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Friday, 19 November 2010

Small-Town Saturday Night

By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

When I was a teenager, back in the 1940s, there were two summertime thrills. One was the town band concert each week in a little pocket park in the center of town.

The band, made up of school band members and older townsfolk, practiced in a hot upstairs hall earlier in the week but were outside under the stars in a lighted pavilion for the concert. I was always one of the youngest and kind of the “star” because I played the piccolo, often featured in Sousa marches and marching band music.

A piccolo player, even more than a flutist that I also was, can get by with murder because if you are in the right key, you can play just about any runs and trills and it sounds correct.

I did hit the right notes most of the time, but for sure in Stars and Stripes Forever, the ending song of each concert. It had been my senior solo with the school band at my graduation so that entire last summer at home, it became “my song” with the band dropping down to a whisper behind me to showcase the piccolo part.

If I didn’t already crave an audience, it developed then and there in little Villa Grove, Illinois.

The second summertime activity also took place on that short, three-block, business district of the tiny town. It was traditional for the farm families to “go to town” on Saturday nights. The handful of businesses would be open and while the adults were busy with shopping, the teenagers and kids would meet up with their friends and walk the streets.

For the older kids, it was a chance to size up the opposite sex, flirt and maybe even meet and talk together with kids from other schools in the area. The girls tended to gather in groups to giggle and whisper a lot; the boys were more apt to whistle at the girls, make comments (not as rude as today’s) and dare each other to approach the girls.

I was a late-comer to this tradition. My father was too busy and exhausted to take us due to his summer truck farming, his cowherd tending and his commute to the never-ending summer school classes in pursuit of a B.A.

He had been a country teacher and principal before the Depression with a teaching certificate from one year at a teacher’s college. He was then hired during World War II to fill the void left by male teachers gone off to war, with the caveat that he continue to work toward his degree. He reached that goal just one year before my older sister graduated from college.

I wasn’t allowed to go hang around town by myself at night so when two neighbor girls and their family invited me, I was permitted to go. I did indeed meet one boy from another school. I became friends with his twin sister and in typical teen-age girl fashion, I told her I liked him, she told him, then he said he liked me, too, and they invited me to a hay ride at their farm to celebrate their older brother going into the service.

There, Wilfred totally ignored me but his older brother, Joe, flirted with me. I always felt bad that I rejected Joe; he never made it back from Korea.

Wilfred and his sister switched to our school in September and I was almost too excited to breathe on the first day of school. By the second week, I was so sorry I had told anyone I liked him because he was weird, and I had to work with him on the newspaper.

We fought the entire two years till graduation, being in constant competition over editorships; he took over my job as editor of the newspaper because I was the editor of the senior yearbook. Of course we were each other’s assistant editor, so there we were in all the pictures, our heads bent over the publications, looking for all the world like best buds.

When we were “walking the streets” on those warm summer nights, we knew almost everyone we saw and saw almost everyone we knew. When I say small town, I am understating. It had then about 4,000 residents and now has 2500.

Last fall, when I walked our glorious Walkway Over the Hudson for the first time, I recognized it! It was small town Saturday night.

Lyn's Family on the Walkway

People on the walkway smile at each other, say hello, stop and talk to folks they know and to strangers. I never feel alone when I am there by myself. They offer to take your picture if you are alone and holding a camera. It’s a harmonious blend of ages, sizes, races, ethnicities, people, dogs and vehicles.

I’ve seen and enjoyed every breed of dog there is; in fact, I was adopted by two cute little Yorkies last time.

Lyn, her son and the Yorkies

I’ve seen every kind of individual transport – trikes, strollers, scooters, wheelchairs, walkers, inline skates, electric scooters and even wagons. I’ve seen unicycles, bikes, three-wheeled adult tricycles and bicycles built for two.

I’ve seen runners pulling a kid along in a cart and a bicycle-built-for-two with a kid’s bike hitched on behind. Although it draws from a much larger base than did our midwest “Small Town Saturday Nights,” I nearly always see someone I know reminding me of those long-ago strolls on Main Street, USA.

The spirit is the same.

Lyn's Great Granddaughter

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Lyn, you took me back and then brought me back. What a beautiful telling.

Even though I grew up in a city, our neighborhood functioned the same way. We looked out after each other, found our friends there, and stayed in touch for years. I think it is wonderful when we can discover little pockets of that naivete or innocence around us today -- like on your bridge.

I loved reading this - as Marcia said, "a beautiful telling." And you summed up the Walkway perfectly. Right now in my life the Publix on Anastasia Island functions as "town square." Actually, it's better than it sounds.

I remember the H.S. band concerts in the park on summer weeknights. Our band had only a simple platform to perform on, but along with many other I enjoyed those free programs. How wonderful that you could play.

I remember those Summer nights of walking around and around the block in a very small town. Usually you were hoping to see a certain boy and wishing he would walk with you.

We sang the latest songs as we walked. The year I was 13 the song was "I don't Want To Set The World On Fire" and we sang it over and over.

I heard that song recently and I was immediately back on Main St.walking with my friends and ,yes,hoping to see a special boy.

Thanks for the memory,Lyn..

I love the comparison of the Walkway Over the Hudson to Saturday night in a small town. I think it is perfect - that's the way it is. Of course the story took me back to my teen age Saturday nights when we rode around the square, honking horns, waving, making noise and just generally having a good time.

Lyn - Great writing and pictures as usual!

Your competitive relationship with Wilfred sounds like the basis for an intriguing story. - Sandy

What wonderful memories of the past you bring forth. I felt if I walked over that bridge today people would smile and talk to me also.

So many wonderful layers in your story! I loved it. You have, indeed, captured the spirit of community in this post.

Lovely story Lyn and so very well told.
I love walking in my community and exchanging greetings and memories...

Thank you, one and all, for your warm responses. One dear writer friend responded by email instead of here, and said "Don't you ever run out of family stories?" I guess my answer is, "Probably not; there are, after all, 365 days in a year, and I've lived a lot of those!" :)

I enjoyed your essay so much, Lyn. In the 1960s I was a teenager on an Indiana farm outside a town populated by barely 1,000. One of my favorite summer activities was the Saturday afternoon drawings in which lucky winners walked away with prizes from local businesses. The streets were lined with young and old, so excited they appeared to be awaiting the start of a holiday parade. My one and only prize from those years was an electric frying pan from the hardware store where my first husband worked while in high school and college.

Thank you for linking those small-town gatherings with the walkway. I recognized a congenial community there, but until your essay, I had not made the emotional link to my Midwestern roots.

Lyn, I just "found" this story, and loved it! Great photo of you and the Yorkies..

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