Your Hometown Stories
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Hogging the Road
Randall Heeres — Cadillac, MI
Living in a small town set among farms, elegant stands of maples and pines, and nomadic deer, my wife and I are accustomed to witnessing interesting events, many involving animals. Driving home after a long day of teaching school, we turned left at one of the few intersections in town, only to be immediately slowed by a truck towing a trailer filled with hogs. The speed limit was 25 in the residential zone, but the truck moved at about half that.
Following, we immediately noticed that the tailgate on the trailer hauling hogs was down, and yet the hogs seemed oblivious. We stayed well behind. Perhaps the tailgate had just fallen open; perhaps the speed of the truck up to this point had been too fast for the hogs to consider escaping. And even right then, most of the hogs looked around and saw nothing. Except for one.
In a moment of piggy epiphany, one hog saw the vista before him, imagined a new world and life, calculated distances. His eyes seemed thoughtful, analytical, surprised. At that moment he became the revolutionary hero of the hogs. As the truck came to a near-stop at the next intersection, this lead-hog tumbled off the trailer, falling like a bowling ball with legs and a snout. Without hesitation, he scrambled toward a front yard. The rest of the hogs seemed somewhat unaware at first and then were apparently questioning one another ("Where's Larry?"; "Anybody see Larry?"). Confused at seeing such derring-do by one of their own, others followed, one and two at a time, large boulders of flesh avalanching to freedom. Some landed snout first; others whacked a shoulder or haunch on the asphalt. A few landed ear-first. None of it was graceful, but all of it was inspired by the great leap of faith of their leader.
Honking our horn to warn the driver might make matters worse. Passing him on the residential street was ill-advised. But fifty yards later the driver stopped at a railroad crossing and stop sign. Another truck driver coming toward the hog-hauler called out what he saw: hogs partying in the streets and yards, a veritable wake behind the trailer, waves and ripples of hog mayhem. The truck stopped and the harried driver hurried to the back where a few compliant or still undecided hogs remained. He fastened the tailgate.
Meanwhile, the escapees were foraging and fraternizing, hanging out in backyard flower gardens, rooting in vegetable gardens and searching for similar salad bars and buffets, plotting further mischief behind garages, like juvenile delinquents with a carton of cigarettes and matches. They suddenly felt endowed with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as if the world were now unlimited slops and eternal mud.
Freedom was, however, short-lived. We learned the next morning that the driver had needed an hour to arrest the porcine rebels.
We know who YOU are...
Jim Browne — Hilliard, OH
My family and I had moved to a small town in northern PA where I was to pastor the Presbyterian church.
In the process of moving our vacumn cleaner died [bad timing]. Our second day in town my wife went down to a store in the small downtown and choose a replacement. She was concerned about trying to pay for this with a check, as we were new in town. The owner, not a member of my new church, simply boxed up the item and put it in the trunk of our car. My wife protested that he did not even know who she was, and he answered, "Oh, Mrs. Browne we know exactly who you are!"
Ah, the joys and terrors of small town pastoring.
Dad Saves the Prom
Sharon Simpson — Walker, MN
When I was in high school, classmates chose me to be the planner of our prom. Not because I was popular, but because they knew I would get it done.
In those days (1959) there was always a dinner first. So there were menus to plan, decorations for the cafeteria and for the gym! Ours was the first class to have a 'ceiling' in the gym made with crepe paper streamers! Our theme was 'Apple Blossom Time'. So one student brought in small trees and a committee worked for hours making crepe paper 'apple blossoms' to attach to the bare branches. Our fingers became very sore from all the twisting of the wire around the 'stem' of each one. I received a list of bands that were available for playing at our dance. The principal allowed me to use his telephone to call long distance to make arrangements for a band. I was beginning to feel really IMPORTANT!
