Posts Tagged ‘Joni’
Ada Grace Creighton was born Grace Ann Creighton on December 18, 2001.
Grace Ann is a fine name. Everyone in the family was fond enough of it. But it was clear from the beginning (at least to me) that it may not fit just right.
I kept my concerns to myself because I could think of no good alternatives. I like the name Grace a lot. Ann is fine, too. I have cousins and good friends with the name Ann.
It was the combination of the two that didn’t work quite right for me. You see, to me, Grace Ann – especially said very quickly – sounds a lot like Greason. Jimmy Greason was my next door neighbor when I was growing up. From the moment Grace was born I think of Jimmy every time I hear Grace Ann said together.
I called my parents to tell them about Grace’s birth. “We have another girl,” I said. “Her name is Grace Ann.” It was an uncontrollable reflex. In the next instant, I just blurted out, “Jimmmmy.”
Again, I did my best to hide my misgivings about the combination of Grace Ann and my peculiar speech reflex.
Joni is fond of the name Grace, too. She has no special attachment to Ann, it just seemed to go well with Grace (clearly we did not communicate well on this point).
Joni, though, was thinking of her own childhood neighbor when it came to names. Ada Wederski was a special person in her life. She very much wanted to give Ada’s name to one of our children. She just couldn’t seem to come up with a good way to work it in.
It became clear soon after Grace’s birth that she would be our last child. There would be no more opportunities to honor people by giving their names to our children. But, that didn’t stop Joni from thinking about Ada.
Some friends of ours, when Grace was about three, had a daughter of their own. Ava Grace, who lived a short but special life, was the name she was given. She was the inspiration Joni needed.
Joni always imagined Ada as a middle name never a first. Grace Ada just didn’t roll off the tongue. But, Ada Grace, that just might work.
Joni kicked around the idea in her own mind for quite a long time. Grace was five years old before we talked about the idea together. Was Grace too old to change names now?
I thought why not. Grace wasn’t yet in school. School is what sets a kids name in stone – at least while they are at that school.
Joni and I agreed it would be okay to make the change. We asked Grace but she didn’t warm to the idea immediately. Joni told her the story of her neighbor Ada and that helped a little. But Grace wasn’t quite ready to change identities.
Scheduling issues and preschool desires led us to send Grace to a different elementary school for kindergarten than Emma and Joe. She would switch back to Central Elementary in first grade.
The second week of kindergarten a strange thing happened. Grace, without consulting anyone, began to sign all of her papers with Ada. That is sort of Grace’s way. She does things quietly with little or no fanfare.
Grace’s teacher was confused. Where did this name Ada come from? All of the school supplies, name cards at the desk, coat hook and locker said, “Grace.” Let’s go by “Grace” this year. We all agreed.
First grade, back at Central Elementary, provided another opportunity for Grace to decide if she wanted to be Ada Grace or just Grace. She still wasn’t sure. Her teacher, Kelly Sanseverino, said, “We need to decide so I know what to call you.” So Grace took the plunge and declared herself to be Ada Grace. And, that’s how all her classmates know her now, as Ada. At Central Elementary, there is no turning back.
Old friends still call her Grace. At home, it’s a mixed bag. I hardly ever call her only Grace. It’s either Ada Grace or Ada for me. Emma and Joe go back and forth. Joni tends to call her Grace in the summer and Ada during the school year. It’s a name that is still taking shape.
But, I like it. It’s unique. It’s a pretty combination, Ada Grace. It makes a connection between generations of people who were special to Joni. And, it saves me the embarrassment of reflexively shouting out “Jimmmmy” when some says Grace Ann.
I never knew and to my knowledge never met Ada Wederski. My first memory of hearing Ada’s name was the day Joni told me of her death. It was 1987. I was in London attending summer school. Standing in the hallway of a school dorm, I tried as best I could to listen on the payphone as Joni, fighting back tears, told me the news.
