June 13- Adventures in Brownville

Kate Murr

Brownville, a small Nebraska village on the Missouri has at least four book shops and characters as rich as its river-town history. The quiet main street jingles with the sound of gallery door bells and conversation. We arrived on a searing afternoon in cling wrap humidity, hungry. Our first pass at Main Street we missed the winery, but we did see the Lyceum, a restaurant/book store boasting the Greek title for the gathering place of Aristotelian forums. Stuart screeched to a halt in front of the restaurant, but I coasted down to the eastern-most end of Main Street. The river was close to the street there and rising, and I wanted to see if the local merchants knew about flooding conditions on our next path, the Steamboat Trace.

Harry, of the Gallary 119 porch, didn’t know about the trail, but walked me across the street to ask long-time-local, Harold, at his health shop/mill. Harry’s eyes glinted with stories, his eyebrows animated his every syllable so that I read, while listening to his words, “I’m intrigued, concerned, delighted, learning.” Harold didn’t know about the trail, but the two said they would ask around.  I agreed that we would all come down and visit their shops after calories.

The calories were lovely, and a generous woman traveling through town from New York with a girl friend bought our meal. The restaurant was winding down from the Sunday lunch crowd and gearing up for the afternoon lecture: something about organizing personal records or simplifying one’s stuff. I thought about staying for the talk, who couldn’t learn something from a professional organizer, but Harry had called during lunch (how surreal to receive a phone call on the house phone of a restaurant in a new town!) and said the trail was mostly clear so we decided to quickly visit the open shops on Main Street and head north.

We visited one of the five buildings maintained by the town’s thriving Historic Society, a beautiful nineteenth century home chock-full of original artifacts. The Carson House docent recommended that we visit the Antiquarium/ Bill Farmer Gallery at the old schoolhouse, so we did. Thomas (he might endearingly qualify as a “curious” rather than a “curator”) has spent a lifetime amassing the collection of books, used and rare, and ephemera that line the walls in the open, funky space. I’ll admit I only explored the margins of the place because I wanted to take in as much as possible without becoming attached, engrossed, lost to my family for the afternoon or week. Thomas helped a twelve-year-old boy find a book on classical Greek language whilst some great make-it-down-the-road force pulled me away from the place. I think I’ll be back.

We also visited a paper store that specializes in beautiful, quirky handmade and hand-printed items. A book binding shop is going in next door to the paper shop and just down from that is the Handmade Modern store. Harry’s gallery nextdoor specializes in polymer clay pendants arranged artfully by seasonality among sundry sculptures and paintings. The space is cool and inviting, and Harry, in his jeans and tee-shirt, is highly approachable and accommodating. He spent a great deal of time showing Jane how he crafts his art, demonstrating the rolling and the cutting and the folding of the clay, carefully feeding the piece through a pasta roller, the same as we have at home. Jane enjoyed the lesson, and greedily asked for the piece. Harry was more than generous in his gifts of time and wares for the kids.

We visited Harold next, picked up some vitamins for the kids (Ashleigh, no need to send the kid’s vitamins to us now, they just go bad in the heat, we’ve figured out a new gig), and watched a milling demonstration. Harold had tons of luscious organic grains I would have bought in a second at home. We settled on some organic oats and grits because I thought they would cook quickly on our camp stove.

We checked out the wheel museum, which has a one horse open sleigh, a covered wagon, the minivan of antique carriages, and a bicycle. I’m not sure, but I think the saddle on the vintage bike may be a Brooks. Anyone care to weigh in on this? I was most impressed with the printing press table and pieces. Since everything in the museum is hands-on, I was able to actually pull out the drawer for 14 font Garamond and set the type on the table. Felt good.

On our way out of town, Harry stopped us to give us some cheese and deli ham he had in his fridge. Also, he gave us some lightweight plastic, which I’m sure will come in handy later. While he was presenting his thoughtful gifts, a woman I didn’t recognize pulled over to ask us if we would be staying in town for the night. I told her we were headed down the road a ways yet, and she said, “what if I buy you a bed and breakfast here?”. Harry’s eyebrows probably took flight at that, and my own drama queen, flashing his toes of many colors, made an arm twisting motion. We accepted Linda’s generous offer.

Linda had given the organization lecture at the Lyceum. She was curious about our story and was interested in making sure we had an excellent experience in Brownville. We did. After an impromptu juice and painting party outside Gallery 119 we invited Harry and Harold over to our place, the two-story renovated blacksmith’s shop, for wine and hor d’vours.

We sent the locals across the river with cash for the wine and I crafted tapas: leftover lentil stew on crackers, tuna salad, polenta with aged cheddar and bratwurst (donated to us at the campground the previous night), carrot sticks.  The men returned with all kinds of groceries, too, and we had a veritable feast and conversation late into the night.

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