My husband is feverishly pouring through seed catalogs looking for turnips. He has grand plans to grow a monster because he wants to challenge family friend Phil in the annual largest turnip contest held every Friday after Thanksgiving at the St. Paul Tavern. Phil is the reigning turnip king and fears no competition, even the cheaters. Buckshot filled turnips, grafted turnips, he’s seen it all. He wears his porcelain turnip pin proudly and says, “Bring it!” to all pretenders to the throne.
Me? I’m just in it for the pageantry, the walleye sandwich and any chance to wear a t-shirt that says, “I love a big root.” Thus while all of America shops for discounted electronics, we get there early to grab a good seat – trust me, it fills up quick – and sit in a wonderful local tavern eating, drinking and feeling up big winter vegetables.
If the world were a counter full of Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors of ice cream, to the uninitiated, Indiana can seem very vanilla indeed. We have no mountains to speak of, no flaming desert vistas, only one major city and our sole beach front property consists of about a hundred miles of Lake Michigan coastline with nary a palm tree, conch shell or shark fin to be seen ever. Much like pickled herring, Indiana – and large turnip contests – is an acquired taste.
And I get that, I really do. I’ve traveled the world and I know how good it gets. I once worked with a woman who grew up in San Diego. Her childhood consisted of ocean, mountains and desert all within an hour’s drive so to her Indiana was somewhat of a disappointment. She lasted about four months.
So, again, I get it.
In truth, a good part of me is thankful that a majority of the world doesn’t appreciate our flat little slice of the globe. It keeps life somewhat simple, sane and sweet and, for that, I give thanks.
For example, in my adopted hometown of Rushville, my children’s farm-kid-oriented high school cheer block was recently praised by a visiting ref at a local football game because – rather than loudly shouting the old stand-by, “Nuts and bolts, nuts and bolts, we got screwed!” over a bad call – they politely cheered, “We beg to differ! We beg to differ!” *Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!*
His comment? “Are they really dissenting respectfully?”
During a recent lip-sync contest held in the school auditorium, I watched as these same kids – teenagers, mind you – stood up, cheered and encouraged three young ladies who entered the contest and then succumbed to self-consciousness and stage fright. Rather than laugh and boo them off the stage, these wonderful kids cheered, clapped, STOOD UP and encouraged them. The girls found their mojo and continued. When they walked back to their seats, their classmates continued to cheer. It was heartwarming and affirming and was even better than the movie, Hoosiers, because it was real. Take that, Los Angeles.
So I hesitate to sing our Hoosier praises because – shhh!!! – I don’t want to give the secret away, but – when you get right down to it – Indiana rocks, and no more so than during the holidays when nostalgia is as common and everyday as a Walmart commercial.
Case in point – the annual Christmas parade held just prior to Thanksgiving in my actual hometown of Shelbyville just 13 miles away. The local town square which we call a circle – don’t ask – is blocked off to traffic, local stores stay open late, Christmas music wafts over the crowd, everyone comes out, children run amok and there’s a parade to boot.
Horses march through the street pooping in front of the high school marching band. Betweener-aged snowflake princesses file by in various convertibles – with the queen crowned later based on how much money she raised for her sponsoring charity as the determining factor. My sister, Renee, walks shotgun beside her high school life skills class float, watching nervously for signs of falling decorations. A motorcycle gang clad in leather cruises by slowly riding hogs. Candy is thrown to the crowd and Santa brings up the rear.
As the last float crawls by, everyone turns toward Santa’s little house, the light switch is flipped and transformers kick in. Decorations blaze to life. The fountain becomes a Christmas tree. The statute of local author Charles Major and his bear cubs sport Santa hats and spot lights. Take that, Las Vegas.
I love the Christmas parade because it’s a chance to stroll into Three Sisters’ bookstore, say hi to Carolyn and her sisters, shop for actual books with actual covers, and then grab a hot chocolate at their sandwich counter next door. Beside them is my beloved art gallery where my friends Al and Diane and Candy and Kathy work on crafts, swap stories and offer up cookies and punch.
As we stroll the circle waiting for the parade to start we run in to friends from church, friends from school, friends from work, friends from the gym, friends, friends, friends. Take that, Times Square.
If parades and turnips and polite teenagers aren’t enough, there’s always the free showing of the movie, “Elf” held that same Friday after Thanksgiving at our little non-profit theater, the Strand. Picture any movie cinema from the 1950s – located downtown right on the sidewalk, big marquee, flashing lights, small front windows covered in movie placards – and you can picture the Strand. Nostalgia comes free with every bucket of popcorn and it’s even better when eaten in the balcony.
Family and friends convene early, candy canes are given out, seats are taken, switched, changed and rearranged as we see more family and friends. The theater darkens, the movie starts, the laughter is loud and life is good. Call me crazy, but simple things can and do add value to life.
Yes, I get it that the majority of the world may be bored with turnips and small town parades and re-runs of free movies on the big screen. It’s a coarser, harder world out there.
My little slice of Indiana isn’t perfect, for heaven’s sake, but we do get a great deal right. I may have grown up in a flat little land whose charms are lost on many, but I’m still grateful nonetheless.
It’s made me who I am. I can go out into the world, love what I see and still come home and be happy in the Hoosier heartland. And for that, I give thanks.
By Robin Winzenread Fritz