My sister recently asked me, "Do you ever have the desire to stand kettles anymore?" I was 16 when I did my first shift at the Salvation Army kettle, ringing a bell enthusiastically in the frigid Western New York air, raising money for the work of The Salvation Army. My response to Janet was immediate: "No." I gladly drop a few bills in the kettle when I pass, and highly respect the service done in this country and around the world through those donations. But do I miss the chilled toes and fingers, the aching back? No, I don’t miss that.
Yet her question prompted a train of thought into what I do miss, not just from Salvation Army ministry, but from the various places I’ve lived, the people I’ve been privileged to meet.
O, how I miss the Sahlens hot dogs from Buffalo, and suckers and waffles from Crystal Beach. The pasties from Rockie’s in Wharton, N.J. The genuine Philly cheesesteaks and the cold, doughy pretzels sold on the street corner in the City of Brotherly Love. And now, I’m missing the A&W in Ashland, as well as donuts from Miller’s (Hawkins). While my life is not defined by what I eat, (really, it isn’t), I laughed at myself when I realized my first "what I miss" reaction revolved around food.
But I also miss early morning walks along the Niagara River with a trusted friend, and playing the bassoon. I miss the stimulation of college and seminary days. I miss the hustle and bustle of the big cities, even though most of my time in Cleveland and Philadelphia was spent in contained neighborhoods.
Posts on Facebook this week reminded me of how much I miss the Ashland Christmas parade. My memories include walking with a group of bell-ringing kiddos, just minutes after finding out the Kroc project was in jeopardy, and perfecting the Miss America wave from the back of a convertible while nursing a sprained ankle. Heading to the parade along deserted streets on a sub-zero night, only to see the curbs lined with people who appeared out of thin air. Playing with the Kroc New Adventure band on a flatbed, while our mascot, RJ (our son), stood treacherously near the edge of the truck. And now, videos of my first absentee parade were highlighted by holiday fireworks. What a glorious night. I’m putting the parade on my calendar for next year.
I also miss the connections of a smaller community, of knowing others and being known by them. I recently attended a Christmas luncheon, changing into pajama pants when I got home. That evening, I needed to run to the store. "I’m in Canton — I should be safe, as I never see anyone I know when I go out." But my better self took control, urging me to put on something more presentable. Why? Family lore tells of cousin Judi, who took her husband to work and decided to run the car through the car wash — in her pajamas and curlers. The details are fuzzy, but either the car wash or her car broke down, and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Of course, that night I met someone I knew from Ashland at Big Lots. Go figure. Yet that’s also what I miss about Ashland, recognizing each other, stopping to chat in the aisles of Gerwig’s White Barn or at a booth in the Lyn-Way.
Ringing a bell in front of Tonawanda’s Twin Fair almost 50 years ago, I had no clue how Dr. Seuss’s words would evolve: "O, the places you’ll go," or in contrast, "O, the places — and people — you’ll miss." Relocation, separation, death — all leave us with a longing for what we knew, for those we loved — and still love.
From time to time, my mouth still waters for Rocky’s pasties and authentic Philly cheesesteak. I long for friends who’ve moved, for a generation that has passed away and I cherish the memories those longings evoke. But I also claim Dr. Seuss’ words: "Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting." New tastes, new places, new faces, and even fireworks at the parade. Can’t get any better than that!
JoAnn Shade, author of "Only in Ashland: Reflections of a Smitten Immigrant," can be reached at email@example.com.