Wakenda, My Kind-a Town
Wakenda wasn’t much of a town. It was officially classified as a village but it was little more than a collection of buildings. In its heyday, we had about 50 houses, a grocery store, Don’s garage, one café, three churches, two grain elevators, the railroad tracks and a population of 150 if you counted the dogs and cats.
We didn’t have a building taller than two stories unless you counted the steeple on the Church. I know that there are towns in this world that have a fancy little hut on every corner where you can get the best mocha-choca-lotta-whata coffee that ten dollars can buy. Other towns have canyons of giant skyscrapers so tall the sunshine never touches the faces of the people on its crowded streets. There are Space Needles, Gateway Arches, buildings that look like castles or pyramids. Some places might have serene lakeside views, warm seaside beaches, or panoramic mountain vistas. You can have all of these things in your town though and it will only succeed in making it…a bigger town. Wakenda had none of these and yet, I now realize, it had so much more.
Because it’s not always about how tall the buildings are, how perfect the climate is, or even how many stores you have where you can get the best in all the latest doo-dads. After all, the buildings and streets are only the bones that make the skeleton of a place. The heart and soul comes from the people who live there. Only they can create the magic that can take a town and transform it into something that you will forever call ‘Home’.
For me Wakenda was that kind of place. It has always been and will always be ‘My Home’. I belonged to her and she belonged to me. I knew her streets. I knew her people. I knew every path, every field, and every bend in the tiny creek that surrounded her. I knew every heartbeat, every smell, every sound, and every breath of that place.
I’ve lived in many other houses in many other cities since those days of my youth. In cities where people believed that home is just a large house with a well-manicured yard. They live in a self-made solitary confinement behind tall fences that prevented them from getting to know anyone. They called themselves neighbors but they had no idea how to be neighborly. Wakenda taught me the meaning of home and it is much more than possessions and the appearance of wealth. You can only learn its true meaning by living in a place and not just surviving in it.
Yes, it was the people of Wakenda, all 150 of them that made it my home. You might have called us rednecks, hicks, bumpkins, hillbillies, clod hoppers, country boys, goat ropers, shit kickers, hayseeds, yokels, or good ole boys. Hell, we didn’t much care one way or the other. We were, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, lovers, husbands, mothers, fathers, neighbors… we were friends.
It’s true that my town didn’t have much to offer compared to those larger cities. There wasn’t a Mart…‘Wal’ or ‘K’ or any other letter of the alphabet. The one grocery store in town carried the necessities and if they didn’t have what you wanted, you probably really didn’t need it anyway. Whatever it was, if you just couldn’t get by without it or couldn’t make it by hand, would just have to wait for the monthly trip to the A & P in Carrollton.
We didn’t have a little hut for fancy coffee. The people of Wakenda didn’t drink fancy coffee, we drank Folgers. Fancy to my parents was cream and sugar. There were no cute little restaurants that served a little dab of ketchup on a sprig of alfalfa, called it fine dining, and charged a year’s salary for it. Hell, the closest you were ever going to get to fine dining was at the café when the waitress would ask “how’s the food” and someone would reply “just fine.”
There weren’t any gyms, saunas, spas or a public swimming pool. Fast food consisted of a bag of potato chips, a soda, or a candy bar. But who needs fast.
Wakenda had many things though that couldn’t be measured in dollars. It had silent streets lined with ancient oak and maple trees that towered high into a clear blue sky. There were bright sunny days of hunting or fishing with the people I called my friend since I was old enough to walk. I had snow filled winters of ice-skating, snowball fights, and holidays. I could stand on the bank of the frozen creek, on a deep winter’s day, with wild geese flying overhead, a clean white shroud of unbroken snow at my feet and the smell of wood smoke drifting gently on the silent breeze. The solitude shattered only by an occasional howl from a hunter’s dog in the woods across the creek, or the lonely caw of a flock of crows scratching for food in a harvested cornfield.
I could climb to the top of the hills that overlooked the town on a crisp autumn day and watch the sunrise turn the valley floor below me into a painter’s pallet of rich brown oaks, yellow birches and poplars, orange maples and sumacs, red dogwoods, and fiery gold cottonwoods. All set against a clear azure sky.
Wakenda was an unhurried, lazy, and silent place where old men sat on benches outside the store across from the grain elevator. They tipped their hats to everybody that passed by as if they had known them all their lives…because they probably had. They sat and complained about how hurried everyone in town seemed to be anymore and how that was the third car that came by in less than an hour.