Hansen: There are lots of reasons to be thankful in Omaha - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 4:06 am
Hansen: There are lots of reasons to be thankful in Omaha

My phone buzzed at 6:34 a.m. one Tuesday morning this October. It was an email from a stranger named Lola.

Lola had already read my morning column, one I focused on a 15-year-old Bellevue West sophomore named Ellie Kolesik. Now Lola had something she wanted to say.

I had written about Ellie because she was born with a rare dental condition that caused painful infections to rage in her molars and unstoppable cavities to form atop cavities. She needed root canals, her dentist told her. Nine root canals. What she really needed was $50,000 for dental implants. Her insurance company refused to pick up that tab.

But Lola didn't email me to bemoan the skyrocketing cost of dental care, or to call the insurance company nasty names, or to suggest a special spot in Hades for the people who write the fine print into insurance policies.

Instead, Lola had a single, simple question for me at 6:34 a.m.

How can I help?

And then my phone buzzed again. And then it buzzed again. And again.

As you may have heard, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I won't lie: I'm into this holiday mostly because it's the day when I host a secret one-man challenge I like to call, “How much stuffing can Matthew eat?” (Answer: Too much stuffing.)

But, after six Thanksgivings as a World-Herald reporter, this is my first Thanksgiving as a World-Herald columnist — a new gig that gives me ample reason to do what our mothers and our teachers and the wise people we meet along the way always urge us to do. To slow down for a moment, and actually think about what I'm thankful for.

So, yes, I am thankful for the Old Market awakening on a wintry Saturday morning, when it is only you and the delivery trucks and for a moment you feel like you live inside a real-life snow globe. I'm thankful for Benson on a sweaty summer night, when there's a good band playing and the kids have spilled out into the street and the future stretches before you endlessly. And I'm thankful for the last, quiet lap around Memorial Park as the sun dips below the century-old trees and the UNO students play Ultimate Frisbee in the grass and celebrate the first true day of spring.

I'm thankful that Omaha is a place where my wife and I could buy a nice old midtown home for roughly the same price you might pay for a broom closet in Manhattan. And I'm thankful that Omaha is a place where the various old owners of this old house sometimes stop me on the street, just to ask how the place is treating us.

I'm thankful that businesses called Stoysich and El Dorado and Laos Thai all exist, together, on South 24th Street. I'm thankful for the old Italians who argue about Orsi's bread versus Rotella's and the Sudanese cabdrivers who sit on plastic lawn chairs and watch al-Jazeera between shifts and the Afghan-Americans who have taught me so much about their country, simply because I asked.

I'm thankful that an Omahan made a black-and-white film and opened it in Omaha so that on a recent Friday I could sit in a darkened Film Streams theater and watch Bruce Dern say more with his eyes in 115 minutes than most actors say with their mouths in a career. I'm even thankful for the movie's title: “Nebraska.” Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

I'm thankful for Blue Line, which is sort of a coffee shop and kind of a daily affirmation that we are all still here and we are still happy to be alive and yes, I will take an Americano.

I'm thankful for the spaghetti bolognese at Dante and the double-secret fry sauce at Block 16 and pretty much everything that Clayton Chapman and Paul Kulik and Jon Seymour put on a plate.

I'm thankful for the burgers grilling at Dinker's and the eggs Benedict at Dixie Quick's and a double-scoop of chocolate at eCreamery and how you can walk into Johnny's Cafe and think, for one glorious moment, that it's 1967.

I'm thankful my editor let me use two paragraphs on food.

I'm also thankful for the mezcal cocktails at the Boiler Room and red wine on the patio at La Buvette and an Infusion Brewery pale ale because, hey, I'm a 33-year-old reporter and not your teetotaling great-aunt Evelyn.

But, even more than food — and yes, even more than booze — I'm thankful for the people I have happened across during my first year as a columnist.

I'm thankful for Larry Dwyer, who gave me a tour of St. Cecilia Cathedral and made me think about what it meant that Omahans built it, brick by brick, with their hands. They worked through a world war, a Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and then another world war. It took them 54 years. They finished.

I'm thankful for Selina Sanchez, a librarian at the Douglas County Correctional Center, who made me think about what it means to bring joy to the bleakest places. And what it means to do it day after day, even when it seems like no one is looking.

