The final installment of the reminiscences of Rodney W. Fye as recorded in the 1891 - 1991 Sutherland Centennial Book.
Since I left Sutherland, I’ve been to dozens of exotic cities in far-off countries around the world, places I only read about in the Sutherland Library, where most of my hopes and dreams resided in the custody of Mrs. Wilson. She always knew just the book I’d enjoy. In my travels, I’ve sometimes found myself in the company of generals and presidents and movie stars I’d have expected to exist only on the silver screen of the old Star Theatre. I sometimes found myself singing in my heart “if only you could see me now (you folks back home)” at the same time I was half ashamed to admit I was a lowly Nebraska boy from such a poor family in such a small prairie town always referred to as “near North Platte” because no one could ever possibly have heard of Sutherland, though we know now how rapidly that is changing.
In retrospect, it now seems incredible that my generation (SHS class of 1946, give or take 5-10 years) has already had a full life that spans years on a farm without electricity, the replacement of passenger trains by jetliners, the replacement of ice boxes and the ice man with his menacing tongs and leather apron by attractive and functional double-door refrigerator-freezers. The radical transformations in the world over the last 45 years might make it nearly impossible to find anyone left in the world who hasn’t seen a TV or a movie or who doesn’t know what a refrigerator or a light bulb is, even if they don’t have one. It’s hard to imagine now what was when I was growing up. Cars had running boards, that we depended up on a sudden summer hail storm to provide us with the ice for making ice cream after the ice cut from last winter’s frozen Platte River had melted away under the hay in the old ice house, or that we bathed just once a week each Saturday on the farm in water heated atop a wood stove. Yet we considered ourselves modern and up to date because our cars had replaced horse-drawn carriages, we enjoyed movies regularly, and we had begun to have electricity even on farms. The old ways disappeared one by one until even our Saturday night filled with socializing and good fellowshipping are gone, too, but replaced by what? I’m not sure that all we’ve given up in the name of progress has been so all-out wonderful.
After I left Sutherland, I always harbored the secret satisfaction that there remained one quite, innocent place forever untouched by the crime, the big-city violence and ugliness that was the price of living in Los Angeles or San Francisco. I knew that in Sutherland, there lived forever truly dear hearts and gentle people who deserved to stay that way. One place on this planet untouched by the kinds of problems and challenges that almost daily have occupied me in San Francisco. I’ve had my life threatened four times by dangerous, even deadly tenants. I’ve had to put up with drug dealing, prostitution and violence in my apartments, not to mention striking employees, sabotage, embezzlement, fraud, disloyalty and betrayal. I’ve been appalled along with my neighbors at the bloody assassination of a mayor and city supervisor right in city hall the same afternoon by a crazy fellow politician set off by a diet over-rich with Twinkies, according to his defense attorney. The court virtually excused the man from his crime with a slap on the wrist verdict that had him back on the street in fewer years than some thieves. That verdict set off a night of rioting and destruction by an enraged citizenry, the likes of which this city has never seen.
I took immense comfort in the belief that I could always retreat to Lincoln County if city life became too much for me. I knew there existed on this planet an island of peace and sanity called Sutherland. Then one evening I stared in disbelief at my motel TV in northern California as I heard the announcer deliver the electrifying report of a mass murderer loose inmy dear, sweet innocent hometown. There was a brief time that night and in the days following when everyone in the nation and many in the world knew where Sutherland was.
A few months later, I was traveling on the famed Orient Express train from Munich, Germany to Istanbul, Turkey. Imagine my surprise and amazement to pick up a Time magazine someone had left on the seat across from me and to read how a small Nebraska town named Sutherland had become the focus of a story of how local residents were reaching halfway around the world to find Vietnamese refugee doctors to staff their local hospital.
All these events left me with the sad and disconcerting feeling that my hometown had lost its innocence, had been deflowered, that it had joined the 20th century, maybe wiser and more experienced, but infinitely sadder. A Quick glance at the police blotter column, “On the Record” published daily in the North Platte Telegraph confirms it. On the day I wrote this, there were reported seven cases of women and children being assaulted, raped, battered, or abused, three property crimes (theft or vandalism) as well as numerous drug-related crimes, all big-city stuff. I’ve known for some time now, like author Thomas Wolfe, that I could never really go home again, because the Sutherland of my memory no longer exists, though I believe it did once.
I become a big more philosophical each time I return from my nearly annual visit, I often leave more depressed than the last time because I so much miss those I’ve loved so dearly and will never see again in this life, realizing they belong now to the past, as do my memories and as will I, myself, all too soon.
Sutherland with its inevitable changes has come to remind me of the impermanence and fragile mortality of my own life.
May God bless Sutherland, her dear hearts and her gentle people and help us to hold on to the best parts of our lives, our memories for our children and for our children’s children.