This week’s Folk Journal topic revolves around our stories as Americans in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. What is my American story? It may not seem directly influenced by MLK, but I think my story is the story he envisioned in his dream for every child. A carefree childhood where the entire neighborhood was open to you and the adults looked out for you.
I grew up small town, Midwest friendly.
When I was downtown every adult I passed knew I was one of the Woody kids. May not have been able to say my first name, but certainly knew my last.
Walking home from the swimming pool we would run through wet grass whenever we could to escape the blistering heat of the pavement under the summer sun. Summer also brought lightning bugs, the library’s summer reading program, and wheat harvest.
At Homecoming we celebrated with a bonfire. Tradition called for the bulk of the firewood to be in the form of an old outhouse liberated from someone’s farm. By the time I was high school those were in short supply, but the bonfire went on.
At Christmas the local theater hosted a twenty-five cent kids’ movie on a Saturday afternoon so the parents could have a chance to boost the local economy by shopping at Coast to Coast, Gambles, The Fashion Center and Stephenson’s. We would whisper and giggle through the movie until Lil, the proprietress, came and sat next to my friend, Chris. After five minutes of vigilant supervision, Lil was fast asleep and snoring, sending us into fits of laughter far more disruptive than our initial offense.
At the grade school I was taught by the same teachers that taught my siblings before me. I ate the homemade breads and brownies made fresh in the school lunchroom by lunch ladies that included my mom. I danced with James Howard to Oh, Johnny in the music program. I served beside my friend, Vicki, on the Safety Patrol and we quietly groaned as Rube the traffic cop, tried out his jokes on us.
Like half the girls I knew I worked as a car hop at the local drive-in burger stand. After work we would drag main.
I learned right from wrong. Discovered some people earn your trust while others do not. I learned the value of a dollar and the value of an education. I was loved and I loved. I knew joy and a broken heart all in a little town smack-dab in the middle of the country.
That is my American story.
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