by Steve Gaines

it was a time of longing for the past
or hoping for the future
it was a time caught at the stand still of a decade
the depression coming begrudgingly to an end
July boiling like a hot plate
days and nights of weather in the extreme
nineteen thirties afternoons
one hundred degree cauldrons
and people sleeping on the grass
sleeping on the roof on the fire escape
and somewhere in the blare of headlines
war sending up its warnings
off in the distant east in Europe
a far away unknown place, exploding!

Nebraska, nineteen thirty-nine,
the prairie state beginning its long trek westward
from the muddy Missouri’s banks
the long ago pioneer’s place
of departure into the void
by the thirties
having become
a modern wilderness to survive
a twentieth century struggle
toward the treasures of the west coast
in station wagons and convertibles
in busses and trucks of commerce
in slow moving freight trains and
streamliners filled with celebrities
all at once affluence
replacing the dust bowl
as the developing war economy,
poised and ready,
prepared us for the
future
along with our most complacent isolationism
and made it all seem worthwhile and
just the thing to do
rushing off to nowhere again
simply because it was possible

the Platte river
trailing its thin
green ribbon of trees and fields
diminishing into the sunset
one mile wide and one inch deep
a thin veneer of liquid land stretching off
across the far flat horizon
serving its tributary functions and
replenishing the aquifer
having descended gracefully across
the plains out the Rocky mountains

and there,
hard by its confluence with the Missouri,
suddenly erupting
like a over grown stalk of corn
up from the shores of that almost
invisible river’s sand bars and snags

a lighthouse!…

up out of the dry land of
“Linoma Beach”
overlooking a manmade pond
with imported sand
far out of place and time

a monument to nothing in particular
a great obelisk of wood and steel along US #6
a benign alarm
sending up no dire warning of rocks or reef
cutting the fog with no last second beam of light
saving no great sea going
leviathan from ill-advised navigation

a lighthouse without the
attendant danger of surf or sand
but rather an invitation to
the flat waters of Nebraska
a signboard perhaps
tall white spire blinking its lights into the night
not a warning off, but a song of welcoming in
like the ancient siren
calling the unsuspecting traveler to its wonders
a whimsical piece of architecture
in the popular theme of the day

it was constructed over sixty years ago,
this curious building,
in the early days of my very own beginning adventure
in my post depression childhood
a small dreamer of grand visions and great conquest
a seeker after the secrets of life and literature
like a bean stalk climber waiting for the golden goose

and here was this mirage in my backyard
an early celebration of the coming prosperity
its interior in black and white art deco curves
all in brushed aluminum and polished ebony
…or something very like that
perhaps plastic and pot metal…
but opulent never the less in its intentions
build on flagstone and concrete
like a giant garden bed
casting its seed into the July sky

it was an event occurring in a bubble of time
captured in a moment on the calendar of the almost
in a changing attitude and presence
the scene about to lose its monochrome palate
like a black and white movie
suddenly awash in the spectrum
on a landscape about to become all aglow in Technicolor
Hollywood let loose in our expectations and hopes

nineteen forties
and the war
about to come home
and somewhere over the rainbow
trying to come true

“the best of times…the worst of times”

it was called “the tower”
and to begin with,
it was a motel and Mobile gas station
each floor was a room with views and no facilities
it was a tourist trap by any other name
all cool and inviting falsely
advertising something plush
something oasis like
in the mirage of the mind
in the days before
the interstate highway
before the seventy-five mile
an hour race for the mountains
became the rule of the day
when the two lane mentality
kept us all at something under 60 mph

here was a place to write home about
with post cards for sale and various amenities
lakeside tables and a beach with swimming suits for rent
boats and beer and picnic tables
grills and grass all in the green of summer
a curious island of welcome along
the endless transcontinental trail
a place for the businessman on his way back to Omaha
the local farmer after his long day in the field
the young boy from town meeting his girl
the odd tourist from anywhere
making time for an unscheduled stop
to please his wife and placate the kids

once a day there was the Union Pacific Zephyr
on its way to California
at full throttle flashing by in a blur
passengers half asleep and
nodding out the window
waking from an ocean dream perhaps
surprised and amazed and confused
by the dream coming true along the
tracks
a lighthouse in landlocked Nebraska?
“must have been that last trip to the club
car!”

but it was real then
and is real today
in its progressive derelict condition
waiting patiently for the renovator
waiting for its quaint past to send up
sufficient signal to the present
waiting not so patiently for another life
something to stand as testament
to its frivolous beginning
way back then

a lighthouse along, what is now,
a 21st century back road
relegated to occasional duty as detour
when the interstate goes down for
repair
like lately…
children of today asking the same old questions
having never seen such a thing
and fewer and fewer of us who were
there at the beginning to remember
what it was…
to remember when it was
a part of that odd little bubble in history
when all of us finally broke free of
the eighteenth century for good
with this lighthouse as our
beacon
toward the future
…whatever that became