The slow rise from a comfortable bed. Blue Moon for coffee and a cinnamon roll. Then back to Imperial for one more hug from Lisa and Harry. The short drive to Sutton, having decided to pare down the bicycle ride by half. The humidity kicking in. Searching for wifi. The paradox of being present in the age of connection. Instagrams of back roads and main streets of old towns clinging to life. Tandem blogs. Facebook posts. How I just wanted to disappear for a little while. The humidity, somehow, calling me back. Here. Here. The Sutton Library and 10:30 storytime and a slew of kids singing nursery rhymes. The young mothers we spoke to about our trip. Getting back on the bicycle. Thirty miles to Friend. Stopping at 20. Slushy lemonade and a call for a pickup and resting on the shaded grass. Then, with time to spare, a detour to York and Lee’s Marble Museum. Inside, a million glass orbs, like little earths, each carrying a particular magic inside. The startle of Starbucks and Stef’s jubilation. Fries from Wendy’s – the first fast food of the trip. Guilty pleasure. Arriving on 2nd street. Chalk welcomes. Posters in windows. Carey’s relief at our arrival. The big deal this was. How to reinvent a town still held firm by old roots. The necessity of both vision and persistence. How this kind of love needs commitment. How something does break, eventually. A window, opening. The kids who gathered on bicycles by the Daisy Queen for our escort. The town cop with his lights swiveling, leading the way. The heat, the heat, the heat. The unveiling of the library. A beautiful courtyard with donated flowers. One by one, the books going in. The trail of kids and mothers and strollers. Then inside and gratitude, again, for air conditioning. The crack of a can of root beer. Breadsticks and marinara and perfectly grilled vegetables with just-made babaganoush. The blond boys and tomboy girls and toddlers sleepy from heat. The boy who held hands with everyone. The words “dance” and “tractor” colliding on the typewriter. Reading aloud. The earnest listening. Balloon animals and facepainting. The wine tasting next door. Retelling the story. The men at the bar in front. Wishing the cowboy poet from Hershey was here to wave them in to the back room. Tiny books as conversation openers. The coolness of the white zin. The big piano. Carey as ringmaster. How good it felt not to be in control. Late-night pizza and tales of cats with kidney stones and tales of survival and a bath to soak in, and a house full of memories and how the moon, the moon, was almost full.
Amy says . . .
A PARADE! I kid you not we rolled into Friend, Nebraska, and there was a parade of kids and parents and even a police escort waiting for us at the Daisy Queen on the edge of town. They all started clapping and cheering when they saw us coming up the street and I was waving like I was a newly crowned hero. The police officer rolled out, leading the way to Carey Potter and The Pour House and a high-spirited, festive night filled with the dedication of the beautiful new Little Free Library in the courtyard out back, our tandem poetry, a clown, a delicious array of food provided by Harold Stone of Stones Thoreau, teenage babysitters and a storyteller for the kids paired with a wine tasting for their parents. The night was filled with laughter and ease and poetry and patience and balloon swords and face painting and community and new friends and words like “brave” and “tractor” and “brothers” and “dance.”
But that parade. I’ll never forget the parade that started the evening. The little boys were excited by the police car and stayed close behind his flashing lights, a couple of the smaller kids held hands and stuck close to their moms, and one young girl kept pace on foot right next to Maya and me in the middle. After a short chat about the boys and their speed, she asked us if we knew what spina bifida was. She told us she had it. The hardest part was the heat, she said. The pills she had to take kept her from sweating and that made her extra hot. But wasn’t it amazing that she was walking with us? And walking so well?
It was, really. It was a miracle. And suddenly, she was the newly crowned hero.