Hillcrest resident, 99, stays involved with current eventsMonday, December 14, 2009
Esther Wissbaum keeps her trusty manual typewriter humming.
(Lorri Sughroue/McCook Daily Gazette)
[Click to enlarge]
Wissbaum keeps busy on her 1977 manual Smith Corona typewriter, pounding out letters to newspapers about a variety of issues, such as the decline of common courtesy ("What's wrong with saying 'You're welcome?'" "Nowadays people say 'No problem.' What does that mean, exactly?'") to legalizing industrial hemp.
Wissbaums's last letter about hemp prompted Gov. Dave Heineman, who disagreed with her stance, to writer her back.
"I was so mad, I threw the letter away," Wissbaum said. "He didn't approve of marijuana being grown -- I don't either -- but hemp is different than marijuana, with very little THC in it. Maybe he didn't understand what I was saying. Hemp would be a great crop for our farmers to grow, don't you think?"
Nowadays, she lives at Hillcrest Nursing Home and not much gets past this feisty senior. Despite her prolific letter writing, she still has no interest in a computer.
"Where would I put one?" Wissbaum asked, motioning her hand toward the side of her room, already filled with a desk and her trusty typewriter, along with a lamp, magazines and books, a stack of recycled paper to type on and a beefcake calendar.
The calendar is a favorite of Wissbaum's and her third one. Featuring swimsuit-clad hunks, she received the first calendar as gift and had trouble finding a new one the following year.
So she typed a polite letter to the company, explaining the difficulty and promptly received a couple of free copies. They sent her free copies again this year.
Although she may not be interested in the Internet, there are still some gadgets she's eternally grateful for, such as toilets and electricity.
She still remembers in the wintertime, sitting on her hands on the outhouse because it was so cold, along with pumping water and heating it up. It's the little things in life she doesn't take for granted.
"I appreciate water from the tap ... turning a light on, flushing a toilet," Wissbaum said, recalling when sewer lines were first set in the alley behind her house.
She's seen a lot of changes through the years and literally grew up with McCook, living on East Fifth and F, then considered the edge of town. She remembers when the courthouse was built, she said, and watching when bricks were laid on B Street.
"Big black men, working like an assembly line ... you never saw anything like it, they laid them down faster than you could blink," she recalled.
Norris Avenue back then was nothing but a dirt road that became notoriously slick with mud when it rained. The steep incline was not kind to the Model T-type cars, which usually became mired in the mud.
Wissbaum moved here with her family when she was seven and for a while, her parents operated the McCook Greenhouse on East Fourth.
After graduating from McCook High School in 1928, she went straight to work, although Wissbaum had wanted to study nursing. "We didn't have loans or scholarships back then," she said.
The Depression didn't hit her as bad as it did others, she said, as she was working at the Chitwood Haddock, a wholesale distributor of groceries, and earning the princely sum of $12 a week.
But it meant money in her pocket. "I could buy a dress for $1.98 back then."
Later, at 224 West B, she and her husband, Larry, operated Larry's Cafe -- from 1948 to 1959 -- known for home-cooked meals.
"We made our own salad dressing and used real potatoes, no instant," she said.
Through the years, Wissbaum's wit and curiosity have kept pace with the passing decades and she doesn't miss much. Just recently, another letter was published in the Gazette, this one about frugal spending at Christmas.
So what's her secret to staying so young?
"You're never too old to learn," she quipped.
I wish we had more people with the caliber of this 99-year young lady, who fights for common courtesy and smart agriculture.
This article was a pleasure to see and read, and reminds me why we need to stand up for our Rights as Citizens, and how losing our manors has brought a turn for the worse in our society.
This article also bears in mind what many still don't know but was common place knowledge just 70 years ago and before; like how Hemp farms were even mandated by law in most States in the U.S. because of Hemps usefulness to society for clothes, paper, medicine and other various items such as shampoo, etc. And also an economic cash crop for local communities and the States that they dwelled in.
In either case, whether or not you believe or understand the usefulness of Hemp in our daily lives, it is a good lesson to learn that 'Attentiveness Breeds Security', so stay on top of your local and national issues, keep writing and calling your representatives, and Alway... always remember, Common Courtesy only dies when we ourselves don't take care to keep it around.
R. William Holzkopf Jr.