Small Town, USA and the Heart of America


For this holiday, Alison chose a personal Editorial.  ~ Happy 4th to our US readership


One of my favorite entries in today's parade.

I love the 4th of July….after all, I am an American.I don’t mean your run of the mill, really don’t think much of it person that happens to live within the borders of the United States.  No, I truly love being from and belonging in this country. Don’t think “tourist with no manners in a foreign place.”  I have great respect for my fellow humans – all genders, religions and economic differences aside.  I love other countries and have many friends across the world.  Still…I really love being an American.

I am  strongly supportive of our democratic society, even the government I wish would learn to live within something called “their means.”  I had to tighten my financial belt in this “economic downturn” and close the business that I’d worked hard to build; it’s just part of it.  I love our soldiers, including my deeply beloved son-in-law, Clayton, who is sweating his butt off at Ft. Sill on this fine day.  Call me an Army girl (although it’s been more than a decade since I wore the uniform) but there is something about this day that makes me fiercely proud of my homeland, with all of it’s complexities, it’s harshness, it’s potential, it’s hypocrisy, it’s beauty and the people that I both love and loath.  You see, that is part of it all….the duality of being in a place where freedom means that you have to be willing to stand for the rights of people who  preach at the top of their lungs something you would gladly spend your life defeating. It’s the most pluralistic place in the world, diverse, rich in culture and not like any other nation under the majestic divine authority of whom I call God.  We can also be pretty dense.

Forgive me if I wax poetic, but I am also proud to be the adopted daughter  of this tiny little town in the center of Indiana.  Amidst the corn, soybean and tomato fields, today is the Fourth of July here in Rushville….like it is in every small town across the United States.  But this place is different. It’s Norman Rockwell meets the 50’s, where people don’t know you for what you can do for them – they actually know you.  There are still whole neighborhoods of friends, ice cream socials and a mayor you call by his first name.  It’s a life’s goal to start a really strong community church that focuses on children in this county.

You don't get the feel or the sound...but this is home.

I live on a broad, tree lined street that looks like a movie set, just two “main roads” over from the state highway that runs through town.  Around 11 a.m. on any given day that we can think of to have a parade, the police and street department whip out those orange cones.  All of a sudden, all 5,000 people here in town are on the side walks of Harrison Street, in the drive ways and lining the corners.  Sometimes I wonder how many parades my 160 year old house has seen. They’re intimate affairs with lots of hugs and friends.

It’s a real hometown parade.  It doesn’t go fast because each of the “floats” is throwing candy at the shorter half of the  population.  We are up to our ears in kids, which is why this is the best place in the world to raise children.  They’re only a few feet from the action.

They were singing "Sunny Day" from the Brady bunch after wishing the lady on the porch happy birthday.

Anyone can participate…you can walk or ride anything you want to enter from a pony driven carriage to a combine that pulls the float for the cheerleaders.  It’s a place where you talk to Jimmy as he drives by in a truck from the local dealership that carries the Homecoming and Fair Queens.  The candidate for a city council office who has six kids is running on the “family platform.”  His name is Brian, and his posse?  About thirty children from our “group” of friends.   They were singing songs from the Brady Bunch and carrying big yellow smiley face signs.

The entire republican party stopped to sing Happy Birthday to my next door neighbor’s daughter, Laura.  She is then granddaughter of the late Wendel Willke, former presidential candidate and author of “One World.”  Laura’s brother is Senator Dick Lugar’s political director, David.  Of course, it’s hard to think  of David working on the Senate Foreign Relations committee in Washington D.C. – his last post – he’s just my next door neighbor, a person that I have great fondness for.  His mother is the town matriarch.  They’re out in our co-joined back  yards playing croquet as I write.

I wasn’t always a small town girl. I was once the VP of an oil company, traveling the US for business.  I was so busy being important that I didn’t belong anywhere.  I remember the first time I saw Rushville, buried under six feet of corn.  It was August, and I was amazed that this place existed.  It was like that movie when Toby McGuire and Reese Witherspoon go back into the show “Smallville.”    I am happier as a full time writer and stay at home Mom.   I love that my friends just engaged with their part of the parade – the enormous four wheel trial rider that one of my dearest friends, Tonia, and her hubby take to Hapin Acres just out of town, the D.A., the mayor candidates,  quarter midgets that want to be the next Tony Stewart (racing is in our blood) the people who carried the “don’t text and drive” sign.