My mother took me shopping for a dress. Most prom dresses in those days were very much alike... bouffant skirts almost to the floor, tight bodices which were, heaven forbid, STRAPLESS! I felt so very exposed, so mom made a little chiffon cape for me to wear with the dress. The evening of the prom seemed to be going so well. The dinner was delicious, but I cannot remember what we ate! Then everyone moved two blocks away to the building with the gymnasium. It looked so beautiful, with the crepe paper ceiling, the apple trees in each corner with their blossoms; parents were sitting in the auditorium seats with cameras at the ready. However, the band had not arrived!
I made a frantic phone call to the number I still had.... no answer. We waited and waited. Finally, I suggested that someone get a phonograph and some records. Then we waited. In the meantime, the school janitor stopped at my dad's cafe for some coffee. Dad asked him how things were going. He told him that the band had not shown up! Dad asked him if he had his pickup truck. "Yes", was the answer. 'Well,' Dad said, " help me load the juke box!" Dad and the janitor arrived at the dance hauling in the jukebox. Then Dad handed me a large bag of quarters!
I was so very thankful for my Dad for saving the day, or should I say evening!
Denise Ferguson — Beavercreek, OH
I feel sorry for today's kids on Halloween. No longer do they get to experience the thrill of being out at night dressed in costume in the safety of a close knit community. The air was always cool and crisp and our neighbors houses were lit brightly awaiting the scary visitors. We would run from house to house calling out our Trick or Treats. And Treats we did get. Little homemade apple pies at one neighbor's house and delicious popcorn balls at another. Not to mention the 5 cent candy bars that were huge. We would sort through our pillow case candy tote and thrill at our bounty. But it wasn't just about the candy. It was about community, family, friends and one-up-manship, who would give out the best treats for the adults and who would have the best costumes for the kids.
Crime & Punishment
Debra Nicholson — Bowling Green, OH
I was seated on the passenger seat of a cop car. I was seventeen and shaking inside. Beside me sat the officer in his terrible uniform pushing buttons and talking into the two-way radio. In front of us was the family station wagon where my younger sister sat alone. Who knew what she was thinking, but she was probably terrified. "Why didn't you stop when you saw the lights?" the cop asked, his expression stern and suspicious.
Why didn't I stop immediately? Fear, and disbelief that this was happening to me. "I didn't want to block the road," I said. The two-lane street, with ranch houses and large yards lining both sides, was narrow as it wound its way down into the main part of town. To be pulled over on that road would have blocked traffic and made quite a spectacle. I had gone on about 100 yards further before turning into the park.
"Who are your friends?"
"I...I don't know," I lied.
"They must not be very good friends, leaving you like they did," he said.
I said nothing.
It was a late summer Friday afternoon in 1973, and I had just recently gotten my driver's license. That process had been a struggle. I was one of those kids who was not ready at age 16 for a license. I nearly failed my high school driver's ed class, and for the state test I had in fact failed parallel parking three times and had to renew my temps and wait another six months to try again. Once I hit seventeen and faced my senior year, though, I was mentally ready and aced the test.
The cop turned to me again. "As the driver, you are responsible for the behavior and safety of your passengers." He thrust out his chin. "You understand?"
"Yes, sir," I said.
Just minutes before I had been begging my mother to let me drive my friends to the village park. Conrad Park was only a mile away, and it was the hub of action for youth in our small village of 3,000 people with nothing much to entertain us. There were lovely tall oak trees and picnic tables, and a busy train track along one side. At the small branch library at the entrance to the park, I had been encouraged to read voraciously by the old, unmarried, brusque, rather heavy-set librarian with missing teeth and glasses on a chain around her neck who personally took me around the adult section pulling ten books off the shelf for me to take home every week. There was a basketball court, where, one day soon after I had answered an altar call by a visiting missionary and been saved, I experienced a miracle: I told God I needed to leave the court by 5:00, and at 5:00 exactly I looked at my watch. I was a summer day-camp cheerleading counselor and once mesmerized a group of little girls with a fantastical story, a power that surprised and alarmed me. There were endless Little League baseball games which I watched working the concession stand and where I flirted with cute boys. The confusing, glittery outside world was brought to town at the annual festival in the park with its carny rides and game hawkers and greasy food. At the far end of the park was the water tower behind which young couples went necking and where some boys had climbed up and one had died after a fall. Over the years, I had memorized every bump in the sidewalk from countless bicycle rides from my house to the park, but now I had my license and I wanted to drive there, and I wanted to drive there with my friends, although there was nothing particularly interesting going on at the park then. It was the journey, not the destination, that mattered that day. Having the power and the means to drive there was the point.
