In the next week and a half, three big days are on the calendar: Super Bowl Sunday, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. Of the three, I think Valentine’s Day fits Forest Park the best.
Super Bowl Sunday doesn’t work. We’re not the kind of town to host the Super Bowl. Or maybe that’s what we should do with the Altenheim property — build a 100,000 seat stadium there and get Ferrara Pan to put up the money for it. We’d give them the naming rights, of course. How does Lemonhead Stadium sound?
I hear you saying, “That’s not a real good fit.”
I guess Ash Wednesday is a better fit for Forest Park. You know, “ashes to ashes” and “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” After all, we’re the village famous for having nearly half-a-million dead people “living” here. We could change our logo to “Big city access, cemetery charm.”
I agree. I don’t think that’s a good one either.
So I think Valentine’s Day is the one that fits this town best. Freminnie Jodoin’s funeral is an example why. Hundreds of people stood in line for an hour to pay their respects and hug Jimmy. In my last column I attributed that relationship orientation in part to our small size. I bumped into Chief Glinke the other day. He greeted me, “Hi, Tom,” and I responded with “Hey, Steve.” No titles. No formalities.
At village events, whether it’s something going on at the Community Center or the Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting at McAdam’s “barn,” there’s always a lot of hugging and kissing as people greet each other.
That’s our genius — relationships. We don’t have something like the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Oak Park and River Forest to attract visitors from around the world. I do find interesting some of the famous people buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, but that probably isn’t enough of a draw for us to build a visitors center at the corner of Madison and Harlem.
What we’re good at isn’t immediately obvious to visitors. They might enjoy Jimmy’s gregarious welcome if they happen to dine at his restaurant or remark that paying for a parking ticket was almost a pleasant experience because of the friendly people at village hall.
But they would have to live here for a while to really appreciate who we are. We’re like a Valentine’s Day card you get in the mail. You have to open us and read us to appreciate who we are and what we’re good at.
I’ve lived here for 33 years. When I first arrived, I thought we’d stay for maybe five years, pay our dues and then move on to a cooler town — like Oak Park, for example. Except for frequenting the pool at The Park in the summer, we’d go east of Harlem Avenue all the time for a movie or interesting restaurants or stimulating intellectual conversation.
I confess that it took me the better part of those 33 years to appreciate what I had in this village with its small-town charm.
It’s important for each family to celebrate the gifts that are authentically theirs. We don’t love our family because we are the best. We love them because they are our family. We have a shared history — if we hang around long enough — and strong attachments. To say “I love you” is the not to say, “you’re better than other people.”
I say “I love you” because I’ve had the privilege of getting to know you well, what attracts people to you and what you try to hide. Which makes me think that we all need to go to an Ash Wednesday service — or something similar if you’re not Christian — to get our heads on straight before we try to do Valentine’s Day.
Because there are a whole lot of people for whom Feb. 14 is especially painful as they are not in a loving relationship, and the roses and cards and the French creams from Maison de Bon Bon they see being given and received just amplifies their loneliness.
Also because relationships, even when loving, can’t carry the freight for the long haul. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Frem Jodoin is gone. That ultimately is the way it works. Maybe you’ve heard the joke about the older couple exchanging Valentine’s cards and the wife says to the husband, “If you die before I do, I’ll kill you.”
One thing I would like us to add to our wonderful appreciation of relationships is a sense of mission, not to ourselves, not to our own family, but, to mention a nearby example, to Maywood. I covered the Community of Congregations annual meeting in Oak Park the other night and they have built a bridge to their neighbor to the east which includes 10 different programs in which they share their wealth of knowledge, energy and vision.
A few years ago, when I asked Pastor Jacques Conway, a minister in Maywood, to describe the relationship between his town and Forest Park, he replied, “There is none.”
I dare say that Forest Park “gets” relationships better than Oak Park. After writing newspaper stories about Oak Park for years, I think they are way ahead of us in terms of having a sense of mission to those outside their city limits, who in God’s eyes are just as much their sisters and brothers as their fellow Oak Parkers. A sense of mission can partner with solid relationships to make families and villages healthy and strong.
Can we say, “It’s because we love this town that we want to build on the good foundation we have and better carry the obligations that go with being blessed”?