Ada was one of the special people in Joni’s life. Ada and her husband Lee lived across a dirt road from the Mickey’s in Blakeman, a few miles west of Atwood. She and Lee were one of just a few neighbors within reasonable walking distance.
A visit to Ada’s meant that Joni could do all the things she wasn’t allowed to do or simply weren’t possible in her own home. She and Ada kicked back on the sofa to watch soap operas. Joni drank strawberry soda and ate Swanson’s pot pies – true luxuries in the eyes of a young girl. And, for an hour or two, she could be an only child not having to share attention with two sisters.
Ada and Lee lived in a simple home. Two rooms and a kitchen. There was running water in the sink but there wasn’t an indoor bathroom. Ada wore a plain house dress each day to do her daily chores as well as to lounge in between. She often kept her teeth in a glass by the sink. On the rare occasions that Joni smells denture cream, it brings back memories of being near Ada.
Ada and Lee worked hard. They grew, harvested and canned their own produce. Ada kneaded dough for bread on the Hoosier that stands in our kitchen today. It’s easy to see from the worn area were so much work was done. Lee raised chickens and pigs.
Ada and Lee were not wealthy by any measure save one. They had unlimited love to share with young neighbors. This love was shared without condition whenever the girls ran across the road conveying a lifetime lesson of how special it is when one opens their home to another.
Joni visited often after school, on weekend and summer afternoons – as soon as the chores at home were done. The visits included activities of no particular note. Joni would help Ada in the garden and kitchen. She would follow Lee in the yard and do what she could to help with the chickens and pigs. If she returned home on any particular day and was asked, “What did you do at Ada’s?” “Nothing much,” would be just about accurate.
Grand activities aren’t what Joni needed when she went to Ada’s. It was many days of doing “nothing” in the garden, in the kitchen, on the worn out sofa watching TV that forged a lasting bond between a neighbor and a girl. It is a relationship that will be cherished for at least another generation and is celebrated in the name of our youngest daughter.
John and Joni Creighton were married on August 19, 1989 in St. John’s Catholic Church in rural Rawlins County. In twenty years of marriage, they have lived in Boston, Massachusetts; Falls Church, Virginia; Bethesda and Rockville, Maryland, and Boulder, Colorado. They have called Longmont, Colorado home since 2001. Both John (1983) and Joni (1986) are graduates of Atwood High School.
John is the son of Robert and Barbara (Wilson) Creighton. He was born in Atwood on October 11, 1964. He followed the family tradition (fifth generation) attending the University of Kansas where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with degrees in economics and business administration in 1987. He received a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1990.
John worked on Governor Mike Hayden’s campaign staff in 1986 and 1990. For the past 20 years, John has worked as a public leadership consultant with a focus on public opinion research. He worked for The Harwood Institute for Public Innovations from 1991-1999. John founded his own consulting firm in 1999. Most recently, John agreed to write for the community section of the online edition of a major national newspaper.
John is active in Longmont, too. He was elected to the St. Vrain Valley School District board of education in 2007, the same year he succeeded his father as president of the High Plains Bank Holding Company.
Joni is the daughter of John and Betty (Rooney) Mickey. She was born in Atwood on May 20, 1968. She was a member of the Atwood High School state cross country championship team in 1986.
Joni attended Kansas State University and graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Maryland in 1994. She worked in the emergency room of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, as a floor nurse at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland and as a research nurse in Boulder, Colorado.
John and Joni have three children, Emma Cloe born on May 26, 1997; Joseph Paul born on August 7, 1999; and Ada Grace born on December 18, 2001. All three children were born in Boulder, Colorado. Emma, Joe and Ada Grace hold the distinction of having two grandparents serve as Mayor of Atwood – Bob Creighton, 1983-1991 and Betty Mickey, 1999-present (Betty is the first woman and longest serving Mayor in Atwood history). The children enjoy visiting Atwood where they take swimming lessons most summers.
