By Ken Bradbury
I have a suspicion that every town has one. … A Wiki-Person. Like the online “research” site, Wikipedia, this is the go-to person for information that can’t be found elsewhere.
I was standing in front of Arenzville’s antique boutique, Haney’s General Store, and noticed that there was a funeral going on across the street at the Lutheran Church. My friend Gary came out the door of Haney’s and I asked him who was being buried today. Gary told me the guy’s name, where he lived, and what he did for a living before he stopped living. Then I noticed the hearse parked in front of the church. It was white. Okay, I thought. It must be Buchanan Cody Funeral Home since at least to my recollection Dick Cody’s fondness for white overrode John Buchanan’s preference for a black hearse and Williamson uses black. I said to Gary, “Looks like Buchanan and Cody have this one.” He spit on the sidewalk, then said, “Nope. Some bunch from up in Havana.” How did he know this? The hearse had just come to town, it wasn’t local, and yet Gary recited this trivial bit of information like everyone should know it. Okay, Gary’s also known for being the biggest tale-spinner in Arenzville, but why would he lie about a hearse? The reason’s simple: Gary’s a Wiki.
I’d been driving by some new construction in Jacksonville, but I couldn’t seem to find anyone who knew what the heck they’re building. There’s no website labeled, “Things you don’t know about recent construction in Jacksonville, Illinois,” but I was getting curiouser and curiouser. This lady would not be so happy with me giving out her name so I’ll call her Mary. I emailed Mary and she answered my inquiry in less than a minute. She not only knew what they were building but who was building and the estimated cost of the structure.
I find that amazing. How do these Wiki-ans find these things out? Do they read tarot cards? Do they, like the ancient Greeks dig through the entrails of slaughtered chickens? Ouija boards? Tea leaves? Gary uses tea bags so he and his ilk must have methods that I just don’t understand.
Okay, every town has a local historian, a go-to person for all things past. Jacksonville has several, among them Greg Olson with the Journal Courier who knows how to find a historical tidbit no matter how deeply its buried in the newspaper’s dusty files. We used to have a sweet gal named Hester in Arenzville who could tell you the age of every building in town and list the lineage of every house’s inhabitants. Once upon a delightful time we sat her up on a bale of straw atop a farm wagon and as the John Deere tractor slowly crept around town she gave us a wholly fascinating narration of just how Arenzville came to be, complete with dates and anecdotes. Hester didn’t prettify the facts. One fellow in town had bought many of the village’s historic buildings and had either torn them down or remodeled them. She told us exactly which ones he’d destroyed. This made it a bit uncomfortable as he was sitting right next to me on the wagon. As I squirmed a bit she listed the building that had been destroyed by fire and storm and those that had fallen into the hands of our local real estate developer. At the end of the tour I turned to him said, “Well the score was God 7 and You 8.” He laughed.
But items, these bits of news and gossip that aren’t recorded in any history books . . . why the Miller’s are moving, the chances of the new coach staying for another losing season, the reason Bob Erwin hasn’t been home all week, what Mrs. Briggs paid for her new lawnmower. . . these are the domain of the Wiki-People. They know these things and I have no idea how.
My second sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Cory, told us that the smartest people are those who know how to listen. Maybe that’s the Wiki secret. While others are talking they’re listening . . .and maybe taking notes.
Rick Steeves, the author of popular guide books and a host of travel shows on radio and television said, “When you visit a new city, go to the travel bureau to pick up maps, but if you truly want to know the place walk down to the little fellow on the corner selling coffee and scones. He knows what’s really going on in town.” My guess is that under his coat you’ll find a badge saying, “Wiki.”