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Normal, U.S.A.

Posted by Keith on June 9, 2007 at 1:36 am  

There is a village where normal is everywhere.

Families live in two and three story pitched-roof homes with gables and porches, some older than a century, and they work in town or in the nearby city which seems a thousand miles away and they mow their lawns and trim their flower beds in the spring and summer and buy or cut firewood in the fall and keep shovels and snow blowers ready for winter and in the summer the forests with their huge old trees hang over the roads and are a deep green and flowers of all colors are everywhere.

People look you in they eye and generally keep their promises and they remember your name and the young lady at the local café knows your favorite breakfast. On patriotic holidays there are flags everywhere – on poles in front yards or on homes or on the sides of buildings or hanging from telephone poles.

Over Memorial Day weekend the village hosts a fair called Blossom Time, aptly named because blossoms are everywhere. A carnival comes to town and they set up along the river bank next to the twin falls that Main Street crosses over. There’s a popcorn shop on the other side of the street, and in the old building next to the fair there’s a hardware store with wood floors and tall shelves with the sort of three penny nails and rasps and awls they used a hundred years ago.

At the fair there’s a Ferris Wheel and merry-go-round and games of chance and rides that will make you sick if you just ate and when the classes from the local high school hold their reunions they always pick Blossom Time to meet and they blend right in with people who come from far and wide to see the falls and to ride the rides and walk along main street while licking their ice cream cones and window shopping.

There are two parades.

The Sunday parade is a celebration. People bring lawn chairs and line Walnut Street as far east as the high school a half mile out of town where the parade starts and if you know someone who lives along the route you might secure a spot in their front yard under a hundred-year old maple or oak and even if you don’t you may be invited to help yourself and those watching shout “nice car, Bob,” or “hi, Mary” to the people in the parade because they know each other.

There’s the beauty queen and the village fire trucks and the police chief and collector cars and the honor guard and floats from community groups or high school classes or local businesses and each float has the look of long happy evenings in someone’s barn where each volunteer added their personal touch to the larger statement their group wished to make. The people in the trucks or the cars or on the floats or those marching in the parade throw candy to the children along the way. The children begin at the curb but inch their way into the street despite their parents’ admonitions to be careful in order to secure a better chance of catching the candy that by the looks on their faces might just as well be gold.

The Monday parade is a commemoration. An all-branch honor guard and drum corps leads local dignitaries and everyone who wishes to join them, including old men who proudly wear their uniforms, up Washington Street to Memorial Cemetery. There are short speeches and a 21-gun salute and those who are there quietly greet each other and every year someone says wouldn’t it be nice if just half as many folks would show up for the Monday parade as for the Sunday parade.

I grew up here and we returned in force last month for my high school reunion. We stayed in cabins at a nearby state park. Lynn and I were joined by my oldest son Keith Paul, his wife Kiley, my three grandchildren, Marie, Nora and Anthony; my second oldest, Chris; my only daughter, Laura; and our two youngest boys, Sam and Mac.

I showed them the forest trails where I used to hike and camp and we swam in the river and we drove and walked all around and I took them to our “ancestral home” – the 1950s split level where I grew up. I regaled them with stories of my youth, the mischief we’d get into, the fun we had, and for the first time I think I saw on the faces of in particular my two youngest boys some sense of the things that to this day make their dad tick.

They all went to the fair the first night of my high school reunion, except Lynn who came with me to the F.O.E hall and who patiently endured dozens of introductions and old classmate stories; and on the second night of the reunion our class held an informal dinner and I wanted the whole family to attend but the family vote was 10 to 1 in favor of them returning to the fair instead. But Lynn, God bless her, attended the dinner with me.

The beauty of a high school reunion is that no matter how many old people show up, for a few hours we are all young again.

And for a few days this past Memorial Day weekend, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, I was again a boy.



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