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Submitting to The Rawlins County History Book
Bob and Barbara Creighton came to Atwood in search of a town in which they and their children could play a vital role and they found what they sought. They were proud to call Atwood home until the time of their deaths.
Robert Atkinson Creighton and Barbara Lee Wilson made their home in Atwood in 1960. They raised two sons who now have families of their own – Alec, his wife Christie and their children Ben and Rachel of Fort Morgan, Colorado and John, his wife Joni and their children, Emma, Joe and Ada Grace of Longmont, Colorado.
Barbara was a homemaker, mother, grandmother and active in the community. She served as president of P.E.O., Union Club, and Town & Country Guild, was a volunteer reader to Atwood first graders and the 1991 starter of the Lake Atwood Ten Mile race. She served on the boards of the Atwood Public Library, Kansas Quilters’ Organization, and High Plains Banking Group in Colorado. Barbara enjoyed needlework, gardening, genealogy, and was an avid reader.
Barbara stood toe-to-toe with breast cancer on two occasions. She beat the odds and triumphed over the disease in 1987. She was able to enjoy 15 additional years of life and spend time with all of her five grand-children. Barbara passed away on May 28, 2002 in the company of her husband and sons.
Bob was given the opportunity to practice law in Atwood by Forest W. Brown. His law partner when he retired in August 2005 was Charles Peckham. Bob worked with his secretary Margaret (Kanak) Hagler for 27 years.
Bob gave up competitive running in the late 1980s and focused on his law practice, banking and public service. Bob served as president of the High Plains Bank Holding Company based in his boyhood home of Flagler, Colorado. He was appointed by Governor Mike Hayden to the Kansas Board of Regents, which he served as chairman. He also served on the Kansas Hospital Closure Commission, Kansas Commission of Judicial Qualifications, Board of Governors of the KU Law School and to the Kansas University Hall Center for the Humanities Advisory Board.
In June 2005, Bob was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. He always said, “If complaining would help, I’d shout the loudest. But the truth is you get the years you get.” Bob passed away on April 5, 2007 leaving behind his wife Lavina, two sons and their families.
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Submitting to The Rawlins County History Book
I rang the doorbell, turned and ran as fast as my feet would carry me toward the front gate. But, I hadn’t planned well. The gate was latched shut.
The seconds it took to make my way through the front yard exit cost me dearly. Miss Bearly was swift of foot. She caught me by the collar just a few strides outside her gate.
The penalty for trespassing was severe. I knew it before I rang the bell. A kiss. Or, a pinch. Probably both.
A game of ding dong ditch? No, it was May Day.
May Day – not to be confused with the Communist celebration – is one of those second tier holidays you greatly anticipate as a child and then forget completely until you have children of your own.
Our tradition was to make baskets filled with candy for our friends and neighbors – it was the sugar fix between Valentine’s Day and Halloween. Mom often added pansies to the baskets for the other Moms.
Apparently, flowers is supposed to be the featured item in a May basket. I cared only about the sweets.
My favorite “basket” was the cupcake with a pipe cleaner handle. I loved to decorate the cupcakes and lick the knife.
Once the baskets were complete, we left them on a friend’s or neighbor’s doorstop, rang the door bell and tried to escape. The chase was the best part of the holiday (okay, licking the knife with frosting was the best part but the chase was a close second). I liked being chased far more than chasing a culprit from our yard. I didn’t want to catch anyone. Especially if I had to kiss them.
We always went to Miss Bearly’s (now Mrs. Erickson) on 2nd Street, I think it was. She was my first grade teacher. She was fun. She was always up for a chase. We share a birthday of October 11. And, most of all, I’m grateful that she helped Mom discover I had dyslexia. That led to a lot doctor’s visits and exercises I wasn’t too keen on but paid off in the long run.
