No, we don’t have tree growing out of our courthouse! I have to answer that question about once a month when asked where I’m from. It’s interesting to me that people confuse where you live and where you’re from—I’m from Greenfield; I live in Bloomington. I can change where I live, but I will always be from Greenfield. And wherever you’re from, you will be influenced by that culture, one way or the other.
Now before I hear any objections that Greenfield doesn’t have a culture, I would argue that every place has some kind of unique culture. Take, for example, the wet tenderloin. I just took it for granted that everyone knew what this was; I didn’t realize it’s a Greenfield thing, which apparently mystifies people who aren’t from here. It’s really not that difficult to figure out; tenderloin patty; dip it in gravy. I don’t eat meat and I know this!
Obviously nothing defines local culture more than Riley Days. You have to forgive me; I realize it’s the Riley Festival now but I’m old school—when I was growing up; it was Riley Days, just like in my world it’s still Deer Creek Music Center and the Hoosier Dome.
Here’s another one—I never heard the term elephant ear until I was in college. I remember getting into an argument with someone about this because I thought they were putting me on by trying to convince me it was called something silly like an elephant ear just to see if I would believe it. My attitude was: “It’s called a lion’s paw, everybody knows that; the Lion’s club sells them at Riley Days in Greenfield.”
You know you’re from Greenfield if you can recite Little Orphant Annie by heart without ever having made a conscious decision to memorize it. Not only did your teachers have your brother and sister in school, but your father and aunt as well.
How about this? I would go over to my friend Darcy Durbin’s house, and if I got in trouble over there, I’d get reprimanded by her parents Russ and Diana; I’m sure there was more than once I got grounded by them! I would even tell my parents I got grounded by them because if I didn’t then I knew I’d be in even more trouble by someone!
Darcy’s grandparents were also my “adopted” grandparents, along with countless others; I didn’t really know them by their legal names, so when someone would refer to Bert and Edna Bradley, I’d have to do a mental scan and think, “Oh, right, Mamoo & Papoo!” As a kid, when I’d see the window dedicated to them at Bradley church, I couldn’t understand why it didn’t say Mamoo & Papoo; after all, those were their real names!
Greenfield people are practical people. Apparently when my grandmother, Mildred Haines, had replaced the carpet in the living room, she was so pleased that she exclaimed, “I should have done this 20 years ago!” My grandfather, Delbert Haines, looked over his paper and stated, “Yes, but by now it would be all worn out!”
It was also his idea of a good joke, one year during Riley Days, to put a sign out on their front lawn, which sat right on US 40, that proclaimed “Free Breakfast!”, at which point he left for work and let my grandmother deal with the hungry people coming to the door.
But my grandmother was also a quick thinker. As she never learned to drive, I often drove her places when I was in high school and college. Since she knew many people, she would often have people come up to talk to her that just couldn’t remember. She would then say, “This is my granddaughter Stephanie,” at which point the person would introduce themselves to me, Nana would get their name and everybody was saved some embarrassment. I hate to blow the secret for anyone who was the recipient of this exchange, but there it is!
There have been a lot of changes in Greenfield since I grew up; new businesses and buildings. One thing that always confuses me is that now you don’t know when spring officially starts anymore. I see some confused looks—you know what I mean—back in the day, spring was officially here when the Dairy Queen opened; now that it’s open year-round then you’ve lost that whole rhythm-of-the-seasons-of-the-earth thing.
One thing Greenfield taught me is the importance in getting involved in your community, especially if you want to see things happen; you know, part of that philosophy of “Think globally; act locally.” I was in grade school when I was annoyed that there was no sidewalk going from Sherwood Hills, where I lived, to the park. This of course meant I was not allowed to ride my bike to the park. If you’re a kid and can’t ride your bike to the park, well, something needs to be done.
My class wrote letters to the editor on this matter, stressing the importance of the access to the park that would be increased by this sidewalk, and the number of people who would benefit from it. Within the next year, the sidewalk was complete, thus allowing countless kids to go to the park and get out of their parents hair.
I think the value of growing up in Greenfield can be made clear by contrasting the culture of Greenfield with that of Bloomington. My parents find it infinitely hilarious that I thought I was so liberal until I went to school at IU and discovered just how conservative I actually am. Here’s a good example: I’m sitting around listening to everyone talk:
“Man, our civil liberties are under attack,” “That’s just so uncool about the government surveillance and all this profiling.” Finally I’d had enough: “Everybody, just stop talking; just listen to me because I have something to say. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Let me just tell you that this isn’t anything compared to what I’m used to, growing up in Greenfield; you don’t know what it’s like to get a speeding ticket and your parents already know by the time you get home! If you think getting screened at the airport is a big deal then you should come home with me for Thanksgiving! I’d much rather have the government reading my email than my parents reading my mind, which is what happens when you’re from Greenfield!”
