Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dum Dums in the Gutter, Mashed Moon Pies on the Street

On one of the last days of 2013, I asked my daughter, Laura, if she had any resolutions for the New Year. “The same as every year,” she answered, “to have fun.” I might have been concerned that she didn’t have something more substantial to aim for, if she wasn’t only 9-years-old. But now that I think about it, isn’t that the goal of most everyone despite the lofty, life-altering resolutions we make?
I participated in one search for fun, early - too early - on a Saturday morning in December.  Santa made his annual ride on a fire truck through our city. His drive down our street is preceded by an hour or more of wailing sirens as he makes his way through town, tossing candy to the children in various states of dress gathered in front of their houses. But this year we were too deep in sleep to realize his impending arrival until he was upon us.  We sprang from our beds, and Laura stumbled into her purple crocs, dashing outside in her nightgown with her long, brown hair streaming behind her. I grabbed a plastic Kroger’s sack and staggered outside after her so she would have something to hold her handful of broken peppermints snatched from the sidewalk, rock-hard Double Bubble plucked from the yard, and cracked Dum Dums scrounged from the gutter.  Up and down the street, the neighborhood children scrambled to find the treasures that had been hurled into the grass and leaves as their parents looked on with uncombed hair standing on end and steaming cups of coffee clutched in their hands. Despite the early hour, the excitement of the children was contagious as they squealed in delight over the cheap candy.
This scene is replayed every year on the morning after the Carols in the Park celebration held in McNair Park, just around the corner from my house. I live in El Lago, population about 3,000. But we are part of the Houston metropolitan area, Houston being the 4th largest city in the United States. Neil Armstrong and his family were living in my city when he walked on the moon. Astronaut Ed White II was his next-door- neighbor, and after his passing in a tragic launch-pad fire, the elementary school situated in the middle of El Lago was renamed in his honor. (If you’re interested, you can visit our city’s Astronaut Wall of Fame at ).  El Lago has a small-town feel, despite its location. McNair Park is one of our four city parks and was named in honor of resident astronaut Ray McNair who died in the Challenger shuttle explosion. Our city celebrations take place there, with our mayor cooking hot dogs and hamburgers, children splashing in the pool or sliding down giant inflatable slides, and neighbors chatting as we sit in lawn chairs in the grass. Carols in the Park features the children’s choir from Ed White Elementary, hot chocolate provided by the city, and cookies brought by the neighbors. Santa arrives to hear the wishes of all the girls and boys. And the next morning, he makes his candy-laden jaunt through the neighborhood.
This year, as I stood watching the candy fly through the air, I was reminded of the Mardi Gras parades I’ve attended in the city of Fairhope, Alabama, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. Mobile claims to be the site of the earliest organized Mardi Gras celebration in the U.S., and as suburbia migrated across the Bay, the krewes and floats soon followed. On numerous frosty February nights, I’ve stood on the concrete sidewalks of Fairhope, fingers numb, with the cold snaking up my legs through the soles of my shoes, and waited, peering through the white smoke of my own breath, for the floats to pass by. With music blaring, the masked revelers would sling brightly colored plastic beads through the air. My son, Davis, was just a baby, and he would sit, tucked down in his stroller under several blankets, with his blue eyes big and his white, little hands clasping the sides of the brim of his hat, wondering what all the commotion was about. Those of us waiting would reach high for the flying plastic beads and bend low for the Moon Pies dropped on the ground. I’m of the firm opinion that a Moon Pie tastes best after it has been stomped on and then heated slightly in the microwave. I recommend eating it with a fork after that.
My point to these recollections is that whether it’s adults getting excited about plastic beads and Moon Pies or children squealing over cheap candy, we’re all just looking to have a little fun. Families tromp around the zoo or settle into seats at the circus. Couples go to movies or dine at restaurants. Folks packed like sardines into cars with their luggage tethered precariously to the top on pilgrimages to a beach or an amusement park. And for people of all ethnicities and religions, whether the individuals are well-heeled or just getting by, despite any demographic qualifier used to sort and divide us, everyone has the same high hopes - that a good time will be had by all.
When Davis was just learning to talk, he said he wanted to have “a yittle bit of fun.” And now Laura is searching for the same thing. As I waited on the sidewalk outside my house on a December morning watching smiling children wave to Santa and delight over the candy he tossed to them, I knew that a happy life really just comes down to this - a little bit of fun found in candy pieces dropped into the leaves or foil-wrapped pastries smashed on the street.

May your tea be sweet and your cotton high,
Leigh Ann Thornton