Joni was excited to renew the May Day tradition when we moved to Longmont. She had fond memories of the holiday, too. But, we soon discovered we were one of the few people who had ever celebrated the holiday as children. When our kids placed baskets on friend’s doorsteps and rang the door bell, no chase ensued. There were just strange looks and questions, “What are you doing.”
We still plan to celebrate this year. Our kids are getting older and we won’t have many May Day’s of interest left.
The debate in the house is what to include in the baskets. Our kids follow in my footsteps. They want candy.
Joni suggested flowers, fruit leathers and pistachios. Huh?
In the end, it won’t matter much what we give as gifts. The main thing is that May Day is our last good excuse to ding dong ditch.
Love Thy Neighbor are words many of us hear in church. Many of us aspire for these words to influence, if not fully guide, our lives. But, what do these words really look like when put into practice?
I crossed paths with Larry Prochazka about a week ago – finally. We both call Longmont home now. I knew Larry as one of the star athletes from the great Atwood sports teams of the early 70s. Joni knows Larry as a workplace consultant and coach.
We only had time for a five minute conversation. But, Larry told me a story I will long remember.
He was working on the family farm in the northwest part of Rawlins County – “That’s where I learned my values,” Larry said. He seldom went to Atwood in the summers. Probably less often than I went to Colby. His community was the farm families that lived nearby.
Just as harvest was coming into full swing, one of the Kopriva’s severely broke a collarbone. It was going to be impossible for him to harvest his wheat on his own.
News spread. All the farmers in the area left their own fields to help out the Kopriva’s.
Larry told us that as the neighbors cut Kopriva’s wheat, dark clouds began to build, climbing thousands of feet into the sky, on the western horizon. A major thunderstorm was imminent. As the farmers looked west, they knew it was only a matter of hours before their fields would be pelted with heavy rain – perhaps hail.
Anyone who knows a wheat farmer knows that when the crop is ripe, the farmer has a singular focus – get the grain out of the field.
The neighbors working in the Kopriva’s fields knew their own crops, their family income for that year, was at risk. Surely, in their gut, they wanted nothing more than to abandon their help and get back to their own fields. But they stayed until the job was done knowing their neighbor would do the same if the situation was reversed.
On the farms in Rawlins County, and in farm communities across the country and perhaps world, Love Thy Neighbor are not Sunday words. They are a way of life.
For all the faults, foibles and hypocrisies that exist within Plains people (as they exist in all people), when the chips were down, Larry’s neighbors were there to help one another.
I like to think of myself as a neighborly sort of guy. I loan tools. Shovel walks when neighbors are out of town. Toss the newspaper closer to the front door when I walk by. Joni is a far better neighbor than me.
But, we have never put our livelihood on the line to help a neighbor in need.
I will think of Larry’s story often. A standard to aspire to.
I am reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. His thesis is simple: The context in which you grow up matters.
· What are the norms, rules and habits of your community’s culture?
· What do you have access to when you’re coming of age?
· What are the skills you are able to practice over and over?
· Are you the right age and demographic to take advantage of opportunities?
The answers to these questions will have a lot to say about what you accomplish as an adult according to Gladwell.
Bill Gates, for instance, transferred to a junior high school that had access to computers before most universities. He was able to practice computer programming for hundreds of hours before many of his peers were able to practice at all.
Steve Martin explains in his memoir Born Standing Up (but not in Gladwell’s book) that he grew up a bike ride away from Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. He got a job in these parks at a young age and was able to hone his skills as an entertainer for years before he “burst onto the entertainment scene.”
As I read, I began to ask myself what is the competitive advantage one gains from coming of age in Atwood in the late 70s and early 80s? The answer, in my case, reinforces Gladwell’s thesis.
I am not a good athlete. Even if I was, the odds are low I could have developed such a talent in Atwood according to Gladwell – not enough access to practice time. Even small cities like Longmont, it is possible to practice one sport year round. This type of specialization, Gladwell suggests, is typical of those who rise to the top in their field.
Those of us growing up in Atwood did have better access to something that is scarce to those living in small and large cities – civic life and politics.
