Sunday, July 8, 2012
places, part one
well i must confess that when it comes to vacations, i don't usually hold greencastle, missouri, in the competition for destinations, but i did like the idea of seeing both my brother and my sister together, along with my aunt and her family. the week my brother proposed for this gathering was over the fourth of july. we would have the opportunity to participate in a real small town fourth of july, with fireworks (legal in missouri), potato salad, and a main street parade.
so i said yes.
the last time i was in greencastle, i was with my family, and it was many many years ago. i must have been around 13 or 14 years old, and we had travelled there by car from san diego, california. my brother is 14 months older than i am, and this was probably one of our last "family" vacations, where the four of us would all go somewhere together that was decided by mom and dad. my aunt edith had lived with us for a few years at an earlier time, and so we were visiting her family in missouri: her daughter karla and her husband ron, and their three teenage daughters karen, kathy, and krista(seriously).
it was summer at the time of this visit, but not the fourth of july. we had a grand time, as i remember. ron was a big muckety muck in the town, which was impressive to me, but not that big of a deal in a town of 250 people, i guess. but he owned and ran a small grocery store, a laundromat, and a carwash, all located within a block of their nearly 100 year old home. he was also the mayor! at the time, my dad was managing a safeway store back home, so he was considered the "expert" in the grocery business, and we all pitched in at ron's store to help "fancy up" his shelves and make it look more professional. we kids would tear back and forth from the house to the store, stocking shelves, sweeping, you name it, and little did i realize at the time that nearly 40 years later i would still be working in the grocery business (a humbling admission).
but the best memory was of the weekend, when the town held a 72 hour softball tournament in the field at the park, and of course we all pitched in, though not literally, since we weren't playing. but they needed people to man the hot dog stand, and i was more than happy to help with this task. i remember getting up in the wee hours of the morning, it must have been 3am or so, and running over to the park to work my "shift". the park was only a half block away, and in a town of less than 300 people, parents don't worry so much about their kids running around. it was so much fun, and the fact that it is one of my lasting memories tells me how impactful this experience of "community" was for me. i felt safe and welcome, and i had something to contribute. who could ask for anything more? i think that perhaps i am still longing for those feelings again, after all these years.
this time, there were a few differences in ol' greencastle. the town is depressed, but then that is the case with pretty much the whole midwest, as far a small towns go. ron's grocery store is long gone, and the laundromat and car wash are closed; the buildings are boarded up and grown over.
kathy, the middle daughter, lives in the house where karla and ron used to live.
she raised five children there with her husband randy (who she was dating when we were there as teens). karla and ron now live in a house next door, and my aunt edith lives with them. the two houses are located between two church buildings, which concerned me a bit. i hoped that i would make it through the week without being burned at the stake, but i needn't have worried, because i never saw any activity at all in the church buildings.
the ball park is still there, but there is not much going on, except during the labor day holiday, when i hear that all sorts of activities happen: truck pulls, rodeo, etc. but despite the changes, the place retains its small town charm. amidst the white trash trailers, junk-filled front yards, and confederate flags, there are still beautiful victorian homes, and fields of green, and centuries old trees, and lots of quiet.
there is not much business going on in town, but there is sandy's country cookin', which appears to do a decent amount of business.
this is still a town where ron will leave the keys in the ignition of the car after he parks it, where everyone knows everyone, and where people are connected to nature and its effects on the weather and the growing cycle. people here know how to fix things, because you have to know this.
but of course, i could never live there. or at least, if i did live there, i would not last for long. this is god's country, and if you do not believe in god, then you might as well be burning american flags on your front lawn.
add into that the gay factor, and i am sure that in no time at all there would be rumours of me having a forked tongue and a basement for abducting cornfed country boys (the latter not being an unappealing idea, at least in my mind). and yet there is something about this small, god-fearing town that calls to me. perhaps it is the sense of community that i mentioned earlier. perhaps it is the connection to nature and hard work. perhaps it is the simplicity of life. perhaps it is the emphasis on family. whatever it is, i felt a part of what was going on, which is often more than i can say of my experience in los angeles. don't we all want to feel like we are part of what is going on?