Once Upon a Town


Once Upon a Town

“The only federal funding for the North Platte Canteen was a five-dollar bill that President Roosevelt sent from the White House because he had heard about what was taking place in North Platte, and he wanted to help.”

Bob Green, Once Upon a Town

One of my favourite quotes (and by now, most of you know that I am a “quote hoarder”) is Margaret Mead’s famous, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  While it is a heartening thought, the complexities and realities of life seem to temper the underlying enthusiasm imbedded within that oft-spoken phrase.  We want it to be true, but doubt remains.

“Once Upon a Town” dispels this reservation.

North Platte, Nebraska, situated along Interstate 80, where the North and South Platte Rivers meet, was established in 1868 with the coming of the Union Pacific Railroad.  It is a railroad town, an important dynamic in the story that would unfold almost 75 years later.

I remember visiting North Platte, Nebraska as a child with my parents.  Little did I know then that between Christmas Day 1941 to April 1, 1946, this town hosted thousands of servicemen on their way to war.

It all began when a 26-year-old woman named Rae Wilson had an idea to meet all trains that came through North Platte.  She believed their community should give soldiers a proper send-off.   As a designated tender point for steam trains, North Platte was the ideal spot to open a canteen.  What began as a small idea energized into a mammoth undertaking of servicing a thousand men per day.   Over 125 communities donated their time to work in the canteen. Supported by the kindness of strangers, the canteen thrived and became known across the United States as the Service Men’s Canteen, in the Union Pacific Railroad station at North Platte.

The canteen closed on April 1, 1946.  Over six million servicemen and women had been served over those 5 years.

Why is this story so important to me?  My father was one of those servicemen that went through North Platte.  My mother was one of those women who helped in the effort.  They met many years later, but for a moment, without either knowing, they shared a miracle.

Life has interesting twists and turns.  But one thing is certain, the generosity and kindness of strangers gives hope to those who face a difficult journey. The North Platte Canteen came together because people cared deeply for each other during challenging times. May we never doubt that a small group of people can change the world

“It might have been a dream – but it wasn’t. Six million soldiers who passed through that little town, six million of our fathers, before we were born.  And every single train was greeted; every man was welcomed.  It was a love story – a love story between a country and its sons.”

Bob Green, Once Upon a Town

Song of the Witches & The Great Pumpkin

It is  Halloween, the night of October 31, the eve of All Saints’s Day.   Some scholars believe that Halloween has Christian roots which have been influenced by the Celtic harvest festival.  Some others believe that there is a connection to the Gaelic festival, Samhain.  Whatever the case may be, I am reminded of two separate ideas:

William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Charles M. Schulz’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin.” There is a sense of destiny in both narratives along with possibilities and consequences. Choices and warnings.   What better way to remember Halloween.

The Highlands of Scotland

The Highlands of Scotland

Song of the Witches, Macbeth – William Shakespeare

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown – Charles M. Schulz
“Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He’s gotta pick this one. He’s got to. I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.”

Happy Birthday Dylan Thomas

“A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.”
Dylan Thomas

Thomas Dylan 1