Playing an active role in the community – being active in civic clubs, serving on boards and committees, holding elective office. In cities, these are things that “they” do. In towns like Atwood, these are things that we do. Our friends, neighbors, acquaintances must play a role. The law of numbers dictates that a high proportion of small town folks are also active community leaders – whether they like it or not.
I serve on the St. Vrain School Board. The district has nearly 25,000 students and seven municipalities. There are seven school board members. The same number as in Rawlins County. Most people who live in the St. Vrain school district don’t have a clue who I am. I am a “them.”
Politics and civic life have been part of my life from my earliest memories. I sat on my father’s shoulders in 1968 as he stapled Dole for Senate placards on telephone and electric poles around town.
I went door-to-door for the first time in 1972 when Mike Hayden first ran for the state legislature. The pizza party at Mike and Patti’s house later that night may have been the first time I met Joni. The thing I remember most on that day was a man who lived on 8th Street shooing me from his yard, “I’m votin’ for Hayden. Keep your dang flyer.”
Mom and Dad both served on town boards. Mom was on the Library board. Dad was on the Hospital board when Dr. Walton abruptly left town. I remember looking through the window of the State Bank Meeting room as Dad presided over a full meeting to sort out the options when Dr. Walton left.
Dad was County Attorney for a spell and became mayor my senior year of high school. My dad liked to tell people that our kids – Emma, Joe and Ada Grace – are the only people alive who had a grandfather and a grandmother who both served as Atwood’s mayor (Betty Mickey is the current mayor).
My neighbors served on boards and held elected office, too. When I think about the people who I knew best growing up, most did a stint in some sort of public service. The people who governed community organizations, the town and county were the same people who you saw at school events, church and grocery store.
I had opportunities to serve on community boards myself – and not just student council. I was a youth board member of United Methodist Church. I took part in many civic events as a member of 4-H, Boy Scouts and MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). Being active in the community was a normal part of life. Not as much in bigger cities.
Many of us growing up in Atwood were able to have a taste of state politics and government thanks to Mike Hayden. We had the opportunity to serve as legislative pages, sometimes more than once. It was normal to have your picture taken with a governor.
When Mike ran for governor in 1986 I was the perfect age (21) and had the family financial means to take on an unpaid, 80 to 100 hour week job as his driver. I was able to do this without jeopardizing my ability to pay for college. Not an option for many.
With assistant to the eventual governor on my resume, I was able to overcome borderline grades to earn a nomination for a Rhoades Scholar interview from KU and then gain admittance to Harvard. As one person who nominated me for the interview said matter of fact, “Your grades are unimpressive. But, you’ve had some good experiences.”
These were my advantages:
· I had many role models in my life who taught me that playing an active role in the community and politics is necessary and good.
· I was from a town and state small enough that I was able to witness government up close not from a distant gallery. Kansas has 65 more legislators than Colorado and, now, a smaller population.
· I was from the right town, the right age and the right income level to take advantage of a family friend’s success as a candidate for governor. Who knows if I’m admitted to Harvard if Mike lost the primary in ’86.
All of these things played a role in shaping my career working with public sector organizations and public leaders.
That is Gladwell’s argument. Success requires hard work. Typically, years of hard work. It also requires good fortune.
I draw three lessons from Gladwell’s work.
· We need to pay attention when opportunity presents itself. Opportunity is more abundant than we sometimes think.
· We need to be prepared to work hard – sometimes very hard – or the opportunity may pass us by.
· When we experience success, we should remain humble. There are a lot of people – and typically a few lucky breaks – that helped us get to where we are. (For fans of Ayn Rand, she didn’t have a clue.)
Community: That was my Atwood advantage.
I’m not a good driver. For years, I pretended to be a good driver who had a lot of bad luck. Over time, that story didn’t hold up.
