There’s an old joke about a traveler in New Hampshire chatting with an upstate farmer. “Have you lived here your whole life?” asks the visitor. The farmer replies, “Not yet.”
A lot of folks think I’ve lived my whole life here in Omaha. “You look like you’re from here,” they say. Perhaps it’s the faraway look in my eyes as I stare off towards the distant horizon. Maybe it’s my stoic persona. I don’t know. I’m even frequently asked about where I went to high school.
Many assume that, with my boyish charm, incisive intelligence, and somewhat socially maladaptive personality that I must have attended Creighton Prep. I didn’t. I was, in fact, trained by Benedictines, the natural enemies of Prep’s Jesuit founders. Those 16th century bloody feuds are still bitterly remembered. That said, I didn’t get prepped there, but I was admitted to Creighton University despite my somewhat shady secondary school background. How that happened is a short story that I will endeavor to lengthen.
Truth is, I’m not from here.
I was born in Des Moines and then quickly trundled off to Philadelphia for a while with my Navy dad and family. Yeah, I was a toddler in the City of Brotherly Love.
We moved to Kansas City, eventually, where the nuns thought my Philly accent was a speech impediment and soon had it out of me, using rulers and holy water.
So, mostly, I grew up in Kansas City, which is really different from Omaha. Omaha is like the little brother to Chicago—a smaller version of the Windy City, it’s one of those “broad shoulders” Midwest cities that grew up on the far side of the wide Missouri. Kansas City, Missouri, is a sister to Atlanta—Southern-styled and genteel, with a touch of the mob, it’s a city that stayed on the east side of the Muddy. You got kolaches and a cathedral; we got easy access to grits and lots of Baptist gospel choirs. You got polkas; we got ragtime. You say “Bee-at-triss;” we say “Miz-zer-rah.”
But a streetcar got me here. Let me explain.
My dad went to Creighton, before a certain World War intervened. Before he got his Navy wings, he was just a ground-bound farmer’s son who had made it to college—no small accomplishment. My dad, Vince, was a fun-loving guy and there was a certain pub in Dundee. It may, or may not, have been called the Golden Buddha. Whatever the name, my dad would take the streetcar from the Creighton campus that ran straight into old Dundee and visit the establishment—only after his studies were completed, of course. That’s where he met Harry.
Hang on I’m getting there—or here…
Harry went to Creighton, too, and when Vinnie met Harry a friendship came to be. And then, Harry took Vinnie home to Iowa one weekend and introduced him to Ethel. Love happened. Biology worked. Eventually, I came to be—in an existential sense. Cutting to the chase, I was weaned, learned to walk, picked up a Philly accent, lost my Philly accent, played second base for the Monarch Electric Bolts, grew 62 inches, hung out with Benedictine monks, graduated from high school, and as time came to pass…I decided that I wanted to attend my father’s alma mater…so…
Here I am.
A visitor recently asked me, “Do you like it here?” I remembered the New Hampshire farmer and replied, “Yes…So far.”
Yep, here I am in Omaha.
All thanks to a streetcar.
We should still have some of those.
Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.
This article first appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.