Every year my Jewish friend and I head to New York City to eat, breathe and sleep our way through a week of pure Broadway fun. This year, while in New York, Nebraska was on my brain. Wondering what was rural about New York City from our 16th floor suite? Last year, we were upgraded to the 16th floor street side — no suite, with lots of honking and big truck noises heard all night long in a city that never sleeps!
This year, hardly any sounds greeted us, which was heavenly. With Nebraska on my mind, I looked out the window and what did I see? I saw rural America looking back at me. I thought this must be Nebraska because we’re facing a silo. What in the heck is a silo doing in the middle of New York City? It sat on the building directly across just a few floors lower. Wait, that can’t be a silo. My mind was racing: was it a silo? Maybe a cistern. Bingo! Cisterns are as rural as you can get. We had one in our back yard when I was a child. I grabbed my camera and snapped a picture with the intention of finding out exactly what this contraption was.
Then it was off to explore. I think it’s very un-American to have never seen the iconic Statue of Liberty during my many forays to this great city. So first on the agenda was a boat ride around the island of Manhattan to tick that box on my bucket list. Sorry, no picture of my great moment with Lady Liberty as the camera died.
It’s actually a water tower
Lo and behold, they were giving away free ice cream on the dock because Circle Line Boat Tours was celebrating its 70th birthday. Free ice cream is an all American rural past time. Who doesn’t remember taking a turn at turning that crank to make ice cream during the hot summer? Enjoying my vanilla cone, the tour guide announced New York has a law that any building more than five stories high must have its own water tower and proceeded to point out a good many of them. Now I’ve learned the thing I initially called a cistern and a silo is actually a water tower.
Water towers broadcast the names of small communities every place you go, prominently marking a community’s location. They provide reliable safe drinking water for communities and help to lower insurance rates by ensuring water is available when needed during fire emergencies. In large cities, they’re the saving grace during hot summer months when local firemen uncap hydrants offering kids of all ages a quick cool down in the gushing waters.
Nearing the end of our boat tour on the Hudson River we come upon an expanse of untouched greenery for as far as the eye can see. It seems we’ve reached a breathtaking section of America in all her shining glory. I think it must be what explorers and first settlers had the chance to glimpse before the industrial revolution turned full steam ahead. I’d hit the rural America jackpot!
The air breathes you
When we think of rural we think clean air so breathtaking the air seems to breathe you; a forest of trees with sun shining down in one of those moments you’re actually happy to be alive. Rural brings us back to a time when life was simpler. We farmers worked hard, got dirty, washed up, felt good helping others through a tough patch … and there on the ridge just ahead a group of boys stand ready and waiting for the boat so they can jump into the river for us. The tour guide has primed us for this moment and urged us to applaud, helping to ignite their daring and stoke their courage to perform. The crowd whistled, clapped and egged them on. All four boys jumped and the watching crowd erupted. It was as if everyone on the boat remembered something of his or her youth, of that simpler time. This is rural America at its finest, when we genuinely want the best for others.
The kids eagerly climbed out of the water and fired up with our glee, our enthusiasm and, amid our cheers and excitement, the moment palpable, they jumped again. The crowd was thunderous as the tour guide exclaimed that in all his 30 years, he’d never seen this done before! There’s that feel-good feeling again. Every time we visit rural or think rural, we see it’s a vital part of the whole tapestry and that good feeling surrounds. As if we’ve taken in the best. We floated through the rest of the day oblivious to the city and the noises.
After a night of watching a sterling Broadway production of “Finding Neverland,” we walked back to the hotel exhausted. Morning came too soon. I said good morning to the water tower and I noticed there were other buildings with water towers outside my window.
Nebraska’s creativity shines in its water towers
Water towers can be seen everywhere, especially in small towns. I love the way Nebraska’s creativity shines through its water towers. You can find all shapes and sizes, modern and as traditional as they come. York, Nebraska, has a water tower painted to resemble a colorful hot air balloon just north of Interstate 80. Spot the green aliens peeking out of the painted space ship water tower in Ogallala on Highway 61. Follow monarch butterflies on Highway 370 where aptly the town of Papillion’s water tower is covered in the insects. You can’t miss the long cylindrical standpipe water towers in Martinsburg, and Waterbury. Lyons sports an English-looking water tower. Kearney’s water tower is vaguely reminiscent of the leaning tower of Pisa.
Nearly everywhere you go in Nebraska, there’s a water tower. Look around and after finding your town’s water tower, send some gratitude its way for serving your community faithfully. Hang a red, white and blue ribbon on your town’s water tower and send it in to NRL for posting. No, it’s not New York City. It’s part of your hometown doing its wonderful work. Every community, especially the rural ones, make up this great land. And we are darn proud to be Americans!