The tone was set on my sixteenth birthday. I drove Matt Cunningham and Tim Yount to Pooch’s Pizza in Herndon to celebrate (we were crazy). On the way home, I slammed on the brakes for no apparent reason. Matt flew from the back to the front seat. His head cracked the rearview mirror.
I wrecked both my parents’ cars on consecutive Saturday nights. The first time really wasn’t my fault – really. Dean Carlson and I were cruising in Colby when the car was rear ended. Dean had to do several months of physical therapy to deal with the whiplash.
The second Saturday I had more explaining to do. I was giving Brad Leitner a ride home from a wedding dance.
I started backing out before he closed the door. The door didn’t like that too much.
I even had “bad luck” from the passenger side. Riding around with Denise McMillan one night I shifted her truck from drive to reverse. We were already moving. The transmission didn’t like that too much. I think that was expensive.
It may seem strange with all that bad luck I had two driver jobs. I drove a wheat truck for Bill Lewis one summer. It worked out well. I never rolled a truck – though I had it up on two wheels a couple of times. And, I quickly learned you need to dump your load slowly. It took Tracy Buford and me at least 20 minutes to scoop out the back of the truck once so I could put the hoist back down.
I drove Mike Hayden during the ’86 Campaign for governor. I mostly did okay. There was no body damage on any of the vehicles we used. I did back over a telephone box with a mobile home in Mark Frame’s front yard while touring southwest Kansas. And, there was the time I knocked over several cones along a construction site. But, only once the whole summer did Mike say, “I think I’ll drive.”
My dad helped me buy a Dodge Daytona my sophomore year of college. That was good news for Scott Focke. I quit asking to borrow his Charger. I had a lot of trouble with Scott’s car. I was used to driving a stick shift. Scott’s car had no clutch but a really big brake pedal. My left foot hit that more than once. Apparently, you push down on a clutch a lot harder than on a brake. My passengers were luckiest if their seatbelts were fastened.
The Daytona got its share of scrapes – but mostly on the undercarriage, so it didn’t really show. I was driving a gal home from a date one night near Glenn Frame’s apartment. It was a winding road. I thought I’d show her what the Daytona could do. We went right over the curbs. Twice. The new CV joint set me back a bit. And, I didn’t have a second date.
I was only embarrassed once. I called a tow truck to help me out one day because I’d stalled on my way to Clinton Lake near Lawrence. I’d over heated or something. The tow truck driver put a little gas in the tank and said, “That should help.”
I was beginning to think it was more than bad luck when Joni and I moved to Washington, DC. We were taking Tim Fitzgibbon, a grad school friend, home. We were driving south toward Lafayette Square. That’s the big park right across the street from the White House. It was dark. I didn’t realize my speed. I didn’t realize the park was so close. We went right over the sidewalk and on to the grass.
I did a quick u-turn, squeezed between a utility box and pole and was right back on the street. No harm. No foul. Tim turned to me a little ashen and said, “That’s some of the best and worst driving I’ve ever seen.”
I finally gave in and admitted I was a bad driver when Emma was one year old. Joni and I took Emma to Ireland. We rented a car and drove all over the country. Many of the roads were barely two lanes wide with thick hedges lining both sides. I drove. Joni and Emma rode in back.
One afternoon, Emma’s bottle fell off the front seat and onto the floor. I tried to grab it. I sat back up and saw a bus coming straight toward us. The hedge seemed like our best option.
Joni and Emma stayed at a bed and breakfast while I traveled with a tow truck to get a new car. The rental agent asked me what happened. “Apparently, I’m not a very good driver,” I said.
“I’ve never heard that one before,” she replied and then dutifully noted my comment in her notes.
The first time my Honda civic was nearly totaled was good luck – for me. A woman hit me at 10 miles an hour in a parking lot. She hit the car just right to wrinkle every quarter panel. Got to take out several years of door dings.
The second time I totaled my Honda civic was just dumb. I was driving when I shouldn’t have – late after being up many hours. I fell asleep and ran a red light. I injured a woman. Fortunately, she recovered. But it was wrong and unnecessary.
