I spent many years of my youth in a small New England town in upstate Connecticut. Small towns make for large extended families. Everyone knew everyone. When trouble knocked on our door, the people in town weren’t too far behind to help out. And once a year, we would meet in the center of town to celebrate Old Roxbury Days.
Old Roxbury Days was a three day celebration. A commemoration of the past and the struggles we had all faced, it was an observance of the present and the people who filled our days with joy and finally, it was a salute towards the future and the possibilities that existed for all of us in the coming years. We sang, we competed, we laughed, we shared our stories and as a community, we spent three days every July honoring the history of everyone involved with the town. When I was fifteen, our family moved away.
I once told a friend of mine in college that I used to live in the Heartland of the United States. He was offended. He told me about whistle stop towns in the south and in the Midwest that were the heart and soul of this country. They were places where the air was fresh, the colors of the landscape illuminated the tapestry of the world God had created and the hardworking people in town were all considered family. I was fascinated by the similarities of our stories about our childhoods and although he would never admit that the Northeast could ever be considered part of the Heartland, he did agree that our town sounded very quaint. “Typical Rockwellian society,” he would call it.
Three years ago, I wanted to take my kids to Old Roxbury Days. I wanted that connection to a part of my past that I could share with my children. But when I contacted town officials for information about the decades old celebration, they informed that the festival didn’t exist anymore. Like many things in life, this too had passed!
Stephanie and I took the kids on a trip to North Carolina in 2008 for a long weekend. It was a sales trip for me. I had one chance to prove to my wife and kids that North Carolina was a great place to live. So I planned on visiting a couple of kids’ festivals while we were there and what I found was so much more than a sales trip, I found a little piece of the Heartland.
Goldston is a small town. The main strip, which is about a block and a half long, stands next to the train tracks that run through town center. It is a sleepy town that most would never find unless they were looking for it and fortunately for us, it was on the agenda. As I walked through the streets, I saw those same faces that I remembered as a child; friends, family and townsfolk celebrating the past, present and future of their little piece of heaven. They spent this one day every October to rekindle friendships, laugh, sing and share the latest stories of their greatest triumphs.
I am an observer. I watch people. I watch things that catch my eye; sometimes, not even ordinary things. A lot of people wouldn’t have noticed the subtext of the event that was playing out before my eyes. Maybe having grown up in Roxbury, I had a different set of lenses by which to view the festivities around me. But on a day when I was trying to make some decisions about my own life and future, I was reminded of my past and the small little place where I grew up.
Later that day, I would run into the “Mississippi Girls.” A group of southern women who grew up in the Heartland of Mississippi but as life took them in different directions, they made sure to spend one weekend together every year. Small town girls who had that twinkle in their eyes when they told their stories and heartily laughed along with you when you told yours. And regardless of where their adventures took them, there was no mistake as to why they were there; to celebrate their Mississippi heritage!
The heartland still exists in the far reaches of this country. People in the cities make fun of their style of living and Hollywood loves to play up the depiction in television and movies. But make no mistake about it; the heartland is still the backbone of this country. It is what made us great. Hardworking, God fearing, humble people who believe in family values and in caring for your neighbors. They treat people the way they would like to be treated; with kindness!
I now live near Goldston and a couple of weeks ago I made a return trip to their annual street festival. To the casual observer, Goldston is the greatest community bazaar in the state but to the people who live there, it is a celebration of their way of life. I loved walking through the streets and watching the local people commemorate as I was reminded once again about the true heritage of the United States of America.