I found a button that I gave to my Mom that I think perfectly sums up the dichotomy of living in Bloomington, while still being influenced by my Greenfield upbringing: “Question authority, but not your Mother!” It is definitely a rude awakening when you realize that the advice you give people is verbatim what your parents have been telling you for over three decades.
So, here’s an idea for all you parents out there who are concerned with your kids wanting to get tattoos, piercings, hair colors that don’t occur in nature—you know, whatever it is so that they can stand out and be different. Send them someplace all liberal so that the only way they can stand out is by being really conservative! That’s some reverse psychology!
It’s funny because the Democrats and Republicans in Greenfield really aren’t all that different from each other, compared to the gap that separates them in Bloomington. I’ve been talking to people before and thought, “Wow, you really think that!” I’ve been told that the solution to all my problems would be to have my aura balanced. I replied, “My Dad thinks I just need to eat more fiber.” I’m just so used to being though of as not a very interesting person because in Bloomington I’m up against some pretty stiff competition!
As an example, we just had the Lotus World Music & Arts Festival, which included musical acts from all over the world, and visitors from everywhere else as well. My favorite act was, surprisingly, a marching band that led the street parade and included people on stilts; their costumes were a combination of Moulin Rouge meets Cabaret meets the Rocky Horror Picture Show; craziness!
As much as I like living in Bloomington, I fully realize that any job you are fortunate enough to obtain in Bloomington could be done elsewhere with half the education, and you’d make twice as much!
So back to Riley Days. A celebration of Greenfield culture, a homecoming, a birthday party for our very own poet. I remember getting excited as a kid; there was so much to look forward to—marching in the parade of flowers, watching the “grown up” parade, the entertainment, beauty queens, crowds and booths—I can actually remember when we used to have carnival rides—that was a long time ago! It marks the official start of autumn; when I leave for work even now as an adult on a brisk October morning, I know exactly what Riley meant with “The Frost is on the Pumpkin;” I get it.
On the morning of the parade of flowers, my Mom would go out and pick some marigolds from the yard and put a paper towel around them, then a baggie, then some foil. After all, they were going to be in a locker all morning, plus had to withstand handling by a grade school kid.
I was always envious of the kids who would have these fancy store-bought flowers in all these exotic colors; I couldn’t understand why I had boring old marigolds that everybody had in their yard. “Exactly,” Mom would say, “These are flowers that grow in our area, that are currently in bloom. They go with the season.” I didn’t understand the value in that at the time; I do now; I get it.
I remember one year I really wanted to get into the Riley spirit; I was always into old costumes and playing dress up. I brought with me a sunbonnet that my grandmother gave me. I was putting it on before the parade of flowers when a couple of other girls started in on me, making fun of me for dressing like someone from Little House on the Prairie. I was so embarrassed from their ridicule that I took it off. Later on I was more ashamed of myself for the fact that I did take it off. I wonder if those girls ever got it.
We would parade to the statue, clutching our flowers, some more careful than the others (I was one of the careful ones, because I “got it.”) We would walk up to the statue that was as tall as the courthouse and hand our flowers to a grown up who would have to get on a ladder to get the flowers all the way to the top because the statue was so tall.
It’s funny; I was there yesterday at the statue for the parade of flowers, and I didn’t need a ladder. The base only came up to my shoulder, and the actual statue didn’t reach to the top of the courthouse. How can that be? Did the statue shrink; did it sink into the ground; did it melt from years of standing in the rain?
That reminds me of another discovery. When I was a kid, I had a box of dress up clothes; my friends and I would spend hours in the basement making different costumes from this endless box of possibilities; we would have tea parties and balls and act out fairy tales. Years later I came across the box; I was excited to look inside and revive those memories. But it was strange; I couldn’t find the fancy lady dress, or the ball gown, or the fairy godmother—all I could see were a bunch of dusty, water-stained old curtains that smelled like the basement. I know—I guess Mom must have sold the nice dresses in the garage sale and used the box for storage for other things—I’m sure that’s what happened.
So here I am, now, on the other side of the statue, receiving the flowers instead of giving them. Kind of scary to think that now *I’m* the adult supervision! And at this breakfast; I’m the speaker, rather than an observer. Before I was the child as a recipient of what the festival had to offer; now I’m the adult giving back, playing a part in making the festival happen so that the next generation can continue to enjoy this tradition.
I’ve come full circle; I’m back where I started, yet in a different place. And that can only happen when you come home, to where you’re from, to Greenfield.