In the interest of time, I’ll spare the story of my most recent trip into the ditch. Let me just say a few words. East bound. Ice. Guard rail. Median. Guard rail. West bound. Really lucky. New truck.
It’s worked out for the best, really. Joni gets motion sickness very easily. She does best in a car best when she drives. She does. And, I get more time to read when we travel. Everyone’s happy.
Perhaps especially our insurance company.
We stood on the boardwalk in Atlantic City looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. There was a faint hint of light on the horizon – a sign of the coming sunrise. It was a new and bewildering sight for two kids from the Great Plains.
It was not quite six in the morning. We were very tired. It had been a long night.
There was no good reason for us to be in Atlantic City. We were on our way to Boston. Atlantic City was hundreds of miles out of our way. But, there we stood.
Twenty four hours earlier we were in Louisville, Kentucky. We had spent the night with Phil Priebe – our close friend, my roommate at KU and now our brother-in-law.
We were on our first road trip as a married couple. We were moving all of our worldly possessions to Boston – a mattress and box springs, table and chairs, a television, kitchen supplies and a few boxes of clothes, towels and sheets . I had one year of grad school to finish. Joni would find a job.
We had no car so we rented the smallest truck available at the Colby, Kansas U-Haul. Our belongings did not begin to fill the truck. They would more than fill the three to four hundred square foot apartment we rented on Beacon Hill.
On the advice of an older friend, we decided to live in the city. We just couldn’t afford much space. Our basement apartment was so small it was not possible to open the stove and the refrigerator at the same time. The bugs we discovered at night were as big as the mice.
We left Louisville early in the morning and made good time. We stopped Hagerstown, Maryland for a late lunch. We sat in a booth at Wendy’s and studied the Atlas. The wheels in our minds began to turn.
Should we turn north and take the shortest path possible to Boston? Or, should we see the sights along the East Coast? We had three days before we had to return the truck. But, we didn’t want to pay to stay in a hotel.
The answer was clear. Drive all night and sleep in the truck if we got tired. Those kinds of answers make sense when you’re 21 and 24. And thus began our Clark Griswold vacation.
We turned south at Hagerstown and headed for Washington, DC. We didn’t count on rush hour traffic. Little did we know that we’d wrestle with this traffic every day just a year later when we moved to Virginia and then Maryland.
The traffic was so thick we didn’t make it to the city until well after dark. We were having trouble reading the map. We drove through Georgetown which we didn’t realize at the time. A few turns later, we were driving along the Mall taking in the Lincoln and Washington monuments, the Capital in the distance. It was inspiring. We’d never seen the monuments lit up at night.
I’m not sure how but a moment later we were sitting in front of the White House – you could still drive by in those days. We had no idea where to park the truck. So we didn’t. We just slowed down and Joni took a picture of the White House through the passenger side window.
Next “stop,” Baltimore. It was getting late. Again, we didn’t park. We drove down to the Harbor, back to the Interstate and on to the next city.
In Philadelphia, we never found Independence Hall. In New York, we drove through Times Square and then down to Battery Park. We pulled over on a side street into what we thought was a parking spot. We climbed on top of the U-Haul to get a better view of the Statue of Liberty. We didn’t want to leave the truck.
Then, someone yelled at us. I have no idea what they said. But, we got back in the truck as fast as we could and tried to escape the city.
We visited Atlantic City between our drive-bys in Philadelphia and New York. We drove through New Jersey in the middle of the night. It was pouring rain. Joni could not stay awake. I pulled the U-Haul under an overpass and parked, waiting for the rain to let up. A New Jersey trooper stopped to check on us. He told us it was not safe to park there. We went on.
We arrived in Atlantic City at five a.m. – just as the casinos were shutting down. They wouldn’t re-open for another hour or two. So, we headed for the boardwalk. We had finally found a place to park the truck. There were only a few people out – clearly at the end of a night that involved alcohol.
