Friday, July 25, 2008


A final observation, and one difficult to talk about, because it is so personal.

The Vagabond project started out as research: I was interested in finding out what makes us middlewestern. In each of my focus communities, I started out as a researcher would, probing and weighing, yet soon enough some of the people I encountered became my friends, as Dick and Gwen Lindberg have. I am no longer studying "them" – some "other" out there; rather I'm now studying "us."

Early in my stay this week in West Point, Gwen had gathered for me copies of several volumes she'd put together for her family – weekly letters she had written to her mother over the years while the boys were small; copies of her homey newspaper column from over its course; and copies of Dick's weekly newspaper column.

I read every night for about an hour, and I finished only about three-quarters of one of those volumes of Gwen's letters. There were stories in them of the early years of the Lindberg marriage; of the birth of their second son, Greg; of their purchase of a weekly newspaper in central Nebraska, with Dick making the move from being a newspaper employee to being a publisher, and Gwen making the move from homemaker to Dick's partner in the newspaper business. There were photos reproduced in the volume, too, of a young Dick Lindberg with beard for a beard-growing contest; of a young Gwen with small boys on her lap. They were both in their twenties then. The Lindbergs I know retired from their newspaper business twelve years ago, I believe. They are in their 70s now, a little more fragile than they were, with a little less stamina, perhaps.

In Dick and Gwen Lindberg, then and now, I see the march of the generations. The turn of the world, as the years pass and time marches on. I see what was and what is and what will be. And I choke up a little bit.

These are people who should not be forgotten – Dick and Gwen and all those like them who year after year have given themselves to their families and their communities. We know the world is a better place because of them. Yet they don't get their names in the history books, though their lives, truly, are what history is made of.

The world turns, and too quickly what was is gone, and what will be is upon us, and we are filled with a sense of loss. The loss of all those who came before us, nameless now; and their stories, dimming in memory now; and the wind blowing dust about and the dust disappearing now in the sunlight.

How does one ever say "Thank you" to those who brought us into this time and place. Few of them probably ever remarked on the miracle of family and community, and fewer still recognized how much they themselves contributed to the miracle. They just lived their lives, they'd say, doing the best they could, working and hoping and coping and working some more. They'd wonder what I'm going on about here, those folks would. They'd say they were just doing what they were supposed to. Just doing what anybody would do in those circumstances.

Yet at this moment I have the need to thank them, and the opportunity to thank at least two of them. So let me say, "Thank you, Dick and Gwen."


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