I still travel a bit.  No matter where I go in the country, I will find someone from or connected to this town that I love.  It’s like the center of my universe with it’s strange ethics of loving home and family. I learned here in my adopted hometown that it’s not about how important you are in the eyes of others.  You can be the pastor of a mega church, the CEO of a Fortune 500 or a movie star and never experience the simple joy of belonging in a place like Rushville….people who love you for the real you, not what you give them.

So why do I love America?  It’s believed in me when there was no reason to. I grew up as a poor kid, and left home at 17 with a college scholarship and $70.  In that time I have worked at McDonald’s, waited tables, learned to be a professional sous chef and ran a store in the mall.  I took a sales job in an industry I didn’t understand; five years later was the marketing director with all the national sales records under my belt.  I have survived the loss of a husband, and the total devastation of my former hometown, Oklahoma City, when the Murrah Building I’d just driven past blew up.

My husband Brian shakes hands with long time friend Paul, who was walking in the parade.

I’ve been inside, outside, upside and downside of life, divorced, deserted, and blissfully happy; nearly homeless and worth more than a million dollars.  I have a degree now – two of them, including a Masters in Divinity, one of the hardest, longest terminal degrees a person can earn.  I’ve met and fallen in love with the most amazing, complicated, worthwhile man.  I’ve raised two amazing women from infancy to adulthood through lots of trials, and honestly, they’re some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met.  They, like me, are in love with their really unique baby sister who is still at home with Mom and Dad.  Life. Where else but in a Harlequin romance or the United States would all of this be possible?

I celebrate the birth of our nation today with some worry, though.  I, like my parents before me, see a generation that may not understand things like hardship so well.  I wonder that they’re not going to be ready for what the future of humanity holds.  But, like me, they are born to survive and thrive with the spirit of the nation that bore them into existence.  It’s part of being that diverse thing that we call America.

Tomorrow, the magazine site returns to the business of mental health and emotional wellness.  It will be July 5th, a writers day.  I have several articles in editing for those of you that prefer the series on success or relationships – but this is about personal wellness.   How does this day resonate with you?  Are you in love with your life?  I sure hope so.  It’s the first step in not being an old man or woman filled with regret.  Don’t waste your life on mediocrity.  Don’t be afraid to break the rules and get a little dirty, to believe that you can do what you dream of.  Expect that you’re going to get knocked around some.  It’s part of the process, part of who and what we are.

K. This is adorable.

Someone that I honestly love sat with me and talked about our lives, the changes of the last year and what makes people happy.  “It’s not like adding “this” to my life will fix everything.”  He was contemplating the changes in his life; he’s finally waking up to the person that he is.  I disagree with the labels they’ve saddled him with, but that’s another article.  He’s right; adding a person or a thing rarely “fixes” your life.  That one sentence he doesn’t even probably remember has been on my mind for weeks.  In the process of becoming, we grow and change.  Long ago as part of that bustling city, I was still so very lonely.   What I was missing that left this gaping hole in the center of my emotions.   The girl with the turbulent past and no real place to have roots finally has the answer as it applies to me.

I belong here. I have roots for the first time in my life, with people that will happily love me, rebuke if needed, laugh with and talk into my life.  They and I are far from perfect.  But this country of ours, it is steeped in this thing called possibility. My hometown is steeped in it’s twin sister…caring. Even on days when you want to move away since it takes 45 minutes to get “anywhere” that matters on the major maps of life, I prefer it that way.  I prefer that my kid can ride her bike without threat of being accosted; that our police officers are featured on trading cards they give the kids; that the community pool is clean, safe and part of our communal world; and that I honestly love my neighbors. Okay, there is an exception – the guy who put in the wood burning furnace that smokes lots, he is not my favorite.  From January to March I have to remind myself that it’s not my house on fire.

It’s the heart of America, the same little pink houses and farmland that John Cougar Melloncamp sings about….his hometown is just miles from here, too.  You hear that heartbeat of the real America in thousands of small towns that all have these same sights and smells today.  The sun is out and mowers are going, grills are sending lovely hot dog and hamburger aromas into the air.  Kids have American flags and a sack full of sweets, anticipating a night of fireworks that would do any town proud.  And here, in the last place on earth that people would think of, small town USA demonstrates what it’s all about.

Yep, I was born in the USA….and it’s time to kick up the grill.  Happy 4th ya’ll.

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