When the sniper was striking the DC area, there was an article in the Washington Post titled “Off Ramp”. It described how every off ramp into suburbia is similar and this made the sniper’s strikes all the more unnerving since we could so well picture the places of his crimes.
Off ramps into small towns are not all the same. Recently, I have become nostalgic when Mom and I go through Wiggins, thinking of what used to be in the buildings there now and about what buildings are no longer there. Wiggins always sort of seems the same, but there really have been a lot of changes, and I think it is the most recent change that has brought about this nostalgia. You see, they tore down the old White Building that before my day was the junior high building and in my high school days housed the art and music rooms. But it was Sister School, as we called it, that the White Building hosted to which I attach the fondest memories. Every summer, several nuns from Kansas came for a week to teach catechism and music and the joy of being a Catholic. It was a highlight of the summer. People wanted to save the White Building, but it had so much mold that it made its salvation cost prohibitive.
Let me take you off ramp and into Wiggins of today and yesterday. We’re on I76 East turning onto the first Wiggins exit.
The first building on the left is a residence and was the childhood home of Dan Busch who farms our farm now. He sold it after he moved to his grandparents’ home, then it went into foreclosure. His son then bought it back from the bank for something like $30,000 less than his father had sold it. I’m glad it’s back in the family and I think it looks better white than turquoise.
There’s some newer buildings here on the west side of town – the firehouse, the post office and relatively newer buildings like the grocery store and the bank. The old post office is now an insurance company. Then we come to the restaurant that has had at least seven different names in my lifetime. The first I remember was the White Spot. I washed dishes there for a few weeks one summer when it was Country Fare, but everyone called it Dorothy’s. This is also where the Continental Trailways Bus used to stop. I road it many times to and from Virginia. The café is now the Prairie Ranch House.
Across the street is a vacant lot for sale by owner. I think it has had this status for a decade or so. What used to be there was the Pink Hotel: a two-storied, old hotel and very pink. Dr. Carroll went through Wiggins one time before he ever met Mrs. Carroll and had his picture taken in front of the Pink Hotel. The only time I set foot in it was when we bought our Christmas tree there. I don’t know why they were being sold at a hotel. The Pink Hotel was eventually painted brown and then torn down. It is perhaps Wiggins’ greatest loss.
Next is the liquor store. It’s closed down and for sale. Definitely a sign of the economic times!
Now we could turn down Main Street, but let’s head out to the east part of town past the old Stub’s – a gas station. It’s been moved to the west off ramp and is doing quite well. Then there is the Co-Op. This is where we fill up now. The #3 gas pump has had “Error” on it for the three years we have been back here and is unusable. We use pump #4.
Heading back west we come to a building that is some town government place. It used to be the grocery store. The best memory from this store was the time the Wonder Bread Giant visited and gave away little loaves of Wonder Bread. I’m living proof that Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways!
Now we turn down Main Street headed south. There’s the Frozen Food Locker – been closed and for sale for quite a while. A little business was in there a few years ago, but it didn’t last long. This is where we would go after Mass on Sunday sometimes, and Dad would buy us kids Almond Joys or Mounds.
We cross over the railroad tracks. Here’s the other restaurant in town – Fajitas. This used to be the Corner Service gas station. We used to have a gas pump on our farm and rarely got gas anywhere else. One time I was with my sister Barb when she had just started to drive, and we needed gas. She pulled in and asked for “half a tank”. The guy looked at her as if she were crazy. When we were in a hurry leaving home, we always put in just half a tank. We had never thought about giving a dollar amount to the gas we put in. This is when gas was about 40 cents a gallon.
The old town pool hall is some new pool hall. It used to be called “Bub’s”. People of Wiggins used to fill up one way or another at Stub’s or Bub’s. I was only in Bub’s twice. The first time was after a basketball practice when some other guys wanted to play 4-man foos ball. They made a big mistake asking me – I was terrible. The other time I played pinball with my cousin Dan. We took turns and were doing quite well. You could win money playing and we were. Then Bub came over and tilted the machine on us. That was an effective way of limiting payoffs.
Across the street is the hardware store. It’s been there as long as I can remember, but things have changed all around it. My brother John, shortly before he died, won a $500 drawing for merchandise from the store. John always did his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve at the hardware store. For his last Christmas shopping he had $500 to spend.
Wiggins Jr/Sr High and Grade School take up the rest of one side of Main Street all the way to the edge of town. On the west side we come to a house that used to be the Catholic Church. Lots of memories from here, of course: First Confession, First Communion, altar serving, catechism classes, Dr. and Mrs. Carroll’s wedding where I was the ring bearer. It had no air conditioning and no indoor plumbing. Sometimes as an altar boy I had to go next door to the Jones’ house (they were Quakers) and get water for the cruet. One time their dog walked through the back door, through the sacristy and onto the altar during Mass while I was serving. I had to lead him off the altar and back home. In the summer months, it seemed someone every Sunday would faint from a combination of the heat and midnight fast. There was accordion music in the days when I guess we didn’t have an organist or maybe it was that we didn’t have an organ. Every Sunday we sang “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” and “Praise the Holy Trinity”. I could go on, but instead let’s go on down the street.
There’s the Wiggins Telephone Company, supplier of our high speed internet. If we turned left shortly after it, we’d come to where the Community Hall used to be. What great events took place there! There were two big ones: The Fall Festival with crop judging and our church bazaar with its pig raffle. Barb entered the Miss Fall Festival contest one year. In the group dance routine her umbrella wouldn’t open. She made up for it by being crowned Prom Queen her senior year. Every year at the bazaar we would win gold fish by throwing ping pong balls into their bowls – one got the fish in the bowl if the ball fell into it. Our fish never lasted more than a couple days. I think Wonder Bread does not help build strong fish bodies in any way. We never thought to put a scapular around their bowls and pray for them to be returned to life. One year in high school my sister Kath’s class was reading A Tale of Two Cities and many were having trouble understanding it. My brother Dave had a collection of Classics Illustrated – comic books of great literature. Kath would lend the comic of the Dicken’s classic for a night to anyone who would buy a book of pig raffle tickets. She was a shrewd salesperson.
Back to Main Street and we are at the edge of town. Here is Our Lady of Lourdes with indoor plumbing and air conditioning. There’s even doughnuts every Sunday after Mass. We thought we were almost in heaven when we had long johns after our First Holy Communion. Catholic kids of Wiggins will never be as tough as we were. If you come on the 11th, its Our Lady of Lourdes’ feast day, there will be a 6:00 Mass followed by a potluck supper. Everybody’s welcomed.
Right next to the church is a corn field. If you make seven turns heading southwest for 10 miles from here you would end up at our farm.
That’s our off ramp.
‘Twixt now and the 20th there is Our Lady of Lourdes’ feast day, St. Valentine’s Day and Quinquagesima Sunday, Presidents Day, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. A lot can happen in 10 days.
Jezu, ufam Tobie.