Nebraska Journal, Part II


Friends, I started this journal yesterday. Should I just resume, with no explanation or ado? Okay. For Part I, go here.

I was talking about Lincoln, at the beginning of yesterday’s installment — Lincoln, Neb., the capital. It is handsome and friendly, like Nebraskans. The city reminds me a little of Ann Arbor, Mich., my hometown — except we don’t have a capitol. We have a big state university, but not a capitol.

Also, when I pass the YMCA here in Lincoln, I think, “I bet the ‘C’ still means something here.” Do you know what I mean?

In general, Lincoln speaks to me of American well-being. And some facts bear me out: Lincoln is ranked as one of America’s “happiest” cities, “healthiest” cities, and “most welcoming” cities. You could do worse than to visit or settle here. A lot worse.

The capitol is a tower, or dominated by a tower. I remember how surprised I was seeing North Dakota’s capitol a couple of years ago. I guess I thought a capitol should be a dome—as in Washington, D.C. The capitol in Bismarck looked to me like a couple of office towers, not very attractive.

Nebraska’s tower is like a fat carillon, with a smallish golden dome. It is quite beautiful. And the North Dakota capitol could grow on me, I guess. I’d need some time.

In front of the capitol here, there is a statue of Lincoln. His head is bowed, reflectively, prayerfully.

Just beneath the Nebraska flag flies a POW/MIA flag. I have mentioned this issue before: Do we still fly that flag out of habit? Do we do it unthinkingly? Or is it still necessary, desirable, or right to fly this flag?

I keep meaning to do a piece on the subject someday . . .

Over a door of the capitol are engraved these words: “The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.” I think I’ve copied that right.

Also: “Honour to pioneers who broke the sods that men to come might live.” And “Honour to citizens who build an house of state where men live well.”

(Note the “an house.” Also the British spelling of “honor.”)

Across the street from the capitol is the governor’s mansion. I can’t help thinking this strange, homespun thought: “Does the governor come home for lunch?”

I also think, “Bob Kerrey lived here with Debra Winger, if I remember correctly.”

One more thought: “Shouldn’t someone named Winger be an extreme conservative?” Also, “Why is it that only right-wingers are called ‘-wingers,’ and not left-wingers?”

Not the most important thoughts, I realize . . .

At the governor’s mansion today, there is an Easter-egg hunt. Children are in the yard with their parents. There are those little places that you rent where kids bounce up and down. You know what I’m talking about? They’re like fancied-up trampolines. I think I see a three-legged race. Anyway, there are ice-cream-social-like activities.

And it is so very, very American.

Do leaders and their spouses in other countries pause now and then to host and play with ordinary children? Maybe they do, but I wonder.

I see a Hruska Law Center. And I think of Lord Acton. Bear with me a second, please.

Recently, I was a guest in someone’s home, and a volume of Acton’s essays or lectures was laid on the bedside table. I picked it up. He is really good, of course. And I thought, “Pity he is known for just one thing, just one line” — the bit about power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Well, Roman Hruska, the Nebraska senator, was known for one thing, and continues to be known for one thing, if he is known at all: “Even mediocre men deserve representation” (by other mediocre men).

Now, he didn’t say that, exactly, and the context is important. But this is the way it has come down to us, in legend.

Here in Lincoln, people wave at you, as they wait in their cars for you to pass. Holy smokes. They’re not waving with their middle finger either, as people might elsewhere . . .

There is a Duffy’s Tavern. Was it established before the radio show or after?

A friend has made a point to me about reverence for the University of Nebraska athletic teams, especially the football team: In Michigan, you have the University of Michigan and Michigan State University; in Iowa, you have Iowa and Iowa State; in Oklahoma, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State; etc.

In this state, there is no other university — no Nebraska State. So the reverence for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers is statewide, undivided, total.


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