My three hometowns — Clearwater, Elgin and Neligh

When people ask me where I’m originally from, I say Antelope County.

“But what town are you from?” a person might ask.

And it’s a complicated answer.

“I grew up by Clearwater, went to high school in Elgin, worked in Neligh and then lived in Elgin,” I will respond.

Basically, I have three hometowns.

Clearwater is just seven miles from the family farm. Within that tiny town was my favorite place on earth – the library. It was a little tiny building by the fire department where I could lose myself in the world of books. When my mother said it was time to go to town, I could barely contain myself because that meant a stop at the library.

It also meant going to the grocery store where she’d always buy us Twinkies; the bank, where the tellers gave us suckers; the consignment store where Mom would browse through antiques; and the dairy supply company where she’d pick up products for Dad and we’d stick quarters into the gumball machine.

Clearwater was where my brothers played baseball and the sisters took piano lessons. It was also where the folks would go for special occasions because the steakhouse was second to none. And each summer, that’s where we put on our cowboy hats and attended the annual rodeo.

Elgin is where we’d go if we were to be treated to a swimming pool and the park there was the place where we grilled hot dogs with our cousins. Mom always took us there to get our hair cut (after she finally retired her non-skills and scissors). Elgin had two grocery stores (and we’d have to go to both, armed with coupons cut from the local paper), Dr. Hall’s office where we went when were sick, the drug store with the biggest magazine collection my young eyes had ever seen and the elevator where Dad would take the old (very old) truck to get corn.

Elgin was the place where I was introduced to “cruising main,” where I first kissed a boy and carried a 65-pound xylophone in the marching band.

It’s also the town where I lived as an adult, walked down the aisle to say ‘I do,’ had my first house, successfully worked to exhaustion and lost my hair while worrying about three teenage girls.

Then to the north of Elgin is Neligh. As a kid, Neligh was the place we’d go with Dad to buy tires (which actually amounted to him drinking beer with his best friend, Duane, while we ate chocolate-covered peanuts). It was the place that had a Ben Franklin store with just the right items to purchase for Christmas presents, a real flower store that smelled like heaven, an actual clothes store with all kinds of women’s items and the first grocery store I remember where you sacked your own purchases.

Neligh was where we’d spend nearly a week each summer for the county fair, where we’d watch fireworks on the Fourth of July and it was the location of the nearest Pizza Hut.

When I was a teenager, Neligh was the place to be as the Young Men’s Club always had dances in the historic pavilion in the park. It was the town where we’d cruise until our weekly allowance was depleted, where we snuck into the drive-in movie by laying in the trunk of a car and the place where you could run across the swinging bridge hanging above the river (unless you were afraid of heights and deep water, such as myself). It was also the only place in a 50-mile radius with a tanning bed – so it was a pretty popular place in the weeks before prom.

Neligh was where I got my first newspaper job, learned to love the smell of ink, celebrated when I developed my first roll of film and wrote my first story. It’s where I messed up all the results of the Primary Election and learned to fake my way through coverage of a volleyball game.

It’s funny how life changes and we move on – but there are always certain, sweet memories that linger from the places we’ve been.

And it’s with that fondness I think about my old stomping grounds . . . my three hometowns.

 

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