39 Years

It was October in Paris, and he asked me if I wanted to take a walk.  It is a question that he has asked me many times in the past, and it is one that I never tire of answering.  With an enthusiastic yes, I grabbed all necessities – including camera – and stepped out onto the street with him.  It was cold and raining, but right away, I knew that I was on another lifetime adventure.  We had no map and no agenda.  We were just out . . . in the city . . . walking . . . to anywhere.

From early morning to late evening, we walked throughout the city – browsing, touring, chatting, pondering, eating, and drinking.  We saw both the glorious and the ordinary – with both sides of that spectrum equally as interesting.  Our feet led us through the inside of famous and not-so-famous museums, through elaborate and not-so elaborate churches, down prominent and nondescript boulevards, and towards both landmarks and unknown hidden gems.

Heading for home at the end of the day, we took a right turn and found ourselves in what can only be described as a park of plenty.  I saw remarkable gardens and teenagers – dressed in preppy school uniforms – playing pick-up games of basketball.  At the edge of a large fountain, which state side we would call a pond, I saw a line of children using sticks to push small sailboats across the water while their parents relaxed nearby reading books.

In the middle of the park I witnessed two men, both dressed in “Jimmy Fallon – I love my tight” pants, playing tennis as if their lives depended on the outcome.  Fifty yards away, I saw an additional ten men, pairing off for friendly yet seemingly fierce chess matches.  And fifty yards from that point, I saw an endless stream of mothers with strollers, infants, and toddlers playing on some of the most extraordinary playground equipment I have ever seen.

But what caught our attention  – as if gardens, tennis, chess, basketball, sailing, reading, and the merry-go-round wasn’t enough – was actually tucked away near the edge of the park. Initially, we were drawn to a bench – more importantly a vacant bench.  We had journeyed for several hours, several miles – all by foot, and as we closed in on the bench, the idea of sitting became more and more appealing.

Had we not sat down, we would not have noticed the rest of the story.

For directly in front of us were two of the most interesting teams of people, playing one of the most interesting games, for what looked like was an interesting mix of both pride as well as a few, no doubt lucrative, side bets.  All of the members on both teams were seemingly old enough to be my parents, with only one of the approximately twenty team members being female.

In the middle of Luxembourg Gardens, these two teams were sparing and jarring over a very competitive game of Boules.  They would toss balls, run to the side of the court, measure the proximity of balls thrown to the stationary ring, and shout out words in their language that needed no translation to be understood in mine.

There were players with their own polishing rags and players wearing specialized shoes and players using pocket play-books to strategize with each other.  The most interesting feature, however, was something that I just had never seen in a park – or anywhere outdoors for that matter. It made me chuckle; it still makes me chuckle.   For sitting just outside the rectangular, rocky playing field was a sturdy, silver, shiny coatrack.

A coatrack. A coatrack.

The day was chilly and wet, but no one was wearing a coat. They were all carefully hanging from the court-side coatrack.   Crazy-funny at its best.

Moments – or an eternity later – we continued our walk.

Like many moments over the past 39 years, neither one of us said a word about what we had just witnessed.  In a relationship, there are many times when words are really pointless.  A look, a smile, a frown, a glance, a wink can convey an entire conversation. Words just lack the power, the ability, the nuances.

I am not sure when we learned the art of not speaking. I am quite sure it wasn’t in our first decade. I do know that as our early years passed, our security in our ability to speak without words has grown.

And in that moment in the park, as we watched twenty people shout and skirmish over a game played by grown-ups tossing balls on a pebble-laden court, with a random coatrack in the background, i knew that I was experiencing a day for the ages.  It is a memory that needs no words, that is memorable, in fact, because of the lack of language – which to me – is nothing shy of awesome.

Soon thereafter, we walked in silence for quite awhile – beyond the Boules courts, the tennis courts, and the chess courts.  I snapped a few more photos, we laughed at the young boy who accidentally fell into the pond chasing his boat, and noticed that the boys in the school uniforms had left for greener pastures.

We, too, did the same, with the silent hope that we will experience more such moments.

The coat rack :-)

The coat rack 🙂

Though I don't know the rules, the game was beautiful.

Though I don’t know the rules, the game was beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay Ordinary

My life is generally . . . often . . . usually . . . quite ordinary. And I have come to the realization that ordinary is . . . okay.

I have a typical home with typical trimmings – front door, back door, kitchen, garage, deck, bedrooms, bathrooms. I own no pets, grow no plants, have no secret passage ways, and no moat. I organize my closet according to color first, then season. I keep all my super secret stuff in a folder marked super secret – because it is so much easier to find super secret stuff that is filed properly. I steer clear of food that comes with expiration dates; and, am an avid collector of nothing other than dust. I make my bed everyday before leaving the house, and my late night snack is cheap, easy air popped popcorn. A most ordinary life.

