Sunday, July 02, 2006
50 Years Ago In America's Hometown . . .
In 1929, Robert and Helen Lynd's notable sociological report about Muncie, Indiana, produced the Middletown Studies, a book about a city called by some, “America’s Hometown.” Maybe there are other cities more deserving of that title, but it’s true for me; Muncie is my home town.
Growing up, I thought for sure I’d leave Muncie for a bigger and better life, and I sort of did, but I came back, and I’m glad I did. You’d have to be from here to want to read why, though, so I’ll skip that.
Muncie recently got a lot of internet attention because of a parody by a former Munsonian, Chris Cox and his friend Kirby Hayborne, who taped a Muncie version of a Saturday Night Live parody. People on the west coast had responded to the SNL east coast video with one of their own, so Cox and Hayborne decided to salute the ultimate fly-over state with a video, as well. Cox said, “"Muncie is not a city that I love to hate. Muncie is a city that I love in spite of myself and in spite of it." Couldn’t have said it better myself.
If you want to see the video, go to www.lazymuncie.com. There is one profanity in the beginning; other than that, it’s pretty clean. And if you’re from here, it’s hilarious, although I’m not sure why people who’ve never experienced Midwest living would appreciate it. Judging by its popularity, though, people outside of Muncie “get” the humor, if not the inside jokes. (By the way, they’ve made a video about “Curious GWB” that is pretty funny, too. “Curious” George Bush is rapping freestyle in this one.)
A regular feature in our newspaper provides snippets of Muncie news from 50 years ago. Imagine this:
“A dozen monkeys arrived from NYC this week to make Monkey Island in McCulloch Park their home for the summer. The group included eight rhesus monkeys and four African green monkeys.”
They returned to NYC in the fall. My mother, who is 80 years old, can remember feeding a chimp at that park when she was a child. Did all American small towns have monkeys in their public parks 50 years ago, or just Muncie?
Here’s another interesting item from the same week: “At the Rivoli Theater, there was a triple shock program with free two-for-one passes ‘if you dare to sit through it all’ of two horrific pictures (so horrific they didn’t give the titles) and the live scream show with Mighty “Garganta” the giant gorilla, direct from his jungle lair. But the ape took a mighty fall into the orchestra pit and an ambulance had to be called. Jack Allen, who played the 200-pound “gorilla” missed his step and took a tumble off the stage. Allen was lat released from Ball Memorial Hospital after being treated for abrasions on his forehead.”
Apparently, primates were all the ragein Muncie 50 years ago this week.
But let me tell you about my Muncie today. I walked about a half mile down the road for exercise and to get myself a Diet Coke. The lady in the gas station store called me “Hon” when she took my change. Walking home, I passed a young mother and her toddler in their front yard. The baby girl was deliriously happy holding the garden hose as it sprayed everything but the annuals. Mom laughed and waved to me; I don’t know her, but she could see by the smile on my face I that I knew that particular joy.
A few steps later, I passed a young lady retrieving mail from her roadside box. She was chatting on her cell phone about the outfit she was wearing, noting proudly that she had made it herself. I sipped my Coke and moved along, smelling freshly cut grass. About a block away, at a small neighborhood church, bells began slowly ringing, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” and to my surprise, I remembered the words to the hymn.
A few houses later, one of the most enticing sensory triggers of all time wafted over me—a backyard barbecue. I passed people playing with dogs, bikers, walkers, Sunday drivers, and squirrels who have become very bold in suburbia. Today one stared me down, and I think if he could have, he would have said to me, "This is my turf, so scat."
Almost home, I was startled by rapid pops splattering the air--kids celebrating a pre-4th of July. Walking up my driveway, I heard children’s voices shouting playfully, the next door neighbor kids, all five of them, in their brand new inflatable pool. Earlier in the week, we watched them all participate in the preparing the ground for the pool, and now they were enjoying the fruits of their labor.
The beautiful moment made up of all that I was passing caused gratitude and praise to rise in me. I was reminded of the lyric from "Holy is the Lord," that says, "It's rising up, all around/It's the anthem of the Lord's reknown." I felt praise from everything around me rising the way you see wavy lines over hot roads in the summertime--they're not tangible, but you're aware of them; you see them from your perspective even if someone across the street can't. I sensed the anthem rising all around me.
I thought, “This is my paradise, as good as it gets, until I really get ‘home’ someday.” It seems that no matter how much I feel at home here, there is always an undercurrent of yearning for my true home: heaven. Max Lucado calls the desire the "gift of unhappiness." He likens it to the song of a whippoorwill, whose small voice constantly sings in the midst of the busyness and storms of life. He says, "Our heart song won't be silenced until we see the dawn." There is a lot to be said about the kingdom of God being all around us now, that we should live as if it has already come or that we're already there, but I cannot stop thinking about heaven, which is biblical:"God has planted eternity in the hearts of men." (Eccl. 3:10) I hold to 1 Corinthians 15:19, "If our hope in Christ is good only for this life, we are worse off than anyone else."
For all of the satirical beating it takes, I believe Muncie grows stronger and better all the time. And right now, there’s a Sunday crossword and lemonade waiting for me on the front porch of my earthly house in America's hometown, and I’m going to savor that, too.
Muncie's blizzard, January 2005