Paved Peony Park, Put Up A Parking Lot

18 July 2001

My parents send me newspaper clippings from the Omaha World-Herald from time to time, and I got another batch of them yesterday. In the letters to the editor, there's a whole set of letters decrying the loss of the Indian Hills Theatre. First of all, one thing I don't miss about living in Nebraska is the number of times something is claimed to be "nationally known" or "internationally famous" and, in fact, is not. If any of you are not from Nebraska and have heard of the Indian Hills Theatre, please, e-mail me. I would love to be wrong on this one.

So the thing that's got everyone upset is that the Indian Hills, this old ("historic!") movie theatre, is being torn down to build something else -- parking for a nearby hospital, I believe. (And, gosh, letting people have close and convenient access to their ailing loved ones, that's not a worthy goal. That's Corporate Interests, is what that is.) So now there are dozens and hundreds, possibly thousands, of people in Omaha whining and moaning about how the Indian Hills is being torn down.

If all of these people had gone to the movies at the Indian Hills, the owners would have been able to keep it in business as a movie theatre, and it wouldn't have been a problem.

The same thing happened when Peony Park amusement park and ballroom got torn down. Old Omahans cried woe, woe, we're losing our history, we're losing our character, we loved Peony Park, woe. (By the way, this is to be pronounced "pee-nee-park." "Pee-oh-nee park" is right out.) Well, I loved Peony Park, too. They had Sprite Night, wherein you could get unlimited rides for not so much money if you brought a can of Sprite (emptied). Kathy and Mom used to take Kari and Mary and I, and when it wasn't too crowded, they'd let us ride the same ride over again without going back around to get in line. We rode the little roller coaster nine times in a row one night, and the Ferris Wheel operator would always keep it going or stop us at the top when we three little blonde girls shouted, "more, more!" or "up, up!" at him. My fond memories are quite fond.

(Although I'm still not sure why they made me drink the Sprite. I hated soda. Still do. Why couldn't we just pour it out if nobody wanted it?)

But I didn't go to Peony Park as a teenager. It wasn't worth it, not even on Sprite Night. And so when Peony Park shut down, when they paved Peony Park and put up a parking lot, well, I didn't yell at anybody. If I had been going there all the time and spending my money, I would have been a little more upset. But if people like me had been going there all the time and spending their money, they wouldn't have gone bankrupt.

Listen: it is not someone else's responsibility to take care of the things I remember and love. My nostalgia is mine for the maintenance. If people who had little kids didn't want to take them to Peony Park, they were not morally wrong, nor blind, nor short-sighted. They were not obliged to keep it around just in case I decided I did want it after all.

Something like a movie theatre or an amusement park can't be a monument. It has to be used, or it's dead. But everybody thought somebody else was supposed to be using it. It's not somebody else's responsibility.

I'm a little inconsistent on this one, because I do mourn the loss of the Chestnut Tree. The Tree was a coffeehouse in St. Pete (where I went to college, for those of you who haven't been keeping score). And it was fabulous. It was wonderful. It was all because of Lisa. She was one of the owners, and she was amazing. She kept track of what you liked, if you were a regular. She would look at me and guess: "English toffee steamer!" "Looks like a raspberry mocha day." "You need a sandwich." And she'd be right. And the food. Oh. The coffee was good, but the food. They made pesto pizzas with walnuts and tomatoes and spinach and cheese, and they were so very, very nice. And Victory Chili. And Italian Veggie sandwiches, with some kind of dark lettuce and tomatoes and walnuts and mushrooms and green peppers and this sauce, this basil tomato dressing, on this bread (also basil-laden). Oh my. So good, and I will never eat it again.

The Chestnut Tree was the kind of place you could take your professors. You could take your dates. You could even take your professors on dates, but most of us frowned on that. (Sadly, not all of us....) You could take your parents there, too, when they were in town and you didn't want to drive to Kato. One of the most indicative stories about my family actually occurred at the Tree.

My dad has been hanging around my mom's parents since he was a young teenager. He is, essentially, their kid. His mom died right before I was born, so Grandma and Grandpa have been his mom and dad, essentially, for my entire lifetime. And sometimes the lines get blurry. Oh, also essential to this story: my dad's father was a Lutheran pastor.

Chaplain Brian came into the Tree when my family was sitting there in the spring. At about the same time, a deeply unwashed sort of a man came in, wearing flannels he must have put on at the start of the winter. I poked my mom and whispered that that was the new chaplain. She said, "Oh, really!" And looked very, very startled. Then she saw the man in the clerical collar and started laughing. Explained why. My dad teased her a little bit, and she said, "Well, your dad didn't always dress in the best clothes!" And Grandpa, who hadn't been paying too much attention, looked up from his sandwich and said, indignantly, "I dress fine!"

Daddy did have another dad once, we reminded him. But I can see why he didn't think that was the important part, after all these years.

Anyway, the little ingrates that currently attend Gustavus did not support the Chestnut Tree, and it went under. This is not like Peony Park and the Indian Hills, though, because St. Pete is a college town. Very few things can survive in St. Pete without college student business, and the college students, for some unfathomable reason, decided not to keep the Tree alive.

I am bitter about that. Deeply, deeply bitter. I know it was their choice, but I cannot fathom why anyone would not be spending their money at the Tree, given the opportunity. I would have mail-ordered that sauce if they'd have let me.


In brighter news, evidently someone who reads my journal got to see Arlo on the Fourth! Yay, them! If it couldn't be me, I'm glad it's one of you.

And in even brighter news, it's Liz's birthday! Head on over there and wish the girl a happy birthday, because she is old. How old? Older than me. By more than a year. And she's got to work two jobs today, so she'd better enjoy herself somehow.

More than a year. Yep. A year and eight days. Elderly, elderly Liz.

Happy birthday, sweetie. Your first letter to me was on pale green paper with fairies on the top. You agonized about how your parents wanted you to go into the sciences. We talked about writing and about books and poetry and all your friends. Folks, I can tell you Lizzie's high school crushes. All of them. To this very day. That's friendship, is what that is, continent or no continent in the way.

Thankfully, her journal will probably not do so. So go read it, and wish her a happy birthday.

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