Norman Rockwell is Alive and Living in Illinois

On the lake we have a saying: “If you haven’t been towed in, then you’ve not been on your boat very much.”

In the airport, it’s much the same: “If you haven’t had a flight cancelled, then you’ve not been traveling very much.”

My latest misadventure came late Sunday night, as I was on my way back from a family reunion in Illinois. Imagine, if you will, a small, sleepy prairie town of 850 people. At one time it boasted two banks, two grocery stores, three gas stations, a grade school, a high school, and a movie theater, where I saw Steve McQueen in The Blob and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Tickets were thirty-five cents each.

Today, the two grocery stores and three gas stations have been replaced by one convenience store, both school buildings have been converted into apartments, and the movie theatre has been torn down.

But one thing not only has survived, but flourished: the (75th) annual New Windsor Fair and Rodeo. For one weekend in August the town swells to the bursting point as nearly 10,000 people from four states converge for three days of parades, horse shows, steer wrestling, carnival rides, home-made dinners in either the Lutheran or the Presbyterian church pavilions, bull riding, colorful clowns with corny jokes, trick horse acts, popcorn being hawked by Boy Scouts, and bingo sponsored by the American Legion.

It’s a Norman Rockwell weekend.

And I love it.

Every year I go back and do whatever I can. This year I helped with the parade on Thursday afternoon, fried hamburgers and washed dishes for the Presbyterians Thursday night, helped my mother and aunt get their entries into the Hobby Tent, served as bingo caller with the World War II vets (one being my 88-year-old father) late on Friday night, picked up trash and No Parking signs along the parade route on Saturday, visited with classmates, cousins, aunts, uncles, and old friends, and ate homemade brownies, cakes, cookies, pies, and anything else within reach — and still was able to somehow win the 60-and-over division of the annual two-mile run on Saturday morning.

But the glow quickly disappeared in O’Hara airport as I endured not one but two United planes with “mechanical problems,” both of which were, after four hours of delays, finally cancelled. I had a choice: take a US Airways plane as far as Charlotte that night or wait until they could get me on a United plane to Asheville twenty-four hours later.

And so, after a blissful weekend, I stepped off the plane in Charlotte at midnight and climbed into a rental car for a two-and-a-half hour drive over the mountains into Asheville. But not to be denied a silver lining in my dark cloud, I met two Asheville friends I had not seen for months, and the three of us kept each other awake with stories as we drove home, pulling into the driveway a few minutes before three in the morning.

Longing, I must admit, for another day sitting on the patio back in New Windsor with my parents and family, eating chocolate chip cookies and drinking lemonade, talking about the weather and the falling price of corn, and realizing, as we all need to remember, two words.

Family First.

Until next Monday,

Make it first on your list this week.


Top photo: Courtesy of

Middle photo: My brother, brothers-in-law, sisters, and parents at my childhood home.