Tuesday, October 11, 2016


I am just emerging from the final sprint of my seasonal fall marathon. I've been directing a community theater production of Disney's Little Mermaid, a show which may not have a great deal of intellectual heft, but which does include a great number of moving parts.

The show ran for two weekends in our community theater, with the second weekend corresponding with our local festival. As one of the gazillion places that John Chapman turned up in his life, we have appropriated him and fall and named it Applefest, and it has grown into a regional behemoth of a festival. It always gives me a great deal to do and a great deal to think about after the dust has settled.

Things already hopping at 8 am

Fall festivals are a century-old tradition. 1920 is a watershed year in US census history-- for the first time there were more city dwellers than country- and small town folks. Small towns found it necessary to name streets when previously "Up over behind Wally Schweibeck's house" had been good enough. And because so many people were leaving their small town origins behind, it became A Thing to have a fall festival, sometime when the fall harvest was winding down but before the snow was descending. Folks would come back to the old hometown for a week or a weekend, and the town would throw a party. A century ago, Franklin, like many other places, held a full-blown Old Home Week every five years or so, and while the custom of old home weeks or harvest home festivals faded, it still holds on in some places as Homecoming.

Applefest features booths and crafts and on Saturday and Sunday we shut down the street for a 5K race and a car show, plus appearances by the high school band. There's an apple pancake breakfast, and all manner of fried foods and advanced sugar delivery systems, and live performers in all corners. But the centerpiece of the festival is the people. Filling the small town to the brim are plenty of touristy types, but like the marshmallows in Lucky Charms, there's a constant mix of local folks from all across the country. Keep walking and you will meet old friends and, if you're a teacher, lots of former students. Even when I blank on the name, I'm happy to see the face, hear the stories, find out how folks are doing.

Thursday night the high school's Hall of Fame (yes, we have one-- everybody should) inducted my friend and former band director, and people turned out from all over for that event, a reminder of how far and wide his influence stretches. Not just for those students who became professional musicians or teachers, but all the folks who grew up to make music an integral part of their lives.

Organizing picture with gangsta fish

Meanwhile, I was wrapping up nine weeks of show preparation with a cast that included a wide variety of folks from all over the region, including some old friends, some kids of old friends, and some interesting new people. Children of a guy I used to play in a band with. The nephew of a woman I took to her junior prom about 44 years ago. My son and his fiance were up to see the show, and to talk to the theater manager because they are getting married on this same stage in a few months, because they met doing theater here together years ago.

My wife walked in the 5K race while I played on the bandstand with our 160-year-old town band. She edged me out in the Who Will Run Into More Students contest. And at every performance of the show, a few hundred little girls ooh-ed and ahh-ed and called out encouragement to Ariel, absolutely carried away in wonder and joy and hearts chock full of the feels.

All right, I'm getting a little rambly, but fairly intense, sleep-deprivey weekends like this remind me of just how rich and deep and wide the web is that ties us together in this community. And yes, there are a host of issues that go with small town life and some of them are pretty ugly. But still.

For one thing, I think small town's solve some of the issues of accountability fairly organically. Not a day goes by that I do not face a student, a student's family member, or a former student. If I stink up my classroom, I have to face the people who breathe in that stink day after day after day. Where I live, nobody is separated a full six degrees from anyone. Former students, current students, or families of both (and after a few decades, there is some overlap in that Venn diagram) fix my car, pack my groceries, wait on my table, sit with me in band, perform in shows with me, pass me on the street. This is the kind of accountability that corporate types have studiously avoided for years-- I must daily look the people whose lives I affect right in the eye.

Car show day.

For another thing, while we are certainly not as diverse as some cities, what diversity we have is all mushed in together. The great web of connections and humanity that binds us is visible across much of its span. Human beings are so varied and rich and just plain cool. When I think of how much broader and richer and varied human experience is beyond the borders of my little corner of the world, I am just amazed. How anybody ever gets it into their head that standardizing human beings or their experience into one-size-fits-all uniformity is, on some days, absolutely beyond me. We are a huge, rich people, and I reject those whose vision for us is tiny and cramped and meager. Let's be a community, and let's be a big one.

1 comment:

  1. People who have never interacted with students as teachers can't even begin to imagine how powerful this kind of "accountability" is. So they just pretend like it doesn't exist! Problem solved. Neat.