Everyone Has One

You know what they say about opinions, don’t you? Everyone has one. Everyone. And even if they don’t come right out and TELL you what it is… it’s typically written all over their face.

As I mopped up the remnants of the salt and snow still lingering on my hardwood floors from moving day, I reflected upon the array of varied encounters I’d just had at the local grocery store. Giving Kelly Clarkson and Kid Rock a run for their money as I boldly belted out and occasionally butchered their lyrics over the sound of the stereo… I shook my head, smiled and laughed to myself.

You’ve gotta love life in a small town. Or not. I don’t really care. It’s just that there are times when this unique existence is not for the faint of heart. Like, for example, when you’ve recently (and apparently shockingly to some) quit your “perfectly good job” to run off with some guy to the big city in pursuit of a brand NEW life. Just. Like. That.

It was a perfectly normal Tuesday afternoon in the booming metropolis of Minerva, Ohio (population 3,500… give or take) when I entered the grocery store in jeans and Uggs to buy some milk, cereal and cleaning supplies for the remainder of my time here. You know… to tie up loose ends, get my teeth cleaned, have lunch with a few friends and such before Stanley and I hit the interstate in search of concrete pastures.

I wasn’t even inside the automatic doors when I received my first interrogation. The second came in the produce department, another in the chip aisle and still another in frozen foods. Everyone… Everyone seemed bent on me answering three questions: Did you take the day off from work? Do you have a job yet in the city? Have you set a date?

Did you notice in my account of these interractions that no one… NOT ONE PERSON asked me if I was happy or excited about my engagement and new adventure? Everyone just sort of looked at me with scowls of confusion, concern or disbelief. Perhaps even shock and awe as they each, one by one—in the entryway, produce department, chip aisle and frozen foods—tilted their heads to the side as if to say: “Huh. I hear the words that are coming out of your mouth but I have no clue as to what you’re actually saying.”

Now what they really said to me was some version of: “Well then, my very best to you dear. Tell your parents I said hi.” And I happily pushed my cart forward… straight into the grasp of the next, fun, little Q&A’s. The future batch of opinions that will surely be waiting for me…

… At the check-out counter… in the parking lot… at the gas pump… the teller window… the waiting room…

Friday Night Lights: The Playoffs

Minerva Lions — 2011 NBC Champs / Photo courtesy of Liz Smith, 2011

Situated halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh lies a sleepy little village called Minerva, OH. And it’s pretty safe to say that inside this tiny speck on the map there isn’t much going on. Most of the year it is fairly quiet. Until football season that is.

Between the months of August and November Minerva and all of the surrounding specks on the map turn into quite different places. We may not have the ocean, the mountains, 365 days of sunshine or celebrities on parade — though we do have several zoos… But that’s another post for another day.

One thing we do have is high school football.

It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t from here just what all the fuss is about. But I can tell you that it’s about community and pride and the spirit of competition. It’s about cramming as many of your friends and neighbors and maybe your not-so-friendly neighbors into the bleachers on a crisp, Friday night and sharing an experience. Enjoying, for once, what it means to have everything in common… if only for a few hours.

In this place we love our team whether they are good or bad… but even more so when they’re good. And this year, in Minerva, the team is good. Really good. After completing a thrilling 10-0 season and securing the 2011 Northeastern Buckeye Conference Championship, they made history one week ago today by winning our first playoff game EVER. Our team has gone to the playoffs plenty of times, but we’ve never known what it’s like to go on after that. And while that may not seem like a very big deal to you… trust me, around here… IT’S A BIG DAMN DEAL.

Tonight, for the first time in the history of small town Minerva Lions football, we will get our chance…

The following is something that I wrote three years ago, during my first football season after moving back “home” from New Mexico. I honestly don’t know that I can capture the emotion of it any better than I did in my original Friday Night Lights piece. For those of you who don’t quite “get it” when it comes to small mid-western towns OR football… please tune in on Monday when I’ll have something different to offer.

But for all of you who do get it and who will be cheering from the stands right beside me… Enjoy… Post this to your Facebook page… Email it to your friends… But most importantly… GO LIONS!!

Photo courtesy of Liz Smith, 2011

Look-a-Like Towns

I grew up in Minerva, Ohio. It is a small town (technically a village) and is situated on US Route 30. Along Rt. 30 there are many other little towns that look quite similar. They typically have a Dairy Queen or dairy bar, a few banks, some churches, a park or two, perhaps a red brick school with a playground and of course, houses that resemble those in and around Minerva. To a small child who lives there, these other little “burgs” probably look very much like home to them.

Such was the case with my youngest niece, Juliann, my sister’s daughter. She is now 13 and would probably hate that I’m telling stories about her as she is at “that age” — you know, the age where you can get the death stare AND a bear hug all within the span of 5 minutes. Anyway, I’m willing to take the risk.

One glorious, fall afternoon my parents decided to take little Juliann with them for a ride in the country. She was about 4 or 5 at the time. They have a Jeep Wrangler and it was the perfect kind of day for leaving the top off, loading up their granddaughter and Sadie (their golden retriever) and heading out.

As is popular to do in this region of the country that time of year, they planned on doing some “leaf peeping.” They drove around for hours on country roads gazing at the stunning fall foliage and soaking up us much of the color and warm sunshine that they could before winter crept in. And although I can’t say for certain, I’ll bet they stopped at one of those dairy bars and had a hotdog and an ice-cream cone or sundae on their autumn adventure.

Coming home, they drove through several small towns near and along Rt. 30 and as they passed through each one, my dad would hear a tiny little voice from directly behind him in the backseat utter the question: “Are we in Minerva NOW, grandpa?” Dad would answer: “No, not yet Juliann, this is… <insert name of aforementioned look-a-like burg here>… but we will be soon.”

Somewhere along the way, as kids do after a day in the sun and wind and with a tummy full of ice cream, Juliann fell asleep. When she awoke they were FINALLY driving through Minerva. My dad, assuming that she would be very excited to be home at last, asked her: “Where are you NOW, Juliann?” 
And her answer was priceless…

“I’m right BEHIND you, grandpa!”