My mother was reluctant but I was very persistent. I promised I'd be careful. She handed me the key, and we all piled into the station wagon, ecstatic.
Within fifty yards and a turn onto the main road, my friends and my sister had rolled down the windows, pushed themselves half-way out, turned to sit with their rumps on the ledges, and began whoopin' and hollering and pounding on the roof of the car. Like dogs they were, and I was providing the fun, driving 35 miles per hour and cranking out thunderous rock and roll music on radio station CKLW.
We sailed by a cop car stopped on an intersecting street and two seconds later he was after us. The kids scooted back into the car and when I pulled into the Conrad park and stopped--several yards behind me a siren wailed and lights flashed--they opened the car doors and tore out of there, running across the park and out of sight, except for my sister who stayed, terrified and loyal and probably absorbing every detail in order to go home and tattle.
The cop seemed finished with his report and turned to me. "You are going to have to appear before a judge in juvenile court," he said.
This was very bad news. I was a good girl. I excelled at school, cheered on the Varsity squad, sang in the church choir, was in line to be elected president of the senior high youth group. And here I was, sitting in a cop car and going to court. My whole life ruined in one brainless moment of fun. I was in too much shock to cry.
The cop shifted in his seat. "Now listen," he said, "here's what we're going to do. If you promise to tell your parents what happened, I will give you a warning. Otherwise, it's off to court for you."
I didn't know which was worse: juvenile court or my parents. But I promised to tell them. I didn't know how he'd know if I followed through, but he was a man in a uniform with a mysterious, all-knowing authority, and I did not doubt for a moment that he would find out, one way or another. Plus, there was my sister sitting in the family car, bursting with the news, not likely able to keep such a big secret from my parents.
I got back into the station wagon, and the cop drove off. I unsteadily turned the car around and made my way home as slowly as I could. My sister and I were silent. How was I going to tell my mother? How would I endure the "I told you so" look on her face? And what would my parents do to me?
I am the eldest of five children and the unspoken edict from my mother was that she expected us to behave so that she did not have to discipline us, since with five children she could not really keep any sense of order whatsoever in any case. There had been a lot of rules, spoken and unspoken, such as in earlier childhood: "keep your school things picked up from the front door area so your father does not trip over them when he comes home from work and be forced to whip you with a peach tree switch while you are bent over bare-bottomed on the toilet seat." As far as I knew, mine was the biggest infraction she had ever encountered with any of us, and I feared how she would handle it. When I told her what had happened, her face became cold and expressionless, and I asked her what my punishment would be.
"I'll talk it over with your father," she said.
This was the worst. My mother and my father determining my fate together would mean double the trouble. They could ground me for months or take away my recently earned license or any number of consequences only they could imagine. And it meant that the decision would be postponed until she could find the right time to talk with him about it, so that the anxiety would mount to an almost unbearable level.
Saturday morning, I asked my mother if she had talked to my father yet, and she said no, she had not. I wanted to say, "Tell him, please," so that it would all be over soon.
All that day, as we went about our usual business, my trepidation increased. Soon, it seemed that whatever punishment they might devise could not be worse than the anticipation of the worst. "Have you decided?" I asked intensely at intervals throughout the day. "No," my mother said, "not yet." I went to bed with my fate still held in the balance, and woke up Sunday morning almost ill with fear.
We went to church and still I had not been informed of my destiny. The longer I waited to hear, the more brutal I expected the discipline to be. Maybe I had so thoroughly disappointed and disgusted them they had decided to call the police department on Monday to ask the cop to follow through with the charges.
By the end of the day Sunday I was in tears, begging my mother to tell me what to expect. Finally, finally, she said, "Your father and I have discussed the situation."