Joni and I were mesmerized by the waves. They rolled toward shore in a perfect rhythm like a metronome. One after another. The same height. Uniform distance. It was hypnotic.
We stood there for fifteen or twenty minutes studying the waves. After careful consideration and drawing on our collective knowledge of oceans that we’d learned on the prairie, we agreed, “Cool wave machine!”
We headed back to the U-Haul to complete our trip to Boston.
For those who might be wondering… Yes, we really thought a machine was making the waves.
I had one thing I cared about when we planned our wedding. I wanted our dance to be open to the public – meaning anyone was welcome to attend. I was glad when Joni readily agreed.
The open wedding dance is one of the icons that best symbolize what it means to live in a town like Atwood.
I was reminded of my fondness for wedding dances when I received a phone call and an email from Jack Henningsen. He told me the story of meeting his wife, Marilyn, at a Harvest Festival at St. John’s Catholic Church. (Jack contacted me after reading this blog. One of the unexpected pleasures of writing “snapshots” is that I’ve connected with people who I don’t know well and/or seldom see.)
Though not a wedding dance, Jack’s story reminded of Joni’s and my wedding at St. John’s and our dance at the Columbian Hall in town.
I don’t like to dance. I don’t now and I didn’t then. That’s not why the wedding dance was important to me. In fact, I seldom danced at the many wedding parties I attended. Lisa Collins (now Moos) did try to teach me the two-step. I mostly learned to bounce or perhaps I was skipping, heaven forbid. I stepped on her toes as I often as I touched the floor. Still, I did enjoy an occasional Cotton Eyed Joe.
When attending wedding dances, I spent most of my time in the parking lot. There were more than a few in which I never entered the hall. The parking lot was the best place to catch up with friends, trade gossip, speculate about romance (speculation being the operative word) and, of course, mix a drink or two.
The open wedding dance is symbolic of a marriage being a community event rather than a private affair. Marriages, in many ways, belong to the community – in a small town at least. In places like Atwood, everyone impacts your life. Some more directly and forcefully than others, but everyone plays a part.
The role people have in shaping their neighbors’ lives gives them a rightful claim to the wedding celebration. The open wedding dance is a time for everyone to share in the joyous step being taken by the wedding couple. The community helped to prepare them for this day. Thus, the community should be welcome at the celebration.
At 24 years old, I was not so philosophical. My thought at that time was simply, “Closed dances aren’t cool.” I knew how we used to ridicule people who had a closed dance. I did not want people saying those things about Joni and me. Besides, who was I to deny people a chance to party?
The open dance also solved a practical dilemma. There were not enough seats in St. John’s to accommodate all of Joni’s relatives – I had no idea that our nuptials would connect me to half the county. It was uncomfortable crossing them off the ceremony guest list. Opening our reception and dance allowed us to include more people.
My favorite moment of this wonderful day occurred between the reception and dance. Joni and I sat on metal folding chairs in the Columbian Hall, taking a moment to catch our breath. I can still see the smile on Joni’s face and feel the one on my own. Joni’s family – who catered the entire event, my first real exposure to the do-it-yourself Mickey Clan – scurried about cleaning up the remnants of the reception. There have been few times in my life that I’ve felt so at peace.
As Joni’s and my years together accumulate, the meaning of our dance has grown in my mind. We meet couples in the various places we’ve lived – Boston, Maryland and Colorado – and trade wedding stories. Our friends tell tales of private affairs for an exclusive set of friends – certainly wonderful events in lives.
But, their stories make me appreciate that our celebration was open to all who cared to attend.
That’s what it really means to be part of a small town. On the most special and personal of days, everyone is welcome at your “table.” Your family, your dearest friends, your kindly neighbors as well as your rivals, the annoying people who gossip too much and the folks you simply can’t stand – everyone is there. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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What’s your favorite wedding dance story?