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Friday Night in Small Town, America
A Job Well Done
Punch that clock my friends. You put in a good work week, kept the boss man happy, paid some bills and there’s a few bucks left over. What should we do? How about we take a drive through this tired old town and see what’s happening?
The sun sets down behind the courthouse as Mr. Thompson lowers Old Glory. He’s been doing the same labor of love for forty-five years now, ever since he returned from Vietnam missing a leg and a whole bunch of innocence. He unclips it from the rope, then lowers his head and says a quiet prayer for his fallen comrades, those who never returned to their home towns. He considers himself one of the lucky ones.
The shop owners are closing up for the week, sweeping the walks, counting the tills, waving at friends as they drive by, counting the minutes until they can get home, kick off their shoes, and have a tall, cold one on the front porch.
Homes begin to illuminate as the workers make it home, have a little dinner, watch a little news, and then prepare for a two-day rest well-earned. Some will visit with family and friends; some will head to the bright lights of a dim town, seeking companionship with a longneck bottle or the warmth of a stranger’s smile.
This is small town America, and these are its people.
Head on down Grand Avenue
Mrs. Adams is walking her dog, a shabby mutt with a slow gait, matching his owner’s stride as memories of youth fade with the sinking sun. She’s the librarian, a spinster for many years, reticent to smile but more than eager to help when help is needed. She runs a tight ship at the library, a woman in love with the Dewey decimals and nouns, verbs and prepositional phrases. Her children have all moved away to the big city; her husband gone now for twenty-one years. Now it’s just her, Roscoe, and a lifetime of memories.
Doc Reacher parks his fifteen-year old Buick at the curb, grabs his black bag, and walks to the door of Irma Carson. She’s been feeling a bit under the weather, and Doc Reacher is always on call for his patients. Just a quick checkup to make sure Irma will be all right, and then he’ll drive two more blocks to his modest home over on 2nd Street. There his wife of thirty years will be waiting, and she’ll announce they are going out to eat at the VFW because, well, it’s Friday night and that means meatloaf at the VFW, and damn that meatloaf is good.
There goes Donna Ireland, making her way home after her shift at Ma’s Place. Eight hours on her feet, serving up drinks and listening to the bullshit. Now she’s going to pick up her babies at the sitter’s house, feed them a warm meal, and then do some sewing for customers while her kids tell her about their day. Making a few bucks on the side, Uncle Sam don’t need to know, how else is a gal going to make it when the husband’s run off and the bills are piling up? She ain’t bitter, though, and you gotta love her for that. Homecoming Queen twenty years ago, that girl was going places, nothing could stop her…well, marrying that no-account bum derailed that dream and many like it, but…she loves her kids, and she loves Jesus, and sooner or later her ship will come in.
Take a Left on 7th
A couple kids walking home with fishing poles in hand, having tried their luck at Miller’s Pond after school. Luck was in short supply, but damn, the ones that got away, those will fuel stories for decades to come. The smell of burning leaves drifts past them, as the sky turns amber and the chill of fall breeches their lightweight jackets. Old man Perkins swears it will be a cold winter, and that old man is rarely wrong.
The woodpiles are stacked at every house, and the pumpkins are damned near ready for picking, and soon the streets will be full of little goblins looking for a belly full of ache and a mind full of childhood good times.
The Elks Club is having a dance tonight after steak and baked, and the A&W will be stocked up and ready for the after-game crowd. In the distance you can hear the young guns, gunning their engines, studs looking to impress, and belles wishing for Prince Charming in a sea full of Average Joes.
The church bells ring the six o’clock time to believers and sinners alike, and this being Friday night, the vehicular procession begins, making its way to the stadium parking lot at 7th and Main. Past the Rexhall Drugs, the barber shop, and the Dime Store, then the grade school on the left, the cemetery on the right, hopes in one, ended hopes in the other, the procession continues. The old Ford pickups, coolers in the back next to the tool boxes, the secondhand sedans and vans, hatchbacks and muscle cars, all with one destination, Friday night lights at Warrior Stadium where the local lads will trade bumps and bruises with the visiting Panthers from Cook City next county over.
Jockeying for Position
The parking lot comes into view, the tailgate parties are underway, the smell of grilled meat mixing with exhaust fumes as neighbors greet strangers, friends greet casual acquaintances, all bonding for three hours under the stars in Small Town, America. Black and white, Asian and Hispanic, all wearing the blue and white of the home team, and heaven help those Panthers who venture into the wrong section of grandstand, for this is Warrior Country, proud heritage passed down from grandpappy to the little ones barely old enough to ride a trike. Sing the school song, now, wipe tears from your eyes, and remember days gone by when hearts and legs were young, and the future held so much promise.
Teens are doing their thing under the watchful eye of school faculty, and Sheriff Bob and his boys are roaming the crowds, barely paying attention to their duties because the Warriors have taken the field and the pigskin is floating into the hands of a new generation of soon-to-be old-timers in this one-horse town, and heaven help the foes of Small Town, America, on this Friday night.
The mill may be closing soon, and then tough times will be tougher, but on this night, all is right in the world.
Heading for Home
The hometown boys done good, smiles abound and horns honking announce the news for any poor sonofabitch who couldn’t make the game. The players shower, then head to the lake for some well-deserved refreshments, and maybe some lovin’ in the backseat. The cheerleaders join them, already picking the best from the rest, and imagining a lifetime as a Mrs. Whoever with baby in tow.
Moms and dads pile back into the trucks and vans, proud of their babies and proud of the school, the proud tradition upheld for one more year at least. Some will go home and fall asleep with their memories of similar games but different names, and others will stop for a brew and relive each play of the night, and in so doing grasp one small portion of their own youth.
There will be some whoopin’ and a hollerin’ downtown on Main Street. The one stop light will blink continually as the night marches on, its lifeblood will sleep peacefully, and the church bells will ring in celebration, for God loves a winner and there is nothing but winners in Small Town tonight. Tomorrow, well, that’s another day, with a whole new set of trials and tribulations, hangovers and shoulda coulda’s, and Mr. Thompson will raise Old Glory and signal the start once again.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
Dedicated to my dear friend Ruby!