Hometown kids and the Hub

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These hometown kids are not kids any more, but for one evening they live their teenage years by telling their stories about their first job at the Hub in Pagosa Springs. They are now 50- to 60-year-old parents and grandparents, and are thinking about their retirement.

Every couple of years, I receive a call. “Jane Stewart is in town and we are getting together.” The date is set, everyone is contacted and the hometown kids come out of the woodwork. They come because they are one of 500 teenagers who put on a Hub T-shirt and collected their first paycheck from their first job, from Jane, their first boss.

This week, my Sweet Al and I sat and listened to these grownup kids and their stories. If you ask them who the one person who had the most influence in their career was, they would probably say Jane. She was the engine that pulled the cars. They all loved Bob, Bob loved them, but it was the respect and fear of Jane that set them on the right track.

The Hub was the fast-food place of Pagosa in the middle of town and where everyone convened. Pagosa rolled up its sidewalks at 6 p.m., but the Hub stayed open until nine.

I wish I could write as elegantly as Norman Maclean. In 1976, at 70 years old, he wrote his first novella about the importance of the river running through the Maclean family. Their river was the place they met after school, where they learned life lessons and resolved conflict. Growing up in their small town of Missoula, Mont., life was all about the river.

In our small town of Pagosa Springs, life was all about the Hub. Three of our four children worked there. They would go after school and work into the evening. When they came home, they plopped down on our king-size bed and I’d ask, “Who came in tonight and what happened at the Hub?”

They would tell Al and me about people, conflicts and what they learned. Senior citizens’ tour buses would stop. Forty old people limped off the bus and filed into the bathrooms. They ordered a snack and talked about how onions gassed their stomach and seeds would get in their false teeth. The teenagers gasped when they heard about bodily functions.

But when the cutest boys in Pagosa came in, the girls gushed. One boy ordered a scoop of ice cream for his dog and the girls behind the counter watched the dog lick the ice cream out of the bowl. They swooned over the sweet Boot Hill boy. Johnny and Paul came by, roared the engine in their hopped-up car and the girls screamed for a ride. Chuck and Tom, in their muscle shirts, came after football and wrestling practices and the girls giggled and blushed. Ronny and Billy stopped by after softball practice for a coke and the girls gave them a free refill. Clifford came by with his girlfriend and they knew he was off limits.

At the Hub reunion that evening, they began their stories with, “Do you remember” and they told one tale after another for three hours. The green ice cream cone was always mentioned; be sure to tap the bottom of the cone first. One of the girls had a crazy crush on a guy. When he’d come in, she’d hide under the counter until he left.

There were always stories about Jane. Remember when Jane took a dollar bill out of the register and put it in the trash? She said, “If you give the customer more than four ounces of ice cream, you just threw our profit in the trash.”

Jane, with a military background, never had children of her own, but she can claim each one of these kids as hers. Heidi talked about the day she needed to get her driver’s license, but didn’t have a car for the test. Mrs. Stewart gave her the keys to her car and said, “Use mine.”

Jane told about the young girl who was to start work the next day at eight. She showed up at eight, fiddled with her hair and makeup in the bathroom and didn’t come to the counter until 8:15. Jane told her she was late, if she wanted the job, to go home and try again tomorrow. Jane expected her to be on the job at eight o’clock. The girl came ready to work the next morning. I have a feeling she hasn’t forgotten that life lesson.

One of my favorite stories they tell every year is when Jane insisted Pagosa have fireworks and bought the first fireworks for the Fourth of July. When Judge Hyde held court and the jurors parked in the Hub’s parking lot, Jane didn’t bother to take off her apron. She marched into his court room and told the jurors they had to park somewhere else. The court was adjourned until they moved their cars.

With her straight posture, she still carries herself with confidence. I asked her, after 45 years, why do you think these kids still have such respect for you?

She said, “I don’t know. I’m baffled by their loyalty.”

I think she gave them a sense of pride. Also, Jane knew how to run a business and taught them to have respect for themselves. She never waffled at things that mattered. She is a principled person.

In the 12th Psalm, David asks, “Where are the dependable, principled ones? They’re a vanishing breed” (TPT).

Today, we see so much waffling in morals and principles; maybe that’s why these grownup hometown kids love Jane. There was someone in their lives they looked up to who had strong work values and taught them how to work.

“Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it,” Norman Maclean wrote. “To him, all good things — trout as well as eternal salvation — came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.”

Final brushstroke: Jane had a certain art of making good kids great. Look around today; you see these same kids running businesses, building houses, working for the county, serving at the grocery stores and other places. Some have moved out of town, but when they come home, they still talk about the days they worked at the Hub.

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