved to the end of the railroad line from little towns in the area and platte was incorporated.

i can remember from my childhood that this linotype was still in use. i can picture my mom sitting at it, typing away. not too long after, they updated to some compugraphic machines that she had at the house in a back room. there were two of them (they're not at the museum) - one where she typed everything in, creating a long, yellow punch tape, which was then fed into the other machine, which created the set newspaper columns, which were then waxed and stuck to the page to be burned as plates and then printed into newspapers.

but the old-fashioned way, with type cases and heavy boxes of letters, was still the way it was done within my own lifetime and even my memory.

i do wish i'd learned now to run this press, because people are making beautiful things these days with such machinery (not that i'd be able to check it on a plane and get it to denmark very easily). i can actually still hear the sound this press made, just looking at it, and smell the smell of the ink. all kinds of posters, letterhead, cards, etc. were printed on it when i was a kid. it still works and could be used. if i lived back there, i'd learn how to do use it and do demos at the museum.

here's dad standing next to some of the machinery at the museum. i have a clear picture of him in my head from my childhood, standing up inside the press, fiddling with something or other, covered in ink. it must have been pretty frustrating for him when things weren't working, because he's not really much of a mechanic, but oddly i don't remember much swearing.

that big heavy, marble-topped wooden block table in the middle, i clearly remember standing at, stuffing inserts into the paper, the smell of ink in the air.  i rode countless times in the stationwagon as a kid when my mom drove every wednesday to nebraska to have the paper printed in o'neill before a cooperative printing plant was built closer to home. all those miles on winding roads with bags of freshly-printed newspapers in the back, bring back memories of being carsick and even today, if i take a deep breath of newsprint and ink, i still feel a bit carsick.

another display is of the local pharmacy - eastman drug. it was open when i was a child and the owner was the one who never let me live down calling myself snow white at the random bible school that time. i always dreaded seeing him because he could never forget that.  best about eastman's was that it had an old-fashioned soda fountain, with stools and ice cream and malt machines. that was awesome. there should be more of those around.

for me, eastman's was far more the soda fountain and far less about medicines, tho' looking at the bottles and boxes on the shelves in the museum is fun to see how far we've come. i wish packaging was still romantic and simple like it was, instead of how it is today with so much waste.

i also clearly remember little graff's grocery, run by mr. and mrs. graff. my grandmother liked shopping there best, because it was sweet, small and personal. grocery stores today don't feel very personal and you feel like you have to rush in and out as fast as you can, with your cart loaded to the gills. there was no room for carts in the aisles of graff's.

everything i love from antique stores was reflected in the model home - with an icebox and a big retro stove, wooden ironing board, hurricane lamp, nostalgic dishes. tho' i feel nostalgic when i see these things, i am grateful we have the kind of washing machines we have today.

so as i work on building communities around a new school and a new culture house, i think a lot about what it is that makes communities function. and every time it comes back to the people who are involved. danish has a great word for them - ildsjæl (fire souls) - people who are passionate, driven and care to get things up and running and keep them going. they're hard working, but they are driven by a sense of really caring. every community project needs a number of those.


celkalee said...

What a nice little tour. It reminds me of the little town where I grew up. Our local historical society has been very active for about 30 years now. The museum has now moved to a huge old house donated by a family. Yes, much dedication and hard work is required to set up and maintain the collections.

I couldn't help but notice the table cloth on the table in the kitchen display. I think I have the same one in my linen collection. Small world.

Anonymous said...

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DahnStarr said...

We are very lucky here as we have a third generation "real" drug store and full service soda fountain. We lost our first and original one two(?) years ago when the owner/pharmacist retired. Another drug store and soda fountain in a neighboring town was closed down fully stocked and is now a museum. Its open on holidays and by appointment.

Jasmine said...

I love the beauty and thought-matrix-encapsulating-ness of words that exist in one language and not in another. ildsjael. such a beautiful thought. it reminds me of the scandinavian (I think danish?) work for a craft that is a work of art, and the whole functional beauty aesthetic... i feel as though you may have posted it before, but if not, i feel as though you know the word i mean... What is it please? i'm having no luck remebering nor googling.

julochka said...

jasmine - it's "brugskunst" (usable art). :-)

Unknown said...

I love this post. It's amazing how objects can turn back the time and evoke smells, tastes and memories. And great that your community is recording and safe-guarding the memories for those that come after us. Growing up in South Africa I appreciate recording what made communities special.

will said...

As humans consome most of everything, objects of the past take on deeper meanings. Nostalgia, isn't limited to archeological discoveries or old battlefields, it's also about last week's faded objects.

I'm old enough to remember a time when we didn't collect stuff and display our collections on shelves and walls. "New" was once very important ... it offered sleeker, better (sometimes) and diversity ... sort of a commercial Manifest Destiny. No way was my mother going to save her washing machine featuring a hand wringer!