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COMMENT: The place I call my hometown

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    This photo of Frank and Jetta Schwader was taken three years before Frank’s 1996 death. Their son Joel says this is one of the last photos the family has of them together. COURTESY JOEL SCHWADER

On Feb. 10, I came back to my hometown Freeman — the town I grew up in, the town that molded and shaped my life as I grew up there. Through my adult years I have made many visits back to my hometown. I came home to see old friends, to go fishing and hunting. Mostly, I came back to visit my parents who had called Freeman home since 1969. 

When my father died in 1996, my mother became my soul reason to always come back to Freeman for a visit. In early January of this year she passed away. On Feb. 10 I came home to clean out my mother’s apartment and, in doing so, I came to realize I no longer had a place to call home in Freeman. Reality slowly sank in as we packed up her belongs. I left Freeman the following morning heading north on Highway 81. 

I felt empty and lost inside as I drove away. I watched in my rear view mirror the town I called home for so long, slowly fade from my sight until it was completely gone. The tears I cried made driving impossible, so I pulled off to the side of the road. All the memories of home, the laughter, the friends, the tears all came back to me wave after wave. In the past, I saw home as where my family dwelled. I saw home as the place that contained my childhood, what I could remember and all I had forgotten. A home is more than walls and floors, ceilings and a roof. It’s all the words that were spoken there, all the cries and whispers, all the good times and the bad. Home is the feeling of spirit and the knowing of your soul.

I was hurting in ways a grown man shouldn’t have to hurt. Out of habit I did what I always did when I was hurting inside. I picked up my cell phone to call my mom. It wasn’t until I heard her voicemail that I realized she was never going to answer her phone again. Regaining my composure, I wiped the tears away and headed back to Rapid City. 

Driving 350 miles, I had a lot of time to think. I thought about my years of growing up. The values and traditions that, not only my parents taught me, but the town, as well. It seemed every day as a child I was taught something from someone in that town. Wally Haar, Duke Kleinsasser, Minnie Graber. 

I then thought about my later years as an adult and how the town and the community changed; how I changed. People die and traditions and values seem to change with the times, yet through all the years my connection has stayed strong with Freeman. My parents are now gone and so is the place I called home, but the connection is still there. 

By the time I got back to Rapid City, my mind was already planning my next trip back there, when the Geese migrate through. There, of course, will always be a void that can never be filled without family living there anymore. Life changes, people change, but somehow memories never do. My hometown is still there. Every breath I ever took as a child still lingers in the streets and alleys and business of the town that I call home — Freeman.


Joel Schwader and his siblings grew up in Freeman after his parents, Frank (Junior) and Jetta, relocated here. He is a 1981 graduate of Freeman High School who today lives in Rapid City, where he is baker and freelance photographer. Joel wrote a book of poetry, The Things I Learned in Life, published by Pine Hill Press in 1998, recalling his growing-up years in Freeman. This piece was written as a way to help him cope with his mother’s passing. It was shared with Courier publisher Jeremy Waltner and is reprinted here with permission.