Everyone thinks about going home. Whether it’s down the block or across the country, they think of what is the best time of the year to visit. Spring, when the cold descends, the rains come and everything comes alive. The start of a new beginning. Summer? The hottest months of the year, packed with bugs and people. Maybe in the fall? When the weather cools off and the night skies are clear. Then there is always winter. Cold and somewhat bitter, but a time of joy and family.
For me and the town I grew up with had all four seasons. My home town, Columbus Wisconsin was established back in the year 1839, when a man by the name of Dickason built a saw mill and a house on the west side of the Crawfish River. This town was one of many that popped up, 10 miles apart from each other. My youth was spent in this town of about 4,200 people. It was called the Red Bud town, because of the red blossom trees that adorned the main street of the town. The fire station was all volunteer. The chief of police and other officers drove our school buses. Yes, a one police car town.
Most of the buildings were built from 1852 the 1900s and were the pride of the town. The architecture, the heritage and the history was so well preserved that Hollywood recognized its potential to film parts of the movie (Public Enemy) with Johnny Depp playing the role of John Dillinger, in March of 2008. With the buildings in the background and the Civil War statue that was donated to the town in 1865 that still remains in front of the police station, the small town was once again on the map.
Columbus was most known for their Fourth of July celebration. It was months of preparation on building the floats for the Fourth of July parade. The parade would always start at the corner of the farmers market and went down the main street of town. The floats being pulled by either horses or antique tractors was such a sight to see.
After the parade, the town would be full of people that would then migrate to Firemen’s Park where there was a carnival of games and rides. People would picnic under the big elm trees or enjoy a dip in the community pool to cool off from the 98° temperature and 98% humidity. This was only if a thunderstorm wasn’t near. I could never understand why they made us get out of the pool and stand next to a wire chain-link fence when the thunderstorm rolled through? As the day would wind down, they would all head to the bleachers for the annual competition of marching bands. Six or seven bands were chosen from around neighboring states to compete. Who was the best? After all of that, was the spectacular fireworks display, ending with the American flag, sparkling with all it’s glory.
This was a town of Norman Rockwell potential. Right down to the old movie house matinees. That was where all the kids ended up, watching cartoons and government military
propaganda. I really don’t remember what any of the movies were other than musicals. Yes, the era of unlocked doors, bicycles and Bazooka Joe Bubblegum. This was a small town with a bowling alley, one general store, two drugstores, a five and dime toy store, two barbers, and five bars. It also had a hotel café, (the greasy spoon as we called it.) There was the historic Amtrak station built in 1906 to take people to the neighboring major cities.
In the fall the leaves would change in color and fill the lawns with children and laughter. The whole town would be busy with the hustle of the harvest. Being a farming community, the cannery would be in full swing and the rails would rumble with loads of grain. The town had a hydraulic plant, a paper mill, and a mink farm leading back to the days of fur trapping. All the people were friendly and glad to get involved. Even at Halloween, the adults would dress up and have fun. You weren’t worried about the homemade popcorn balls, cookies, or cupcakes. There would be hayrides through the back farm woods or down the dark country roads.
In the winter months, the cold settled in with a warm blanket white always on or before Christmas. The town would light up with its decorated streetlamps and everyone would greet you with a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The Crawfish River of the county was harnessed by a dam in our town which use to run the mill. Frozen over for the winter, it was the town’s winter playground of ice-skating for the young and the old. For family fun, kindling romance, and boys hockey or races. The cold left with a bitter, dry, windy cold on its way out before the rains came. When the rains came, it turned the surrounding creeks and streams into the most beautiful ice water and snow display you have ever seen.
Did I mention the 400 bed hospital that was built on top of the town’s hill?
This was the hill that we called (Snob Hill) for all the rich townies lived up there. The doctors, lawyers, bankers and such. In the spring when everything was green and fresh, those houses on Snob Hill were a marvel to see. Beautiful lush green lawns and hedges adorned with plump full trees. A season for everybody.
Which season would you choose? Or would you care to live there and raise your children? Would your child be the next high school football star to graduate and go on to becoming a professional athlete for the Green Bay Packers?
After talking for years about my home town, thirty years go by. The times had changed. The town had grown, not by so many people, only 800 or so, but by modernization. Some old buildings still remain in the town square but the modern times is slowly creeping up, replacing the old buildings with new modern style. The people have moved on. The adults that I knew, the shops that I hung out in, even the friends I grew up with have mostly move on and away from the small town. When I went back, I was lost, a stranger that no one knew. With all the changes of progress and my faded memory, I drove past the road that I lived on three times before seeing where I grew up. The same road that I drove on by bicycle, or on foot, or by car a 1000 times, day or night, or even drunk, it was lost to me with the passing of time.
Isn’t it funny how we can’t wait to get out on our own and leave that small town? But thirty years later, wish we could return to that time of our innocence. Going home can never be the same as it was. The memories of my small town, whether fact or fiction, will always be there for my lifetime.