The airport beacon light at Ainsworth, Nebraska, and other early memories
My family lived out in the hills south of Johnstown, Nebraska until the end of my first-grade year. From those early years of my life, I have many memories. Many of them are just fragments, but like a picture in a book, each has a little story, even if I don't know the entire plot.
I have quite a few memories of driving home at night. Usually, we had been to Sunday night or Wednesday night church services, or perhaps a revival meeting.
It was always very dark when I looked out the windows. Along Highway 20, between Ainsworth and Johnstown in the mid-1950s, there weren't many lights, and after we turned off Highway 20 and drove out into the hills on a little sand road, the lights became sparse indeed.
At night, I couldn't enjoy my favorite sights along the way -- the bandstand in the Ainsworth park; Bone Creek, meandering through a meadow just west of Ainsworth; the tall slide on the Johnstown school playground; the viaduct west of Johnstown where we crossed over the Chicago Northwestern Railroad; and the long stretch of picket snow fence nearby that was supposed to keep the highway from drifting shut in the winter.
However, the beacon at the Ainsworth airport could be seen only at night. Its lights rotated at the top of a tower, and their brilliant beams swept across the runways, the land around the airport, and the highway. The light even swept through our car as we drove by it. It traveled much faster than we were driving, so I could watch several rotations as we approached and several more as we drove away.
One night while we were at church, the weather turned bad. We drove home in a snowstorm. After we turned off the highway onto the sand road, we came to a place where the snow had drifted so deep that we got stuck. My mom took the wheel and my dad pushed and shoveled and pushed and shoveled but we couldn't get out. Finally, he decided to walk home and get the tractor. He wasn't wearing a heavy coat, so my mom gave him her coat.
I don't know how far my dad walked, but it must have been a fearful trip, in the dark, in the storm, knowing his wife and little children were waiting for rescue. I was too little to understand that, though. I went to sleep and when I awoke, Daddy had returned on the tractor. A few rough jerks, and we were out of the drift and on our way home, following the tractor through the wind-blown snow.
When I mentioned this memory to my mother many years later, she told me how hard she had prayed for my dad while she was waiting.
A tired little girl, riding home in the dark, sometimes goes to sleep along the way. I remember one time when my dad carried me in the house and laid me on their bed. He tucked my mother's coat over me so I wouldn't get cold. I could feel its scratchy wool. I moved it around a little so the smooth satin of the lining was against my skin. The luxury of falling back to sleep, on my parents' bed, warm under my mother's coat, cannot be described.
Another time, we waited at Johnstown late at night to get my mother off the train. Johnstown didn't have a train station, but the train would stop there to let passengers off. Mama had been to Omaha to stay with her father, my Grandpa Harry Sees, at the hospital.
Finally the train's light glimmered in the distance, growing bigger and brighter as it drew near. The cars clanked and shuddered to a stop, a door slid open, and my mother emerged.
On the way home, my mother told us her train car had been full of cigar smoke. Her clothing smelled terribly of it, but I didn't care -- I was glad to see her! I still remember the fabric of the suit she was wearing. It was a brown and black houndstooth check.
My parents were young then -- just in their early thirties. My brother was in his first few years of grade school, and I was a preschooler. Most of these "dark memories" were made before my sister was even born. My goodness, that was a long time ago.