Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ohio Christmas Letter 2015: Settling In

People told us we'd be bored when we moved from Minnesota's Twin Cities to Milan, Ohio, a village in northern nowhere.

Small and quiet. Nothing to do. No place to go.

Neighbors greeted us with cookies, a calendar, tomatoes, strawberry jam, flowers--all local and lovely and tied with ribbon. We've moved seven times and never experienced such hospitality. Anywhere.

Cliff connected by riding his bicycle to the square each Tuesday for the vintage car show. He quickly learned the best country vegetable stands, the names of nearly half the residents, and was urged to run for the school board. He discovered repairing our lengthy picket fence would take more than one season because passing residents kept pausing to admire his efforts. A local carpenter even stopped to help replace the brittle gate.

One evening Cliff rushed inside from walking the dog, determined that I follow him back to the nearby historic cemetery, saying: "It's a surprise! You have to see this!" And he was right. Under the star-filled sky, swarms of fireflies, gleaming reminders of our childhood summers, sparked and splashed against the blackness. "Remember us," the souls seemed to call. So we did, as we strolled among the beautifully carved headstones: Ohlemacher, Mead, Cummings, McLane...

For Labor Day, we celebrated the annual Milan Melon Festival, complete with a parade of marching bands, dance teams, scouts, veterans, and queens representing various lakes, cheeses, grapes, and apples. For me, the award-winning teenaged twirlers stole the show. Pausing on hot asphalt, they tossed batons into the air, higher than Main Street's three-story buildings. Then with a glance upward, they caught those silver flashes with nothing more than five fingers and a smile. The crowd cheered, even for the rare missed catch. The world is filled with good people indeed.

We created a flurry of excitement this fall when a construction team tackled the boxed gutters on our red brick house built in1859. They removed a rotten corbel, and for three consecutive nights I heard something in the attic. "The wind," Cliff said. "Wind doesn't scamper and scratch," I insisted. The worker returned to place the new corbel, and a snowy owl flew out of the vacant opening, its enormous wingspan nearly knocking the man off his ladder. Neighbors gathered and assured us years had passed since such an owl had been spotted in the area. A rare and magnificent creature, he hoots to us occasionally, thankful for the brief lodging, I assume.

Last week I made my social debut at the local adult book club. Although I'm not a joiner by nature, I can, if nothing else, read a novel and talk about it. With the colorful Christmas lights twinkling above me as I walked along, I expected to pass Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed singing Buffalo Gal, if you know their classic film It's A Wonderful Life. Inside our restored Carnegie library, a tree made from artfully stacked books decorated the lobby. Children made garlands of paper light bulbs to honor Milan's famous citizen, Thomas Edison.

That's the kind of town we've come to. Big things don't happen here. We're not on anyone's map.

But it has everything I need.

As I get ready for bed each night, I hear the town square bell chiming the hour while a speeding train hums in the distance. Best of all, from our upstairs window, the Milan Presbyterian Church bell tower is our nightlight. Its jeweled stained-glass windows cast rainbows across our sleepy hearts. When Maggie (who, by the way, is a glorious success at the College of Wooster) was four years old, she once told me she was bored. I confounded her by saying, "Only stupid people are bored." For us, life has never been better. But we're the kind of people who are devoted to hand painting a fence and gathering wild bittersweet from the woods.

Wherever you are on whatever map, we hope the same happiness for you.

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