I spent six of my formative years — probably the six most formative years — in a small town in Nebraska. I loved it there. It was a Norman Rockwell world with ice cream socials held after Little League games at one church or another, a world where kids were free to go everywhere by bike, where the public swimming pool was surrounded by woods, and winter ice-skating was on a pond in the middle of a forest.
It really was like that. This isn’t just nostalgia. I was a happy kid.
Besides the town and the life it provided my brother and me as kids, I liked all the opportunities my mom and dad put in front of me. Life was great. I didn’t know then that the preparation for life I got was, a lot of it, going to fall by the way in the social tumult of the sixties and seventies, family tragedies, marriage, divorce, grad school, all of it.
Most of my education was in public school. Then, because my parents hoped that the rigor of a private school would help my incorrigible little brother who refused to learn anything in public school, I went to Brownell/Talbot, an Episcopalian school in Omaha, for sixth and seventh grade. It was a combination of girls’ finishing school and college prep school. My brother was “uninvited” after the first year, but I flourished and found my first ever real friend. It was two very happy school years for me.
I was also a Rainbow Girl. Rainbow is, “A Masonic fraternal order for girls of teen age.” We wore formals to our meetings. We had “dinners” for our parents and for visiting Rainbow Girl Lodges and visiting officers — local, state and national. They were always beautiful events with centerpieces, table favors and name cards, all handmade by us girls. We were taught that this kind of extra-effort showed others that they mattered to us.
The girl I was from 12 to 14 imagined that all these thoughtful, petty things would be part of my adult life mixed in with world travel, art, adventure and athletics. I guess I imagined 45 hour days and did not fully understand the freedom of childhood. 🙂
By the time I was fifteen, that world had vanished not only from my actual existence (we moved away from the little Nebraska town to the vastly more sophisticated Colorado Springs), but almost from my memory. By then, fate was taking my family to some dark places.
My friend Elizabeth invited me to join her and her husband for a Valentine dinner at the local Methodist church this past Saturday. I was nervous because it would mean meeting new people, but I trust my friend and she said it would be fun. When I asked if I could wear jeans, Elizabeth said, “It is kind of fancy.”
I wore my “best” clothes which are velvety, brown cords, a black cashmere sweater and a gold necklace. I haven’t had REAL fancy clothes in a looonnnnggg time. Besides, I couldn’t imagine the dinner being very fancy. This is Colorado, after all…
The Methodist church is a splendid arts and crafts building. I’ve wanted to see it for a while. Luckily, we arrived when there was still enough day to light the amazing stained glass windows.
Half of this massive cube of a building — built of glazed bricks — is the sanctuary. The other half is a meeting hall where the dinner was held.
Candles and fairy lights, a dozen beautifully set tables, red tablecloths with white lace over them. Centerpieces, handmade table favors; our red, cloth napkins, rolled to look like roses, sat in our coffee cups. Silver. The hosts — people from the Methodist church — wore tuxes and formals as they served us dinner.
We found seats at a table with the minister of the Disciples of Christ church and his wife. The minister stood by his seat until we three ladies were seated. I have not seen that kind of chivalric behavior since I was a girl, but I saw it many times that night.
Dinner was lasagna, salad, and cherry cheese cake. We were served red or white sparkling grape juice (these are Methodists, after all) by the minister of the church who wore a tuxedo and a red bowtie. From time to time, an elegantly dressed Methodist would come and check that everything was fine at our table.
That dinner was a REAL Valentine. Not only was I with some of my favorite people here in Colorado, but I was in a beautiful place surrounded by living relics of a lovely, gentle life I thought had vanished. The sweetness of it sank deeply into my heart, and I thought, “It’s been here all along.”