My (Robert) mom was born on a farm in Southeast Nebraska. The name of the town is Friend and I always thought it was because the people were so nice there! Turns out it was named for it's founder in 1870, Charles Friend, but that doesn't take away from how nice folks still are. My mom's Great Grandfather, Charles Warner, homesteaded after he was released from a Southern prison camp (Andersonville) after the Civil War. As a kid, I heard many stories about life on the farm and when I was 8 years old, I got to see it. A farm is a GREAT place to spend some time if you're a kid. Nothing like playing in the hay loft, digging for popping corn out of the crib, helping slop the pigs, collect the eggs and drink lemonade on the front lawn under the century old trees. I remember that visit like it was last week, though it was over 30 years ago. Yup, nothing like a genuine farm to leave an impression on young "city" boy!
First thing Saturday morning we headed in to the main part of town, which was all of 9 blocks away. We found the main intersection closed off to traffic because they were holding a auction right on the main drag. Turns out it was an estate sale auction...of a distant relative of mine! There were no next of kin, so EVERYTHING in the house was up for sale...including boxes of Reynolds wrap, tupperware, wrapping paper...you name it. They also auctioned off a 1959 Cadillac Sedan de Ville that was mostly restored. Wow, I would have loved to have that but there's just no room in the trailer to park it!
After watching the auction for a while, we headed to Yokel's Hardware, a Friend institution since 1920. Will Yokel is the current proprietor and grandson of the founder. We were instantly greeted with the small town friendliness that I thought Friend was named for. After introductions, Will told us that his Grandmother was best friends with my Great Aunt Francis. Aunt Francis passed away in 1990 but she's still fondly remembered in town. Will was very happy to fill me in on the town and became our official ambassador to the great town of Friend.
Above the hardware store is the old Warren Opera House or Friend Opera House as it's also known. It was built in 1896 at a cost of $40,000 and is the only establishment of its kind for a 50 mile radius from Friend. It was in great use for approximately 34 years and has been sitting dark ever since. That is until the Friend Historical Society was formed and plans for the restoration of the Grand ole Dame were hatched. This opera house was the scene for many of the local high school plays, sporting events, political debates as well as professional productions. It even hosted a circus once, complete with an elephant that had to climb the stairs to get in! Will gave us a private tour of the opera house and showed us where the actors used to sign their names in the dressing room. The power was off so we searched the walls by flashlight. To our surprise we found the signatures of my Grandfather Glenn Warner and my Great Uncle Harold Warner (one of Glenn's brothers)! Their signatures have been on those walls, waiting to be discovered since the 1920's. One of the scenery paintings, still hanging on stage, is from a 1897 production, wow! This is truly a time capsule just waiting to be revealed. And the time is now...
The Historical Society is raising money to restore the Opera House and they've already made some great progress. If you would like to make a tax deductible donation, please send an email to FriendOperaHouse@gmail.com and we'll get you in touch with the right people.
The rest of our time in Friend was spent taking pictures of the historic homes, many of them restored already and going to visit my family's farm. The land around the farmhouse appears to be worked by someone else and the house and buildings are in disrepair but it still brought back vivid and exciting memories I created as an 8 year old boy from "the city". For the family reunion we were headed to, I put together a slide show of our stay in Friend. I think it went over well and the RVGypsies were happy we could show everyone the "old hometown".
Will and I have kept in touch since we left and if you're reading this, we want you to know how much we appreciated how welcome you made us feel!