I'm thankful for Tre Brashear, a co-founder of the Maha Music Festival, a summer day that makes this city feel bigger and better each and every year, even if he is zero-for-five at booking Wilco.

I'm thankful for Megan Hunt and Sarah Joy Lorsung Tvrdik, who run an online boutique that carries plus-size clothing for women who don't fit into our preconceived notions of beauty, and Andy and Angie Norman, who are building a nonprofit that cherishes and cheerleads for local music, and all the other Generation Xers and Millennials working to make their corners of Omaha better places to live.

I'm also thankful for Tom Gouttierre, who has worked to make Afghanistan better since before I was born, and Col. Tom Brewer, Nebraska's most battle-tested soldier, and Salvatore Sambasile, an Italian-American who survived a Nazi POW camp in World War II and an even scarier thing — getting married at age 87 this year.

Oh, and one non-Omahan to thank here: I'm thankful to former Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski, the man who I read as a college freshman and thought, “I wanna do that.” The man who annually wrote a Thanksgiving Day column that may look suspiciously similar to the one you are now reading.

Omaha stealing ideas from Kansas City. Seems about right, doesn't it?

And most of all, I am thankful for every time my phone buzzed on that Tuesday morning I wrote about Ellie. I'm thankful to Eric who offered to help set up a fund for her, and Terry who suggested that she check out foreign dental options, and Jim who thought the Shriners Hospital or Creighton University might be able to help.

I'm thankful to the 137 of you — 137! — who took the time to ask that simplest of questions. I'm thankful in part because Ellie is getting her new teeth ... for free.

And I'm also thankful to you because it's so easy to succumb to cynicism and irony and snark. It is so easy to bemoan what is wrong with this city, shake your head, and watch football instead.

That's why Lola and the rest of you are so important. You serve as solid proof that we're residents of a city that can and will and does ask the question: How can I help?

I guess that's why I should write it down, so I remember.

Thanks, Lola.

Contact the writer: Matthew Hansen

matthew.hansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1064    |  

Matthew Hansen is a metro columnist who writes roughly three columns a week focusing on all things Omaha.

Rain expected to end by mid- to late morning
3 Nebraska Board of Education candidates call for high standards
Agreement reached to end dog racing at Bluffs Run at end of 2015
Douglas County Board candidates say they aren't ruled by party
96th Street to have head-to-head traffic
At NU's helm, J.B. Milliken built the university by building relationships with state leaders
Video: Stothert says Crossroads project is 'full speed ahead,' but she won't support bond issue
Ex-Obama official urges approval of Keystone XL pipeline
Benefit to be held for family of Omaha shooting victim
Omaha Personnel Board to weigh a ‘ban-the-box’ proposal for city job applications
New Alegent Creighton Clinic to open in Council Bluffs
Grace: Your older self has a request — use sunscreen
Kelly: Huskers' glory days of '80s live on — on the small screen and on stage
Beau McCoy calls Pete Ricketts a 'convenient conservative' for immigration stance
Police ID body found near 36th, Seward Streets
World champion Crawford's promoter working to have title defense at CenturyLink Center
Hail, strong winds, heavy rain hit south-central Nebraska
'Fairly old' human skull found in Mills County
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
Omaha crash victim, 19, had touched many lives
Firefighters take on 'fully engulfed barn fire'
Council Bluffs school board approves new district headquarters
Officials announce effort to lure more veterans to Nebraska
SB 132nd Street lane closed
Shane Osborn grabs several endorsements
< >
Kelly: Huskers' glory days of '80s live on — on the small screen and on stage
The 1984 NFL draft was unusual for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and these days it's remembered in the name of a rock band, the 1984 Draft. Tonight, the band will be featured nationally on the NFL Network in a documentary about — what else? — the 1984 draft.
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
The idea that Paul Hogan had studied and then hatched at his mother's table was that older people, rather than moving in with relatives or to an assisted-living center, would much prefer to stay home instead.
Breaking Brad: Nebraska GOP candidates unified against naked squirrels
Some of these Nebraska campaigns are tilting pretty far right. At a recent forum, there was a consensus that we need to ban public dancing and clothe naked squirrels in public parks.
Breaking Brad: Inside the mind of a 99-year-old real estate agent
I saw an article about a 99-year-old real estate agent who's still working. “This house is extra special. It has indoor toilets!”
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
7M Grill
Half Off Delicious Comfort Fusion Food & Drinks!
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »