Cindy and I chose a smaller town to live in because we felt the city lacked a sense of "community". We wanted to be part of the town, not just living in the town. What a small town lacks in storefronts and ammenities, it more than makes up for in character and personality. Seldom is this more on display than during Christmas time.
One of the biggest draws for us to move to Oak Ridge was the art and culture that permeates throughout the town. I'm not talking endless galleries and theaters like you might find in Santa Fe or Ashville. No, the arts in Oak Ridge are more "by the people" than "for the people". The Art Center is a public facility where you can learn how to do just about any fine art or craft in a weekly class or weekend workshop. Generations of artists come there to teach and learn from one another. We have a fantastic group of actors that perform in tiny historic theaters year round . There are dance groups, choirs, orchestra, and a community band second to none! Cindy lends her percussion expertees to the band, while I am involved with activities at the Art Center. We are once again proud to be part of a community, I believe, because we are truely part of the community. This brings us to Friday night.
This past Friday was the annual lighting of the community Christams tree. It sits on a prominent corner in town at the edge of the main city park. The property also contains our library, civic center, recreation center, and outdoor performance pavilion. So after the tree was to be lit, everyone was to gather for music and cookies in the rec center. Hundreds of people gathered around the tree buzzing with anticipation. Well, actually the buzzing may have been the sound of chattering teeth, for it was quite chilly out. The microphone didn't work, eliminating the need for the handful of local dignitaries to drag out the cerimony any longer than neccesary. Finally the croud counted down... TEN...NINE...EIGHT...(I wonder if anyone did a test run?) SEVEN...SIX...FIVE...(Just saying, it would be kinda' funny if after all this...)FOUR...THREE...TWO...(LIGHT! LIGHT!!)ONE!!! Nothing. I jinxed it! Oh crud, hope nobody can read minds. Wait, seriously? Nobody tried this out before the croud gathered? Nobody was assigned to stand guard over the plug? Had we elected Chevy Chase as our Mayor while I wasn't looking? As overdressed dignitaries held cell phones toward the ground searching for the power cord, and members of the crowd shouted helpful tips like, "Try the cord!", the children had figured out that you simply had to continue counting down from ten, over and over again, to trigger the display to life. Finally, the tree came to life, followed by a rousing cheer. It was time for some music!
The music for the evening was provided by a local grade school choir, a Junior High orchestra ensamble, and the community band. All three groups did quite well, but I was intrigued the most by the singing grade school kids. There were about sixty of them and the song selection was anything but simple. The directer did a fantastic job keeping them focused and professional. Yet I couldn't ignore that a few of the kids just had the spirit in them. One girl was positioned in the back row on the very edge, most likely because she moved four feet in any direction while dancing; be there music or not! Another little fellow had a new facial expression for each and every word out of his mouth. But the highlight of the evening came at the very last note, of the very last song, called " Peace! ". The smallest boy in the back row, who had behaved perfectly all night, THRUST his fists and arms up in the air, fanned slightly to the side, and held them there like a rock and roll icon! "YES" He had done it! "YES...YES!!!" It was the most authentic display of self gratification I have ever witnessed in my life. he didn't look for accolades, praise, or a cheap laugh from the crowd. He had done it. And dang-it, he was celabrating! Eyes closed, chin down, and fists up! Rock on little buddy, rock on!
In the coming year I encourage you to become a part of your community. Join a community band, teach a class, become a volunteer firefighter, help clean up a stream or roadway. And when you're done? Hands up, head down, and soak it all in. Enjoy!