I grew up in a small Kansas town with a population of 1,100 people. My most vivid memories of beauty came from my summers growing up there, particular during the summers of 1986-1991 when I was 6-11yrs old. Summers today are not what summers back then used to be. Those days (and location) held innocence, freedom, security, comfort, "home". Most summer days were filled with walks (barefoot of course) "downtown" to get the mail. Yes, folks, I really thought that mail carriers in the movies were fictional because in my hometown we had one central post office where the whole town went and had personal mailboxes. In fact, to this day, you can still address a letter to: Mr & Mrs So-and-so; Dighton, Kansas. Believe it or not, that is all you need, because the mail people know exactly - by heart - which box was yours. Up until I was 16yrs old, you only had to punch in the last 4 digits of the phone number to reach who you were calling. For example: if your number is 555-2222 you only needed to dial 2222. Our number was 2223, and incidentally the "emergency" number you dialed was 2222 (911 did not come around Dighton until my last year of high school). We frequently received calls for fires, wrecks, or lost dogs. It was sorta fun to get the gossip first hand!
Summer evenings were spent with our neighborhood friends (about 10 of us total) playing Gray Wolf, Capture the Flag, or whatever game entailed running around our neighbors' yards within a 3 block radius chasing one another. Often times, we would stop at random neighbors' houses along the way and get lemonade, cookies, or whatever that person seemed to have baking. Our parents just knew we were "outside" and that suited them just fine.
Summers also meant the Lane County Fair was coming to town. Every single person from Dighton met on Main Street and waited for the parade to start. You sat in lawn chairs beside people from the "other side of town" but were like your brothers because you had known them your whole life - or had known their mother, father, brother, sister, or babysitter! I can still smell the breeze as it rolled in off the wheat fields ready to be harvested - or just harvested. That time of year usually meant that a hint of rain was in the air and you looked for developing thunderheads nearby.
With anticipation you waited for the first firetruck to round the corner onto Main Street as kids gathered in flocks with their candy-collecting sacks in full grasp. Laughter, chatter, and smell of cotton candy filled the air as the each float passed with streamers of all colors waving in the breeze.
The parade would end on the west side of Main Street (which was just a mile long) and cars would follow it out to the fairgrounds which was just off of Main. As evening set in, the sun and parade faded, and the sky was filled with a new light - the light of carnival rides. Once at the fairgrounds, the air was filled with the same aroma - but add corn dogs, nachos, and funnel cakes to the mix. The sounds were the same as on Main as well, but now carnival music and the sounds of popping corn were now present. We would search for friends not seen since school ended 2 months prior and, of course, looked for cute boys to play "eyes" with. Our parents would drop us off and give us our $10 for rides and junk, never to be seen again until curfew. Abduction was not any word in the Dighton vocabulary.
Today I looked up the word "beautiful" in the dictionary. This is what I found:
beau·ti·ful : 1. having beauty; having qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about, etc.; delighting the senses or mind: a beautiful dress; a beautiful speech.
You see, I don't have a materialistic noun I say or think of when I hear the word "beautiful". Instead, I close my eyes and I see the blue, white, red, and green streamers waving in the muggy breeze that has a hint of rain to it. And shortly after that breeze, the smell of cotton candy, freshly mowed grass, wheat fields, and funnel cakes envelopes my sense of smell. Then, lastly, I hear the chatter and laughter of the people I knew ... back home. It's then that I hope, just for a minute, that my kids will find the same meaning of the word "beautiful".