In the Category of It's a Small World...

As a folk singer that plays in smalls bars and clubs I’m keenly aware of the obstacles we face in getting the attention of the audience – even if it is just a tiny portion of the audience. We are often competing with flat screen televisions on every wall, people enjoying themselves talking, laughing, yelling, hooting and hollering with their friends. We each have to devise our own way to survive a 2 to 3 hour set without losing our sanity. For me, if I can find one person, one couple, or table that I can connect with I will typically go home happy. One of the most enjoyable aspects of doing what I do is having the opportunity to meet people and make new friends.

A few nights ago I was playing a small place in Round Rock, Texas called Junior’s Bar & Ice House. As the night went on and the place started to thin out a little, I noticed two couples sitting few tables back from the stage. They seemed like they liked the music. They would clap after most songs and sometimes look up and smile. After a while I noticed that they were playing a card game.

“What are you playing back there?” I asked.

They looked up with smiles and one of them said, “Euchre”.

“Really”, I said, more of a statement than a question.

Now, Euchre (pronounced ˈyoōkər) is a card game played with the nines, tens, jacks, queens, kings and aces of a standard deck of cards. It is a fairly simple game, but not a game you see much in Texas. Which is kind of surprising, now that I think about it, given the large German population in this part of central Texas. But I digress. Euchre is very popular where my family is from – that being rural Nebraska and Iowa.

“Are you from the Midwest?” I asked.

Smiles spread across their faces and I could see them looking at each other and then back at me curiously.

“Yes, were from Nebraska”, one of them said.

“Where in Nebraska”, I asked?

“Lincoln”, they said.

Now my brother and his family live in Lincoln and I have been to Lincoln many times. A wonderful place a few months out of the year – considering the brutal cold winters and hot humid summers.

Much of my father’s family is originally from a small Nebraska farming community called Bow Valley, which is over 150 miles north of Lincoln. It’s so small in fact that it isn’t even listed on Google maps anymore. Though, I did find it after an exhaustive search using Google’s satellite image feature. As a kid, my father spent many of his summers in Bow Valley with his cousins working on the farm and getting into the type of trouble most boys get into.

I think that he always had a special place in his heart for that area. In fact, he seemed to like it so much that when he and my mother were married they moved from their home town in Iowa to a little town just a few miles from Bow Valley called Hartington, where, after coming into this world, I lived until I was three years old. I still have family living there today.

From what I can tell from the satellite images Bow Valley today is very much like what I remember it to be many years ago. A few small houses, a small farm implement shop of some kind, a little gas station/general store/bar which was close to both the Catholic church – a beautiful old traditional style church – and my great grand parents house. I remember many times my uncles, cousins and my dad sitting in one of the booths, drinking beer and playing, you guessed it, Euchre.

For whatever reason Bow Valley popped into my head. There was no reason to think that these people would have any idea or knowledge of this obscure little village in Nebraska but I figured I’d throw it out there anyway.

“Do you know where Bow Valley is?” I asked.

Now the smiles went from just smiles to something more. One said something to the other and their heads bobbed as if to say, “yes we do” and “how do you”?

I mentioned that I had family in that area and it was there that I first learned to play Euchre and that I would be playing the game soon with my brothers on our yearly golf outing.

During my break I stopped by to introduce myself. It turns out that the four of them had been vacationing in the area and were headed back to Nebraska the following day. They just happened to pop into Junior’s for dinner and a beer. They asked me to sit with them and offered to buy me a beer and then insisted that I play a hand of Euchre with them. I protested, saying that I didn’t want to be responsible for messing up their game but they would have none of it.

As they dealt the cards we started talking, it turned out that one of the women, Jo, grew up in Hartington and knew many of my cousins and friends of my parents. She even remembered the very popular band Quazy that my cousins played in back in the 70’s and 80’s. Each name mentioned would lead to another and then another that we would both recognize.

I mentioned that my father had run the drive-in theater there in Hartington and, of course, Jo had worked there as a teenager. I remembered that one of my mother’s best friends name was Jolene Cottle and that she had a son, Alan, that was the same age as I was. Yes, she knew Jolene and Alan.

If all this wasn’t enough, one of them asked about my brother in Lincoln. I mentioned that he was a big shot with the department of roads for the state and joked that if he had any complaints to be sure to call and ask for him. Cindy, the other woman at the table, then got a curious look on her face.

“What’s is your brother’s wife’s’ name?” she asked.

“Marcia”, I said.

“Oh my gosh, I know her, I worked on a project with her. I’ve met her husband too!”

Turns out they had worked together on a project dealing with the growing problem of pharmaceuticals in our water. Apparently people are often now flushing expired or unused prescription drugs down the toilet which are being detected in our drinking water at higher and higher rates. Marcia is an expert in pharmacology and not long ago had explained to me how big a problem this is becoming.

In the end we didn’t finish the game, which was a good thing because I had a horrible hand. I ‘d met new friends who inspired fond memories family I had not thought of nor seen for far too long.

So here’s to Jerry and Jo Pflanz and Randy and Cindy Kreifels from Lincoln, Nebraska. If you are reading this, I hope you had a safe and enjoyable trip back to Nebraska and I hope to see you again sometime down the road.

It is a small world.

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world….