The way we are here in Our Town

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Waking to a rainy day was soothing. As beautiful as last Friday and Saturday were — low humidity, clean skies, clarified sunlight, comfortably cool — I enjoyed Sunday (Cloud-day?) more.

A light but steady, day-long rain soaked the parched earth. It was soothing to feel how nourishing and sustaining that must be for all rooted living things.

On Friday, I drove two hours west to White Pines State Park, where a young Oak Park couple was married outdoors on as perfect a wedding day as has ever been ordered — and delivered. Later, under many bright stars and a glowing half-moon, the twosome was encircled and blessed and feted.

I left them to their dancing and their midnight bonfire because I had a 6:30 a.m. date with donuts at Farmers Market. I served coffee and OJ to the remarkably large number of people who are up and out before 9 a.m. on a weekend morning.

Then again, this was no ordinary Saturday. It was a perfect Saturday, prime time for vegetables, midway through September, generally the best weather month of the year around here.

As if to punctuate this sentiment, a young father came through the line with two children, including a boy no more than 5, possibly younger, who was singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" from Oklahoma. He knew all the words ("All the cattle are standing like statues …"). He sang on key. Artlessly un-self-conscious, he was not showing off. I don't think his father was even paying attention. What will this kid be like in 10-15 years? Makes one wonder.

I serve this shift once a year for PEO (Philanthropic Education Organization), a service group that makes scholarships (on dollars raised partly by donut sales) available to young women to help fund their continuing education. A friend from PEO recruited me about eight years ago. I enjoy it.

I especially enjoy the "cycles." Young couples, with young kids in tow or in strollers, come under the tent looking a little weary and craving caffeine. These parents were young children in 1990 when I moved back to town. Their parents are now my age and looking more relaxed. Life fits them better. They've been through enough cycles to have confidence in the continuation of things.

The year, too, is getting older — a cycle so familiar we have it almost memorized. Farm produce has its cycle as well, the foodies loading their satchels as they have all summer, as they have for many summers and falls before that.

We are all, in our way, rooted living things, our lives entwined to begin with here in Spoon River, as songwriter Michael Smith put it.

Or here in Our Town, as Thornton Wilder, channeled through the "stage manager," described it in that classic American play:

"The Cartwright interests have just begun building a new bank," he tells the audience, "and they've asked a friend of mine what they should put in the cornerstone for people to dig up … a thousand years from now. … What do you say, folks? What do you think? Y'know — Babylon once had two million people in it, and all we know about 'em is the names of the kings and some copies of wheat contracts and contracts for the sale of slaves. Yet every night all those families sat down to supper, and the father came home from his work, and the smoke went up the chimney — same as here. … So I'm going to have a copy of this play put in the cornerstone and the people a thousand years from now'll know a few simple facts about us. …

"So, people a thousand years from now, this is the way we were in the provinces north of New York at the beginning of the 20th century. This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying."

Cycles and circles. Soothing.

With a few more soakings like last Sunday, the grass will green up again and demonstrate its stubborn perseverance deep into autumn. But by then we'll stop noticing because the littering of leaves will blanket it, and besides, we'll be pulled inside by the warm, well-lit, ornamented, pumpkin-spiced interiors of our holiday fellowship.

But for the moment, it's still glorious late summer. The young couple who got married on Friday may or may not birth children, but their life together will bear fruit in many ways and that will be cause for further blessings and celebrations and encirclements.

And many others who declared their lives joined will contribute offspring to the next cycle — like my daughter-in-law and son, who have a due date in November with due bambini (both boys).

Not everyone stays, of course. Many migrate and root elsewhere. Some have left those other places and rooted here. On Saturday, I noticed numerous accents from other lands.

The cycles continue with soothing predictability, yet each one is new and fresh. Kind of like the donuts at Farmers Market, which have become a cherished symbol of this Saturday morning ritual.

Circles and cycles.

Summer is ending.

Autumn is beginning.


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