Ammo Grrrll returns with VISITING MY PEOPLE – Part Four: Pride of Place. As always with her weekly column, previous installments of this series can be accessed by inputting “Grrrll” in our search engine. She writes:
One of the things I love most about our great country is the sense of ownership and pride that our citizens have about where they live. For a politician or a comic, a guaranteed cheap applause line is to mention the city in which he or she is appearing. But woe be upon you, if you get it wrong! It is an affront from which you will not recover. Our emcee once called a comedy club full of NDSU students UND and we couldn’t buy a laugh all night.
No matter how small the town, there is a green sign before the exit listing all the fabulous attractions the city fathers want you to know await you if you would please get out of your car, look around, and by all means, buy something. “See Our Old Round Barn!” one sign urges hopefully.
That rather reminded me of a “self-esteem building” exercise our son had to do in third grade. A piece of paper was passed around for each child and all the other children had to write anonymous morale-boosting things about that child. Several commented on what a good friend he was and how smart he was. But one child when pressed to come up with something positive, could only say, “Jacob has nice pants.” How dramatically that affected the way our son esteemed himself I cannot say, but I’m sure it was decisive.
Some wit in Astoria, South Dakota, the town my mother and John Hinderaker’s father grew up in, of some 237 hardy souls at its peak, has put up a green sign saying “Astoria, Next Four Exits.”
If you don’t stop at some of these things, the rest of your life could be one vast surging regret. You might miss the Sewer Cover Capital, or the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, or a Corn Palace or Car Henge. Maybe it’s not the Grand Canyon, The Alamo, or the Empire State Building, but, by golly, it’s what the locals have to offer and they’re proud. When I was a kid, I used to dream of being locked in the public library until I had read all the books. Now I dream of an endless road trip in which I see every single roadside attraction.
Other faded signs on the way into town trumpet a local sports team’s long-ago accomplishments from the Girls’ Softball team to the Boys’ Basketball team. And coming soon to a town near you the Trans-Gender Rugby Tournament and Bake-Off!
This town sports a Spam museum; that one an Apothecary Museum; here a Runestone Museum; there a Quilt Museum and Shop with the hand-made sign: “Ladies, scream until your husband stops.” The sweet, quaint assumption there being that the husband is driving and that every woman interested in quilts has one. A husband, not a quilt. Anyone can get a quilt. Here an Ostrich Ranch with but a single ostrich; there a herd of buffalo. Or goats. Or a longhorn whose name is probably Valium to sit upon for a photograph in Ft. Worth.
There’s historic sites aplenty; homes of John Wayne, Jesse James, Laura Ingalls Wilder, more green signs mentioning astronauts and Olympians, golfers and NASCAR drivers. In Missouri you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Harry S Truman statue, plaque, or memento.
If festivals are your cup of tea, you could opt for German Fest, Cajun Fest, a Barbecue Cook-off, Chuckwagon Cook-off, Krazy Daze.
The smallest town has a little park, valuable real estate set aside just for community pleasure and respite. Money is spent for sheer beautification. And has been, of course, since a lady living in the Lascaux cave in France looked at the wall and said, “You know what that wall needs, cher? Some pictures of our kids.” And her husband said, “I can’t draw people. How about some nice bison?” And then the neighbor lady asked her husband, “How come we don’t have bison?” and the first interior decorator was born.
When a basket is functional, why waste any effort to also make it beautiful? But we humans do. Something within us compels us to make things pretty. And so it is in the small towns of my people. Seasonal decorations line the streets; flags fly from posts every few feet on the main drag. Often there are even Christmas decorations for perhaps a few more years before they are deemed Hate Speech along with American flags. Flower boxes surround somewhat shabby stores.
Even the old leftie song “Bread and Roses” about the 1911 Shirtwaist Factory Fire Disaster contained the line, “Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.” America is chock-a-block full of roses, actual and metaphorical. Stop and smell them.