By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News
Posted 1/03/17 (Tue)
When I was growing up in Hazelton my friends and I spent a lot of time playing baseball because there just wasn’t anything else to do in a small town except maybe harass the grocery store owner.
Most small towns are like that and when the slightest thing happens that deviates from the routine of our mundane day-to-day lives, everyone takes note.
So one summer, this family moved into town. There were two boys, a girl and the parents. Their name was Wagner.
As they were moving in, most of us locals found out they had come from California. That instantly made them weird because isn’t everyone in California weird? They even had a van that resembled the ones the hippies drove around Haight Ashbury in the 1960s.
Turns out, one of the boys, Steve, was in my grade and the other boy, James, he was in one grade above me. The girl must have been in high school or even just out of high school, because I hardly remember her at all.
But the boys I do recall and they were bullied on a daily basis for no other reason than they came from California.
I also remember the parents. The father must have been a painter because he always had splashes of paint on his clothes. The mother just seemed like a nice lady and to most of us, seemed out of place.
They were spaced out drug dealers, they were performing seances in their house, which was a favorite to visit on Halloween, they fled California because they were hiding from the law, they didn’t belong with us because they didn’t play sports, you never saw either of the boys talking to girls and they didn’t appear to make friends with anyone.
These were some of the rumors that floated around for the better part of two years.
Then, the Wagner family abruptly left town and nobody knew where they went. I mean, they quickly bugged out because they left their belongings in the house.
You might imagine what happened next. Yes, several opportunists began scrounging around inside the house, not necessarily to loot anything, but to look for clues on how “weird” these people might have been.
I don’t think those clues were ever found because none of the rumors were ever confirmed.
After the house was “analyzed,” the Wagner family suddenly reappeared and were so distraught they took a few belongings and left again, back to California.
They weren’t related to anyone in town, the boys were very secretive and tried avoiding us in the school hallways and none of us knew how smart they were. They appeared to be getting along well academically in a North Dakota school, but we didn’t really know.
A lot of us had girlfriends in nearby Linton and none of the girls had heard of the Wagner boys, which just made everything even more mysterious.
And to make matters even more interesting, these people had a mean dog. I think it was a pit bull crossed with a Tasmanian Devil because that dog was wound up every time we’d walk by on our way to baseball practice.
But as I sit here writing about this some 42 years later, I got to thinking, nobody ever asked them the questions that would have squashed all the rumors about them.
Nor did they offer any information to tell us why they were coming from California to small-town North Dakota.
A lot of embarrassment and hard feelings might have been avoided had someone had the vision to talk to these people and find out more about them.
As for myself, I was too young to have come up with that idea, besides, all I wanted to do was play baseball.
For all any of us knew, the Wagner family might have been good people. They may have come from a productive part of California. Maybe a local farmer brought them to North Dakota to work. Maybe the cost of living just got too high and this family of five couldn’t afford living in the city any longer and moved to a place where they could afford to live.
None of us checked so none of us knew.
Everyone of us could have had some new friends if we would have just held out an olive branch.
It’s hard for kids to be taken out of their school environment and moved to a new one. That may have been why Steve and James were so quiet and kept to themselves. They were just unsure and here we were, pouring gasoline on the fire.
We should have opened a line of communication instead of harassment. We’d all be better for it.