On work days, I have an ordinary commute – a 14.2 mile / 17 minute one way cruise that includes three stop lights and one stop sign – total. (I could pare those stops down if I took the back roads.) The ordinary commute comes with a routine. Every morning, I eventually meet up with the same car-driving coffee klatch crowd. There is the Dodge Caravan man who gives me the head nod and the lift-the-fingertips off the steering wheel wave . . . the blue Buick lady with the gracious, soulful arm gesture who occasionally touts the horn. And, of course, the crazy-funny college kid in the beater mobile with blaring music, who just turns and smiles. He’s cool – and the coffee klatch knows it. Me? I practice the Queen Elizabeth raise my left arm at the elbow, thump pointing towards my shoulder with a slight motioning of the hand and a randomly added left eye wink. Really, all the second stop light group has to do is to add a little Sister Sledge, and suddenly we would be one big ordinary family.

And the landscape along the way? It’s ordinary with . . . admittedly . . . a chaser of interesting.

First, I live in farm country where there are acres and acres and acres, miles and miles and miles of corn and soybeans everywhere. One month it’s green and growing. A couple of months later, it’s brown and dry. Planting to harvesting, it’s the same each year. Has been for hundreds of years. In the spring, it’s called the green wave – a term of endearment characterizing its ordinary beauty.

However, in terms of ordinary / not-so-ordinary, that doesn’t explain why there is a random, twenty-foot, replica of an authentic Native American tee-pee peeking out on the edge of one of those nearby farms; nor does it explain the meticulously maintained, privately owned – but publicly used – deluxe cement-finished roadside tables, complete with a paved turn-about near mile four. Their use is sporadic, but the folklore factor they add to the commute is all worth it.

Again, it’s ordinary in an unusual way.

Which can also describe the local theater. Near the commute’s five-mile mark, in a large open farm field sits an AMC Showplace 10 movieplex. Surrounded by corn and soybeans, it’s a busy, hometown place with pleasant, hospitable employees, complete with a giant, highly visible SHOWPLACE marquis, an ample parking lot, and a great free refill policy on all popcorn and drinks. A typical, ordinary theater . . . sorta.

Because lately, commuting past the theater at night at the end of an ordinary workday has been a comedic highlight. Whether caused by a short in the system or by a big time Scrabble game on the part of some very humorous employees, the movieplex’s marquis illumination changes daily. Sometimes it says SHOWPLACE and sometimes it says SOWPLACE, or HOWPLACE or OWPLACE or SHOW ACE or my favorite SHOW LACE. An ordinary theater with a crazy-funny attitude.

The Mattoon AMC Showplace Ten

My Local Ordinary Movie Marquis!

Finally, the commute route passes by the local airport – most ordinary at first glance . . . and probably second glance, too. It has hangers, runways, a ten foot protective fence to keep the deer either in or out depending on which way they are jumping, and manicured grounds. Big jumbo jets are a rarity there, with private and charter planes commonplace. The on-site restaurant attracts its fair share of daily guests and serves the famous tenderloin as big as an elephant ear. It’s an ordinary local airport . . . until, that is, July 4th rolls around.

For on July 4th, the airport shuts down . . . completely . . . to prepare for one of the most deluxe fireworks celebrations found anywhere this side of the Mississippi. Town folks use a free shuttle bus system to haul out family, friends, buckets of fried chicken, coolers of drinks, lawn chairs, blankets, and bug spray. Everyone sets up camp on the east runway tarmac hoping for a glorious view of the fireworks exploding on the west runway tarmac. All planes for the day are simply re-routed to other nearby airports, I suppose. I am not really sure. I am also not sure of what happens to potentially stranded passengers. Perhaps they are sent via train to the next nearest airport not hosting a fireworks display. All I know is that planes don’t arrive or depart on July 4th. The airport is on holiday.

And for good reason. It really is the perfect place for thousands of people to gather for late evening festivities. After all, airports are nothing more than giant parking lots with lights. And here in Central Illinois, it is just an ordinary solution for a traditional American celebration.

Living in a house with no secret passageways and no moat, with a commute through corn and soybeans surrounded by tee-pees and cement roadside picnic tables, seeing the movie theater that has entered some type of marquis spelling bee, and passing the airport where I have been part of the runway loungers watching fireworks on the fourth may seem odd and unusual to some, but to me, it’s just a part of my average, run-of-the-mill, humdrum, typical ordinary life. And as I stated earlier . . . it’s okay, really okay!