Bedford Falls? Mayberry?
Or small town in Kentucky?
It's difficult to say, really. When my dad and his fiance came down to visit this weekend, we went to "An Old-Fashioned Christmas" on Saturday evening. Now, we missed the town tree lighting (think the town tree in Whoville) and the Mayor's address, and the elf costume contest. Which is fine with me, really, because it was like minus 70 degrees outside. Or maybe it was like 30 degrees outside. It felt the same.
"But," you say, "what IS an old-fashioned Christmas, Big Red Couch?"
Ah, I will tell you, gentle reader, right between blowing my nose and sipping my piping hot coffee, and rasping out statements in deep throaty tones.
The Local Police barricade off several hundred feet of Main Street - which, by the way, is all of downtown - and everybody and their neighbor and sister in law and dogs on leashes goes out and walks up and down.
Because all the businesses are open, their windows and doors letting out streams of light in the dark, and they have people playing music inside on keyboards and guitars and Bluegrassy instruments, and they serve hot chocolate and hot cider and ginger ale, and cookies and pretzels and cream puffs and fudge, and everybody stands in line and then accidentally blocks the doorway because they just saw an old friend and begin to catch up with them, and you get to see people you never see anymore, and someone sings Christmas music in the background, and you walk around with your pockets stuffed with cups of leftover pretzels and complimentary calendars from the drug store. The quaint marketing firm takes Christmas portraits of you and your friends goofing off, and the City Hall features town council members doling out little sausages from a crock pot, and the mayor still looks Dickensian from his earlier speech because he's dressed in an 1800's suit, and they queue you out the other door which goes through the Police Department lobby. This year, I didn't go in the beauty shop/gift shop that always features puppy chow, but I did go in the new bank, which thoughtfully put out marshmallows with their hot chocolate. I also give two thumbs up to their fudge. While we didn't go to the Methodists' chili and sandwich supper, we did stop in at the post office and help ourselves to snacks, which my editor's wife was serving with a smile. I need to remember to ask her where she got her top, it was stunning.
What's that? You want to know what my favorite stops are?
Well, I'm partial to the drug store, because it's an old-fashioned one with a working soda fountain/restaurant, with the pharmacy window at the back. Their brick oven pizza is a-MAZ-ing. And a lady from my favorite old church sings there every year, and they used to give out Norman Rockwell calendars, though I dock them a point this year because instead they were pocket-sized normal calendars. I also enjoy City Hall, because the town council pours you Diet Coke and sometimes my friend Barney is working there.
But the other places are delightful, too, and it's fun to see new businesses open up, or to visit businesses you don't normally stop by.
What's that? You don't believe it could really be this idyllic? Well, that's true. There was a scandalous moment when two dog-walking perusers allowed their canines a bit too close to each other, which resulted in a lot of barked threats. But it came to naught, because the owners just reined in the leashes. So, crisis averted.
I saw a friend I haven't really seen much since we were both in Oxford, England for a week, and his wife, who is the world's only woman who is both a model and truly sweet and kind. I saw a seminary friend who has always had a beautiful spirit, and now has developed a svelte figure to complement it. I saw my pastor from my favorite old church, and my good friend Emily, who was bundled up head-to-toe, and another friend, a real, live Kentuckian named Bubba - really - whose roommate's name is - really - Catfish. I saw my ol' ringbearer, who chattered his teeth and said "I-i-i n-need g-g-gloves."
So, this Christmas, if you're tempted to feel jaded, cynical, or discouraged, be of good cheer. There are still places like this in the world - places of community and welcome, hospitality and warmth, hot chocolate and peanut butter fudge. It was truly a Mitford scene; Father Tim and Cynthia might actually have been mingling in the crowd, I'm not sure.
Though my cold didn't wear any better for it, my spirit did. Plenty of bells hanging from shop doors were ringing constantly: I think Clarence did manage to get his wings.