Day 2: Blue Hill, Nebraska

Smalltown, USA

Our day began early today. 8:15am for coffee with my dad and grandparents. The best part was the venue—the coffee shop was in a supermarket. A great big supermarket. But damned if they didn’t make excellent espresso. I have no idea how they did it, they clearly didn’t know what they were doing. It was clear that their espresso machine didn’t get much use, plus they asked whether we wanted 2% milk or half-and-half in our double espresso. Regardless, it came out great, with nice creama on the top. Shocking.

After a quick breakfast, my dad took Jeni and I on a tour of his old stomping grounds—Blue Hill, Nebraska. Blue Hill is a town of 857, about 20 miles south of Hastings (which is in turn 165 miles west of Omaha). Blue Hill is a tiny farming town where the two biggest features are the water tower and the grain elevator. Amazingly enough to me, Blue Hill’s population has remained relatively unchanged in one hundred years, even if most of the commerical center is gone.


My father was born here and aside from a few years in Iowa, lived here for his childhood, working on a farm the whole time. Our tour consited of a drink at the Blue Hill tavern, checking out the field on where my dad played football (go Bobcats!), a drive past the old Oye farm, a stop at Rosemount (where my dad drove a tractor hauling grain), and nearby town of Bladon. One factoid that surprised me, both Bladon (population ~250) and Blue Hill each had Opera Houses. Alas, both are closed today.


We then visited my aunt and uncle’s farm. Marlys (my dad’s sister) and Neil were great to hang out with. We spent the time trying to recreate our family history. We got back as far as Hans Oye, born in Germany sometime before 1690. He had a kid named Peter, who married Ana. Peter had a way with picking names for his seven kids: he just named all of them some combination of Peter, Heinrich, Ana, and Hans. His third kid was Hans Oye (the grandson of the first Hans). This Hans came over from Germany and founded the Oye homestead in Blue Hill, Nebraska in 1875. He had a few kids, including August (my great grandfather). August had my grandfather Alfred, who in turn had my dad, Gary, which brings me to today. My grandfather sold our farm in about 1966.

We had dinner in Red Cloud and a nice big Nebraska steak. My enjoyment of the steak was not tempered one bit by the drive past the giant feedlot where 50,000 cows were being fed to get to 1200 pounds before being slaughtered. No, not at all. Not one bit.

With Marlys and Neil, we made a second stop at the Blue Hill Tavern, we found Squirt (a yummy non-alcholic citrus beverage), beef jerkey, “Hot Mama’s” (a pickled, spicy sausage which I was too scared to touch), and pickle cards. Pickle cards are a lightweight form of gambling, strangely addicting, which benefits the Blue Hill Fire Department. The idea is that there are ~4300 cards to a box with a fixed number of winners per box. The cards cost 50 cents and have a five tabs on the back that you pull to reveal a slot machine like row of symbols. If the symbols match the winning combinations you can win anywhere from 50 cents to $125. The symbols were quite patriotic: status of liberty, eagles, liberty bells, hot dogs, apple pie, etc. Anyway, we bought a few cards and three times we won 50 cents. We parlayed our winners into more cards which, of course, lost. However, the bartender sagely quipped “Not everyone is a winner”. Truer words were never spoken.