Sometime back, I was listening to Monique Marvez, one of my all-time favorite radio/podcast hosts (she’s better known as a comedian, but I found her doing weekends on KFI-AM 640). Monique mentioned she once asked a co-worker about his plans for an upcoming holiday. “I’m heading to the ranch,” he said.
He meant it literally. His family did indeed have a ranch and the whole clan gathered on it for holidays and get-togethers. Monique bemoaned the fact she didn’t have a “ranch.” She had a small and somewhat disjointed family.
That was us, too, so the ranch thing stuck. I longed for that over-sized generational abode, a big, homey place where the whole tribe would gather every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July, and any day in between that offered a reason to celebrate.
Being a military family, we moved a lot. I had cousins and aunts and uncles and grands, but we rarely landed close enough to mingle, hence, not a lot of strong connections. How I longed for a ranch.
But then, Monday.
I came home to find two calls on my answering machine, both from friends of my dad’s. My dad passed in 2004, but 18 years on his friends still reach out to me. A little background…
My dad grew up in Steele City, Nebraska. If you’ve never heard of it, well, that’s fair. When dad lived there, it had population of about 500. Today, it’s something in the neighborhood of 87, or maybe 68. Despite the dwindling numbers, it’s regionally famous for an annual bike show/ride in that draws motorcycle enthusiasts from throughout the Midwest; being the pivot point of the Keystone XL Pipeline; and for the pristine spring water that flows into a horse trough in the center of town.
It was a great place to grow up–all open fields and small town living, summers spent diving from a bridge into the Little Blue. Dad was the valedictorian of his high school class, an honor somewhat diminished by his being one of just six graduates.
Because the town was so small–and the school was so small–class “reunions” were just big, giant, open social events that the whole town attended. Dad brought me a couple times and I got to meet friends, neighbors, and former classmates. It was a magical time in a magical place.
That’s where I met Dick, who still lives nearby in Fairbury, Nebraska, and Evelyn, who is now located just a few hours north of me in California. Both just happened to call on the same day to see how I was doing and to catch up. And that’s when it hit me: I do have a ranch. Not a “traditional” ranch, as in a place to gather with family, but a metaphorical ranch, a small town that gives me a connection to an extended family of Nebraskans who will always welcome me as one of their own.
Fun fact: Today, Steele City’s most thriving business is the Salty Dog, a saloon that used to be the town’s pharmacy/soda shop. That was my grandfather’s place. He was Steele City’s pharmacist, and my dad earned a little after-school money manning the soda fountain. (No, Pennie M. from Grand Island, Nebraska, the Salty Dog is not a former hospital.) Another fun fact: both my grandfather and grandmother were teetotalers. My grandfather did have a wry sense of humor. Hopefully, he’s chuckling at the irony of the place’s current incarnation. But I sincerely doubt it.
If you’d like a good “tour” of Steele City, see this post by a fellow WordPresser. The author offered a great historical account, and included some wonderful pictures.