When we arrived—after viewing the grave of Annie Pavelka (who died in 1955)—we found the place looking abandoned but with some signs of restoration efforts going on. The site was very remote, very rural. We turned into the driveway, got out of the car, took some pictures of the house, outbuildings, terrain.
Then I wondered aloud: Do you think we can get inside? We walked over to the rear entrance and saw it was not locked but was secured only by a piece of building block. Easy to move out of the way … should I?
Of course I should!
And so we moved aside the piece of building block, tugged lightly on the door. And it opened. We stepped inside the former home of Annie Pavelka—of Cather’s Ántonia—and saw immediately that we’d been right: Restoration work was in progress. We walked around the (few) rooms, took photographs, and tried to keep out of our minds the fear that “someone” might come by to ask us what-the-hell we thought we were doing inside that house.
But no one came.
Greatly relieved, we emerged, took some more shots outside, and then crawled back inside the car and followed the country roads to some other Cather sites on the brochure, one of which was the tiny town of Bladen, Nebraska, a town whose cemetery holds some Pavelkas and Cathers, but a tiny prairie town that boasts, as well, an “opera house,” a building (still standing at the time) that once served as the venue for public presentations by traveling players but also for community meetings and other events.
Many small towns used to have opera houses. There was one is Garrettsville, Ohio, only three miles from where I spent my later boyhood in northeastern Ohio. Unfortunately, many of them--like Garrettsville's--have fallen to wrecking balls—succumbing the blunt-force trauma of “Progress.”
|Annie Pavelka--LIFE magazine, 1951|