I snuffled and looked at her with morbid dread.
"And we've decided that you have suffered enough this weekend, wondering what your punishment will be."
Well, somebody had dropped the ball. I was well on my way down the path of juvenile delinquency and no one was going to do anything about it?
I felt like the cops and my parents were trying to pull some kind of psychological trick on me. Hadn't I allowed the possibility for someone to be seriously hurt? Hadn't I sat in a cop car and been threatened with juvenile court? The cop obviously believed my parents' punishment would suffice, and my parents believed the cop had doled out the worst punishment.
When I look back on this, I am not as mystified as I once was. It seems to me that my parents were balancing many considerations in their decision: I had already suffered the shock of being stopped and interrogated by a cop; I was almost an adult and I was soon going to be fully responsible for my actions; and, they wanted to express confidence in my ability to learn from the experience. Although they had the opportunity to really lay down the law, they granted a type of mercy instead, mercy that assumed the best would come out of the situation, that I did not need to be punished twice, and that I would never again allow passengers to take untoward risks.
But through it all, I felt something was missing.
We never laughed about our sedate station wagon flying down the street with kids sitting on the window ledges letting loose to the raucous sounds of radio station CKLW. We never joked about how good it felt to break a rule, even just a little one, and how sometimes, if you are very lucky, you can get away with it.
The Patchwork Quilt
She gathered together into her lap
A little of this and a little of that.
A small scrap of velvet,
Satin from a coverlet,
Strips of wool, pieces of cotton,
Some denim and a little linen.
With lace and ribbon from a bow,
She goes about to stitch and sew.
Sitting with golden needle in her chair,
Fashioning something with love and care.
They ask her to share what each one means
And listen intently as she remembers the scenes;
Pointing out pieces of fabric in her hand,
Explaining what each was from and when.
This velvet is from my beautiful wedding dress;
The wool is from Dad's suit well-pressed.
Lace handkerchief from Grams was borrowed;
The ribbon—from your first hair bow,
This satin lined your baby bed.
Denim from jeans you wore as a lad;
Fine linen from the dress I wore
To your graduations, my children I adore.
The thread I use belonged to Mom;
The golden needle sewed a dress for prom.
I saved it all to bring it together
Into this patchwork quilt that binds us forever.
Our family stitched into this piece
Of history we share and with love released;
To stitch together this quilt of memory
That tells the story of our precious family.
Kamiah Walker — Glen Ellyn, IL
Overnight, the town became more carefree.
The bank still stood, imposing and columned on the corner.
Suits and high heels still marched in precision step to the train.
Just off Main Street, a carnival had appeared overnight.
All of it: the Tilt-a-Whirl and the kiddie roller coaster
and the Ferris wheel and most importantly,
the funnel cake stand.
Rome wasn't built in a day,
but this carnival was built in eight hours,
which leaves you wondering how well the screws are tightened.
This is no time to think about Rome or loose screws—
the carnival is in town,
crammed into the parking lot across from the grocery store,
a beacon, a Pied Piper,
an old boyfriend you can't forget.
Late into the night, music plays,
carried down quiet streets by the year's
first hint of humidity.
People sitting in their living rooms,
shouting and screaming on the Tilt-a-Whirl
and they think:
Tomorrow, we won't worry about dinner.
We'll go to the carnival and have a hot dog,
maybe even a chili dog if the mood strikes,
and some French fries, too.
And if we can get up the courage,
we'll go on that thing,
that ride that drops you 100 feet in a nanosecond,
a freefall, you're weightless, you've beaten gravity.
Just before we drop,
we'll look at our town
see it as the birds see it
that even the familiar
looks like something to celebrate
when you're in the carnival's glow.
The Maple Grove United Methodist Church
Kim Lewis — Lawrenceville, GA
Heading west of Des Moines, Iowa, on I-80, once you pass under the Ashworth Road bridge, you can see Maple Grove United Methodist Church. Travelers notice the little white church out in the country with the bright red door and are inspired to comment, 'Awww, look at that pretty little church ... what a simple life they must have ... isn't that a cute little church ... I want to go to a little church like that.' Some are reminded of 'simpler' days when they went to a small rural church, and for a few miles, they feel the calm of reminiscence as they think of days gone by.
