The psychic village of Ashton Nebraska is undergoing some stress, the bar and gas station are up for sale; yes the beer, burger and bulk oil businesses are being bartered. This news is more harrowing than COVID or the Kielbasa Uprising of 1965. A small village of 120 some souls depends on every shop like Democrats trust in higher taxes and Republicans for anything that doesn’t have a D in its name. Every hamlet needs certain businesses to exist, also other stores that give a town character.
A bank is essential and this establishment in Ashton has been going since 1908; stepping inside the lobby is going back in time. You expect the James Gang to walk in demanding all the zlotys from the safe. The staff is well trained and most can do their sums on fingers and toes; nothing like a sixth grade education to up your confidence as a cashier. The Post Office is also something of an anomaly, the postal workers are patient and friendly and there is never a waiting line; yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
The needs of farmers and other citizens are ably handled by the Garage. The four bay structure fixes anything that moves, except cats and dogs. The outside of the Garage is cleaner than some of the homey fixer-uppers found scattered about the village. There is also a hair salon that guarantees its work or your hair back (or was that back hair?). This is establishment is the reason the people of the town look almost normal.
To the main business of stress, the bar and gas station are up for sale. In a small community the bar is essential, not because of the booze but because of the food. OK, the alcohol may be a small part of the business, like 80% depending if you’re talking to a friend of Bill or not, but a good lunch for farmers and family is a morale booster. The specials are the best and locals flock to taco night, well except for the Hispanics. Pizza night is always a crowd pleaser and the staff will even serve non-Polish people. As of this writing there is a rumor that the bar has been purchased; there is darker gossip that the new owner is not Polish.
The gas station is also on the sale block; the current owner is an irascible, bellicose, connoisseur of complaints. Nothing is ever correct and he is energetic at attempting to run other people’s lives; it’s like career coaching from a homeless tweaker. For all of this people still like him and the station is valued asset to the town; the proprietor is very generous, but he denies this. He won’t go to anyone’s funeral and is currently devising a scheme to avoid his own. The station is also the heart of the rumor mill, you pay for the gas but the gossip if free.
A less essential but most appreciated commercial enterprise is the Sausage Shop (Maschka’s). Homemade kielbasa, brauts, you name it from old family recipes. People from Omaha and Poland make pilgrimages to load up at the Sausage Shop (there is some exaggeration here, not all that many come from Omaha). The Sherman County Food Pyramid lists kielbasa as the foundation of nutrition and clogged arteries.
There is a Catholic Church in the hamlet, but no regular Sunday services. Baptisms, funerals, wedding and bar mitzvahs are the reason the burg comes together to celebrate or mourn. Of course the festive and sad occasions all call for the fruit of the barley. The saddest day in recorded municipality history was time when the beer truck broke down before it could get to Ashton; about 120 people showed up at the scene to see if help was needed.
Ashton is one of the thousands of villages throughout the US and the world; all with similar problems and blessings, and most certainly all with characters. God created each one and, as Psalm 139 reminds us, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Ps 139:13) How we treat with one another is at the heart of the Gospel, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk 12:31) Most of the time loving everyone can be an exasperating endeavor, especially within family and friends. Jesus knows these trails, that’s why he died and rose, to save us with His Grace in our lack of loving.
I’m hoping, one day, to open a Tattoo, Piercing and Junk Shop in Ashton so I can afford to retire.