The places, things, and memories are still there, but the past is gone

Ray Spitzenberger

You can go back to the special places and things of long ago, and often they are still there, sometimes just as they used to be.

The same gate and fence, a house, a bridge, an old beer joint, lumberyard, etc. They’re still there, but the past is gone. Maybe half the memories are still there, but the people are gone — the people who made the house so special, the people who built the gate, dug the holes for the fence posts. Gone!

Even though my parents moved back there after retirement, I left Dime Box 74 years ago.

When nostalgia took me back for a visit not too many years ago, I found a lot of places and things the same. Like the rented house my twin brother and I were born in. Though I have no memory of the house, it looked the same as in our family photo album. As I examined it, I saw the back porch — yes, that was were my parents told me their new non-electric, hand-crank, washing machine stood when I was three, and where apparently I drew the machine on a tablet with a pencil, and the whole town was amazed. The old white wooden house, hidden among trees, seemed amazingly in good shape.

I walked the short distance to the Hannes Gin which was near, a gin still in good shape, but apparently not ginning anymore. Years ago, it was no doubt the busiest place in town during cotton harvest, vibrant and alive. How many times had I not gone with my grandfather, riding on his horse-drawn wagon with a load of cotton. Each bale meant money for the next year. The gin was almost the same as it was seven decades ago, when it was the hub of the town’s life. But now the people were gone. Grandpa was gone. Memories swirled around my head like cotton dust. The past was gone, but the memories were alive. I hated to leave it.

I had to drive a short way to get to the old bridge that connected the middle of Dime Box to the Caldwell side of the town. We were forbidden to drive over what we called the Moses Bridge on our bicycles, but in later years we drove over it many times by car. The bridge was gone, moved to its forever location near the museum. But the memories and the Johnson grass were still there at the gaping gap where the bridge had been, memories that seemed to blow in with the wind.

Driving to and back from the bridge, I passed the SPJST dance hall, though the hall wherein I learned to dance the polka and the waltz and the Herr Schmidt was gone. Surely the music and the memories remained, so driving back from the bridge, I stopped. I rolled the car window down to see if I could hear the memories. “Roll out the barrel, we’ll have a barrel of fun …” Yes, yes, I could hear them!

 It was getting late when I stopped at the old Balcar Building, one of the finest in its day, where my father had his saloon when I was born. No memories of the saloon, but lots of memories of stories told about it, where you could buy a bowl of chili for 15 cents, crackers and catsup free. So many stories told about it that, as I stood there, I felt them as memories rather than stories about memories. I wanted to linger there, but it was late.

Since the past and the people are gone, was Carl Sandburg correct when he said, “The past is a bucket of ashes.”? I won’t argue with the great poet, but, as I see it, the past is a bucket of memories and stories that live forever if you don’t throw them away.

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and author of three books, It Must Be the Noodles, Open Prairies, and Tanka Schoen.

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