Note: Because I have a number of Chinese readers, I’m including bits of smalltown American lifestyle for them to enjoy. Enjoy, Chinese readers!
When you live in a small Midwestern town of 3,000, there are always a few places in the town people go to meet one another. It might be the local grocery store, Sunday church, or even a restaurant everyone seems to hang out at for breakfast or lunch.
In Marshall, if you’ve been gone from the community for awhile, the summer meeting place is our Friday night city band concert held on the courthouse lawn in the 1920’s bandstand.
Band concerts by the Marshall City Band have been in existence since 1875. In fact, the Marshall City Band is the oldest city band in the state of Illinois and has been giving June to August concerts every Friday for 133 years. Residents bring their lawn chairs or drive up to park their cars along the main street to listen to the one-hour playing of marches, Broadway melodies, and classic and contemporary pieces followed by our American anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, which signals the end at 9 p.m.
Along with music always comes an ice cream social sponsored by various community organizations. For $1.50, anyone can choose from the long table of desserts, ranging from pies and cakes to brownies and cookies, and top that with a scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream for 50 cents. There’s also the 1870s popcorn wagon, owned and run by the Lion’s Club, which offers bags of fresh popcorn for 50 cents each.
Last Friday night, my mom and I walked the 15-minutes along our quiet streets to the city courthouse for this weekly music event. Part of that little visit uptown was to find a piece of cherry pie for my dad at the Marshall Historical Society’s ice cream social, but the other part was for me to see some of those I haven’t for over a year. Since there’s not a whole lot to do in Marshall, band concerts on a summer evening tend to bring out quite a crowd and last Friday didn’t disappoint.
As we walked along the courthouse sidewalks, I ran into a number of my neighbors and friends who warmly greeted me back from China. Many had me in their thoughts after the earthquake. Others mentioned my newspaper articles I sometimes send in to our local paper. Quite a few asked about my dog, Little Flower, and where she was staying during my time back in the States.
Making the rounds around the sidewalks and through the courthouse lawn, I certainly didn’t expect to see anyone out-of-place in our tight-knit community. Yet who should I come across but a very quiet older Asian couple, standing side-by-side while happily listening to the band and smiling.
Because we have a family-run Chinese restaurant just a few blocks from the concert, I assumed this couple might be visiting their restaurant relatives but after introducing myself, I found they are actually parents of a young Chinese woman on an American business stay with our local electronics’ company (TRW). They are from China’s Hebei Province, far to the north, and would be here for 6 months with their daughter. Both were very well-educated, the mother being a university professor in Qingdao, but neither spoke any English.
While I was quite surprised finding them here in Marshall, I’m sure they were just as surprised to find someone in their midst who could speak Chinese other than someone from their own country.
It was fun using my language skills again after being away from them for an entire week but it was also a bit strange. I’m so used to speaking Chinese in a Chinese environment. Here I was, speaking Chinese surrounded by "my" America : lawn chairs sprinkled about, Sousa marches bouncing overhead, buttery popcorn fragrances filling the air, cake and pie topped with scoops of ice cream floating by, and my small town neighbors everywhere in sight. It gave me a feeling of being in China and yet not in China, like a comforting blend between the two to welcome me back to my small town community but at the same time reminding me that China is still there, waiting for my return.
I left the Chinese couple (the Jin’s) with welcoming words to Marshall and a hope to see them again before I leave in two weeks. It must be a little lonely for them here, not having anyone to talk to or visit with, but I’m sure they’re happy to be with their daughter to experience a little piece of small town America. I certainly was happy to meet them and will keep an eye out for our Asian visitors next week when another band concert brings us all out as a community once again.
There was only one disappointment of the night and that was all the cherry pie was sold out. Next week, we’ll have to go a bit earlier so as not to miss out on bringing home my dad’s favorite dessert. That’ll give me one other thing to keep an eye out for this coming Friday evening.
From Marshall, as always, here’s wishing you "Ping An" (peace) for your busy week.