Friday, September 10, 2004

JUNE 18, 2004

I'm in Red Cloud, Nebraska, looking for breakfast. The place says "This Is It" - it's got food and drink, and there about six vehicles parked in front. I enter by the wrong door and find a prayer meeting going on at a large table in a dining area. I walk up into another part of the building and surprise a woman at her work. There's a bar off in the far room.

"Can I get breakfast here?" I ask.

The woman laughs, a surprised kind of chuckle. "I suppose you could," she says. "There's no menu. I could fix you eggs and bacon or ham?"

"Ham and eggs would be great."

"And something to drink?"




She goes into the kitchen and I hear the sizzle of ham competing with the murmur of talk from the other room where I've already heard a fellow praying, leading prayer.

The woman brings me coffee. When she comes through a little later with coffee for the other fellows, she explains: "I'm not usually open this early. These fellows came in this morning for a special breakfast, or I wouldn't be here this early."

She brings me breakfast. There's a little paper cup with some jelly for the toast. The jelly is tasty.

Later she brings me a bowl of fruit salad. She glances towards the other room, her eyes pointing at those fellows as if she made fruit salad for them and they didn't eat it all.

She unlocks the back door of the bar and explains that in another ten minutes or so about eight old men will show up to drink coffee and shoot pool.

"They've got nothing to do," she says.

"And they do it here?" I ask.

"Yeah, they do it here."

Breakfast costs $4.75, cheap at any price - there's not another place in town that serves breakfast, at least that's what the woman has told me. I pay at the bar. As I leave, I find the front door is still locked, so I go out the way I came in. One of the fellows at the prayer table is talking. He's telling the others about efforts to start a Christian fishing club.

I go up the street and across, to wait for the Willa Cather Center to open, to make some notes while I'm waiting.


The Cather Center offers a tour of buildings in Red Cloud. I took the tour and it was lovely. I saw the opera house, the old bank building that now houses the Cather Museum, the house that Cather lived in when the family moved into town, the depot, the house that Anna/Antonia lived in after her father killed himself, a couple churches. The guide was knowledgeable. There were three of us on the tour. I was with a woman and her college-age niece who loves Cather's books; I saw that the niece had at least three Cather titles on the dash of their car. The community of Red Cloud works hard at preserving our memory of Cather, and those buildings, and objects associated with her and her writing.

Those of us who write - we should all be so cherished, and so well memorialized. Willa Cather may have died as a physical being, but something of her spirit lives on here in Red Cloud, and in her books, and in our appreciation of her. Would that I'd be one-tenth so well remembered.

Before the tour began, I got to watch a video about Cather in the Center's gallery. It was informative and fairly well put-together by Nebraska Public Television, I believe. Not schmaltzy, as you fear such efforts might get. At the end of the video, a quote from Cather that resonates with me:

"There are only two or three human stories and they go on repeating themselves as if they had never occurred before, like the five notes of the lark."

There are only two or three human stories, and I'm trying to learn them all, to learn the stories and tell them before they are lost, before they're gone like bird-song blown away by the wind.


SEPTEMBER 10, 1998

Where is the still point in the turning universe. Where is the moment of quiet. I find it, these days, in my morning - as the sun comes up, the moment of peace is there for me; sometimes, too, I find it in the shower before work, a single, lucid instant which is mine. The quiet nature of the village is part of what makes it possible - no traffic, no sirens, no smell of death so immediate on the dirty wind. I cannot believe I would be the only one in the country looking for the still point? We are few, though, I'm sure, searchers for the quiet moment and the lessons it can teach. Does a farmer find it as he starts the cold diesel for the day's work? How many even want a moment of silence in their lives? How many run from silence as from a noxious odor?

There is bright sun in my eyes as I head east in Fairwater on Washington Street, head towards my day's work. Today the squirrels must cross the road in front of me. It's in their contract. They do. It is hazy again in the western sky, slightly. What shall the wind bring in off the Great American Desert?

The hawk! The hawk is in its tree. God is in his heaven, all is right with the world. The sun shines bright against the bird's pale breast! Hurrah!

Machines are picking snap beans from the field that had been planted after the pea harvest. A second crop from this ground. The air is green. The soybeans planted just south of Five Corners so late in the season are now on the verge of changing color. The season has been at least as long as it needs to be.

Two crows above the road at the edge of Ripon. Hey, crows! I say. Good morning!

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