Lilacs, Parades, and Henway: The Problem With Adults‏


            The problem with adults is that we’re not kids.

            Specifically, we lose that wonder, that joy of discovery that comes with being kids. The coolest things happen right in front of us, but because they happen every year and we’ve seen a lot of years, we forget how cool they are.

            One day you walk outside and, after months of gray, black, and white, everything is green. Spring is here. That’s so cool. Have you seen all those colors, the flower blossoms and such? For a few weeks, my back yard was a wall of purple lilacs. The lush grass looks as if last year’s drought never happened. There’s a family of rabbits living in the brush pile I was supposed to get rid of. It’s all awesome, except the brush pile.

            Last spring a bird I’d never seen just showed up, walking across my lawn as if it owned the place. Based on internet photos, I think it was a quail. Maybe it was a henway.

            (What’s a henway? About five pounds.)

            I’m not a bird watcher like the eminent Neil Case, but I think he and I still maintain something from our childhoods: We both think seeing something in person that we’ve never seen before is just … neat.

            But the same stuff over again can be neat, too. I realize this depends largely on what the stuff is, and on the circumstances. If you were in London 50 years ago and saw a police call box, you wouldn’t think anything about it. If one materialized in your back yard and a time traveler hopped out, it would definitely be noteworthy.

            (See, it’s a Doctor Who joke … never mind.)

            No call box has blossomed this spring, more’s the pity.

            But I digress, which is hardly new with me. What got me on this line of thinking was Albion’s Chain O’ Lakes Festival, which should be in full swing as you read this. Indiana is the land of festivals: Churubusco has its Turtle Days, there’s the Huntertown Heritage Days, Wolf Lake’s pungent Onion days, and various other days of Marshmallows, Apples, and Chautauquas.

            Chautauqua is neither a snack nor a fruit. Or is it a brand of bananas? Hm … I don’t know what Chautauqua is. Let me look it up …

            A system of education originating in New York? How do you like that – a summer festival celebrating education.

            When I was a kid, I’d beg to be taken into town to the Chain O’ Lakes Festival, even though I was scared of some rides. The carousel? Terrifying. But to me it was like a country boy discovering the big city, except with cotton candy.

            I don’t go so much these days; I’m usually busy discovering new things in other places, such as looking up the definition of Chautauqua on, or Googling photos of quail. Still, whenever I drive by I like to pause a moment, look and listen and smell and try not to steer into a utility pole.

            Usually I’m busy in the early part of festival week, because that’s when the fire department has its annual fish fry. Well, fish and tenderloin fry, because some people have no sense of humor when it comes to fish. (We have no vegetarian plate, unless you want a plate of chips and cupcakes.)

            This brings me back to the point of how we should have more wonder in the things we see often. We live in a country where people not only volunteer to fight fires, but also organize fund raisers to help equip themselves. That’s awe inspiring. And a little crazy, but awe inspiring things often are.

            We take so much for granted. Another example: When I started trying to sell fiction, I was armed with a thesaurus, an encyclopedia that took me three years to pay off, and about half a dozen dictionaries. Now I have the internet. You know what’s on the internet? Everything.

            It’s much more fun to go to the library, but if I’m stuck at home and need to look up the definition of, say, “internet” … well, let’s try it:

            There. 3,950,000,000 hits, of which the fourth one is an actual definition and the fifth one a history. They say one guy, one time, actually reached the end of the internet. He’s now a time traveler, zooming around in a little blue police box.

            Where was I? Oh, yeah. At the end of the Chain O’ Lakes Festival there’s a parade, which is aptly named the Chain O’ Lakes Festival Parade. Sometimes I’m in it with the fire department, but often I like to sit it out, and take photos instead. I have almost as many pictures as there are “internet” hits on the internet.

            Last year the Fire Chief invited Emily and me to ride in his command vehicle with him. Other years I’ve been in other fire trucks, and sometimes marched with the volunteers.

            Now, think about that.

            I got to be in a parade. In a friggin’ fire truck.

            Maybe the adult in me has gotten used to that kind of thing. But the kid in me is in a frenzy of ecstasy.

             Don’t you think the kid is the one with the right idea?

Quail, or Henway?


  1. (What’s a henway? About five pounds.)
    I love that joke. I first heard it in high school from my business teacher. No one took the bait when he mentioned henways and, when he eventually asked if anyone was going to bite, someone finally asked what a henway was. Everyone groaned at his reply. I laughed my head off. :)

    Iowa is also the land of festivals. We've got Corn Carnival, Felix Grundy Days (named for a politician who never even set foot in our state but for whom my home county is nonetheless named), Rainsbarger Daze (named for a prominent family involved in a murder during the 19th century), Black Dirt Days, Tarheel Days, the Winding Stairs Festival, Pioneer Days...the list is endless. But if it's pungent you want, you can't beat Ackley's Sauerkraut Days. The German is strong in this neck of the woods.

    1. Don't tell, but I actually got my wife with that joke. Well, she hit me afterward, but still ...

      Several of our local counties were named after Revolutionary War heroes who never left the east coast -- who knows how people choose to name their communities? But it seems like the whole midwest is all about festivals!

  2. I think the kid inside has it right!

    Looks like a quail to me... too small to be a grouse.

    1. Grouse? Isn't that what I do at work?

    2. That too!

      Spruce grouse. I've seen them in the woods in Ontario's cottage country.

    3. Not to mention the really huge Spruce Grouse that Howard Hughes built!

  3. So true I still love spring when everything is so green and the flowering trees are in bloom. I don't think I can ever take the beauty of nature for granted.

  4. Lovely post Mark, you had me at lilac and rabbits (two of my favourite things). I’m one of those lucky people who never grew up. I live my life surrounded by childish things (mostly books) and still manage to see the wonder in a rain drop or a bird on the lawn. Especially THAT bird! Fire trucks are pretty amazing too. The last time I was in a parade (40 years ago) I was dressed as a hula hula girl!

  5. Excellent post. Why is it we don't stay excited about these things? You've made me realize we have to make the most out of life.

    1. At least none of us is alone in having that problem ... we all tend to take things for granted. How many times are people from other parts of the world fascinated by the stuff in our back yard, that we hardly even think about?