Our Town

Wednesday was Our Town's homecoming parade, and my son and I were there, along with half the town. His former principal waved happily to my boy - calling him by name, for heaven's sake. Is it a good thing that the principal can remember his name? My son was jumping up and down with excitement when the marching band's drum corps came by. The superintendent waved to me - he knows me pretty well, I've harrassed him often enough on the job.

And how can you not love a public high school with an Anime Club?

It's always in October that I am reminded of how lucky we are to live here. It starts with the homecoming parade, and the folks setting up their camp chairs along Main Street to cheer on the teams that seem younger every year. ("They're not getting younger, I'm afraid. Something else is happening there," said The Tenor at church this morning, with an evil wink. "Shush. I'm in denial," I replied.) It's not so much that any of us care about who wins the football game, though there's plenty of that. It's that we all live in this town and all our kids go to these schools

Come Saturday, and my son and I have a whole day. The school sent home a notice - Open House at the Firehouse, come ride a firetruck - so off we went, with my boy in his new Cub Scout uniform. I expected to be there about half an hour - c'mon, open house at the firehouse?

Teeming hundreds. The smokehouse was highly popular, as was the 25-minute line to ride the fire truck. My boy rode in front and blatted the horn. Popcorn and balloons, knocking down the "fire" in a cardboard house with a firehose, learn about fire safety - and tables full of safety reminders for parents, such as the new child seat law and the importance of carbon monoxide detectors and so on.

Finally we walked up Main Street to a little tavern we hadn't visited before. What's that? Taking a child to a tavern? During the day, you can do that here. The best food in town is in the taverns, and they're kid-friendly. It being a Saturday, there was a live jazz band jamming for a few hours, preparing for the night set. My son's eyes were goggled as we ate good food and listened to good music as the sun shone down on the farmer's market, just one block up the street.

Hey, I'm not saying it's perfect here. You know, sometimes it's hard to find a good parking space.

We still had some time to kill before Cub Scouts. First we went to the library to drop off our seriously overdue books. It's a hell of a library. Everything you can imagine, from a genealogical research room to manga in the children's stacks. Originally a Carnegie building, it's been expanded and renovated to be one of the best libraries I've ever seen.

Then it was off on an adventure. Just a little one - about a fifteen-minute drive to the Lewis & Clark Museum, the next town over. It's the spot (more or less - don't get them started on that issue) where the Lewis & Clark expedition wintered before setting out on the Longest Walk Ever. We went through the museum, looking at all the cool stuff they had to take with them, and watched a ten-minute video on the expedition's stay in Illinois. The boy was less than thrilled with the video, but then I took him outside to the replica Fort Dubois, constructed according to Clark's methodical journals.

There was a man inside in full period costume. He showed us the sleeping quarters, and explained to the Kiddo that in the bitter-cold Illinois winters, the fire pit was all they had to keep them warm - that, and the bodies of twelve men jammed into six bunks without room to turn over. He showed us the medical supplies, surveyor's compass, the officers' swords carried by Lewis and Clark as co-commanders, and the flag fluttering in the light October breeze - fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, of the United States of America circa 1804.

Time was up: off to Cub Scouts. For our first gathering, Den 3 took over the two-acre property belonging to one of the families. A bonfire was already underway, and the boys horsed around while we set up the flag - the proper 50 stars and 13 stripes this time. Call the meeting to order, and six boys stood in their blue uniforms and orange neckerchiefs to practice saying the pledge: "I promise to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people, and to obey the law of the Pack."

The house sat on the edge of the woods, which are deep and plentiful all around Our Town. We have a county network of bike trails through the town and into the woods so extensive and remarkable it's considered one of the best in the country. We didn't have to go far into the woods before the boys found leaves from several different varieties of trees for their leaf-rubbings - required for the first Achievement toward the Tiger Cub merit badge. I had brought my camera along and thus was instantly deemed the Den Photographer, forever and ever amen. That's how these things happen when you're a parent. You've got to be careful. :)

The Akelas (adult partners, four fathers and me) gathered around the campfire while the kids cavorted in the deepening shadows and the den mothers talked in the kitchen. We talked about the Cardinals in the playoffs and how much Our Town is growing. We talked about the school our kids attend and how excited they are about Cub Scouts. We talked about how crazy it can get when the kids get involved in sports, and the hard part about balancing work and family and still finding time to breathe. We all want the same things for our kids, and we all speak the same language.

I drove my boy home in the dark, through downtown, where the taverns were waking up with live bands and the guitar jam sessions were getting started at the coffeehouse. I drove past the silent churches, waiting to reclaim our souls the next morning with cheerful acceptance and friendly cohabitation. I drove through brick-lined boulevards full of history and clean streets lined with quiet houses, past the YMCA's brick fort and the park with a huge wooden castle for a playground, built by volunteers and fundraising. I drove to our little apartment complex, where the college students lounged around the embers of their tiny barbecues and smoked cigarettes, watching the stars come out over the bike path that trails off into the woods and making bets on the number of raccoons that will hit the trash tonight.

I tucked my son into bed and kissed his cheek, and I remembered why I live here.