Closer inspection would show Maple Grove could use a facelift and a good paint job. Since it was built in 1900, no one has been able to keep the basement from flooding when a good rain comes. When I was a child we used the outhouse out back and it remained preferable to the various flooded toilets that were tried — including a gas-operated incinerator toilet that torched, with great fury, anything deposited therein.
Yet, Maple Grove was, and remains today, the focal point of our lives. My mother, 90 now, attends every Sunday and sits to the right in the third or fourth pew in front of the organ. On a good Sunday, you can fit in 60-plus good Methodists, but most times you'll have a couple dozen. When I was a kid, we were almost all farmers, but as the city inches closer, there aren't too many farmers left at Maple Grove. Yet, all are welcome and all are truly needed to keep the 100+ year-old church going.
In my almost 50 years, I've never seen a group of people more 'invested' in an enterprise in my life. Everyone is involved. Meeting the people of Maple Grove, you will be struck by the sense of ownership they exude. I guess that is what little towns and small communities have to offer. In big cities you just 'call the guy' if something breaks. At Maple Grove, you are 'the guy.' Bake sales, rummage sales, chicken dinners, chili dinners, on and on and on ... all done by that small group of devoted people. When they decided they needed a float for the Fourth of July parade in Waukee, it just got done: an exact minature replica of the church.
I see the mega churches of today with the huge stage productions, and it is all very nice I suppose. The ministers are wonderful speakers and have so much passion and emotion, and the whole audience is inspired to be involved in the service. At Maple Grove, you sit quietly in your pew and receive the good word and sing a couple of the 'old' hymns. After service, you go to the basement, have coffee and snacks and if there are enough folks, maybe you'll meet for bible study, and then on you go for Sunday dinner. No huge production. At Maple Grove, the sermon is almost an afterthought. I guess that's the beauty of it.
For the folks of Maple Grove, the church is a 24/7 proposition. You have to be 'all in' as the popular saying goes. So remember the good folks of Maple Grove the next time you are rolling west on I-80. If you are lucky, it will be evening, the sun will be just setting on the horizon and the little church will be lit up and the purple and gold stained-glass windows will be glowing — welcoming all to come in and be warm. You'll be able to grin and know that it's not as easy as it looks, but it's home to the folks of Maple Grove.
Lisa Hall — Wake Forest, NC
I grew up in a small town in Western Kentucky, population 16,000, when the local college was in session. The summer after my senior year of high school, my best friend and I were both working at the local movie theatre. After work, with fresh licenses in our jeans' pockets, we would often go for a drive, smoking cigarettes we thought we were hiding from our parents.
We developed a route we would drive, meandering through the alternating rolling farmland and thick trees which surrounded our town. There was one section which always struck me. You came out of some trees, around a curve, and suddenly there was an area flat — perfect for crops. At the open bend in the road, there was a two-story farmhouse. Pretty unremarkable, grey boards and longish grass, except for the feeling of desertion coming from the house.
It did not matter what time of day or night we drove by — the house was alone. There was never a porch light on, no glow from a television or nightlight from inside. No cars in the driveway. No rusting farm equipment in the side yard. No toys abandoned in the yard. No stray dogs or pecking chickens in sight. Noon, 10 p.m., midnight — there was NEVER a sign of life at the farmhouse.
My friend and I must have driven past that farmhouse a hundred times that summer, talking about our hopes, dreams, plans for college. And I always became silent when we cornered around the empty house. I wondered where the family was, feeling sorry for the deserted house. But then, I drew comfort from it; in a world that was changing, as I saw my friends one by one move away (as I was the only one going to the local home town college), my farmhouse was solid and stable, if a bit sad.
It came time for my best friend to move too. We got off work and took one last drive on our route. As we rounded the bend to the farmhouse, I slowed.
There was laundry hanging on the line.
I never drove past that farmhouse again.
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