Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Local Legends

Every town seems to have a few people who live their life to the fullest, who embrace their unique personality 110% and leave their mark on their community.

When I was a young adult in the early 90s, I was certain that I would always live an alternative lifestyle. I dyed my hair black or burgundy, shaved it, sprayed it into a haystack, wore copious amounts of black clothing and spent almost every waking moment listening to Goth, Punk, and Techno music. I started my college education at a small university in Alabama and most definitely was known as the "town freak." Granted, I had a little posse of like-minded friends, but nonetheless I managed to stick out like a sore thumb. When I transferred to KSU, I met even more like-minded friends and felt secure in my expression of individuality. My music tastes broadened to Grunge and Power Pop in my new setting, and my clothes slowly emerged from the black pit. Eventually I needed to get a job, so I even tamed my hairstyle. I just started getting tattoos instead.

Towards the end of my long stay at KSU, I ventured into more organic interests. I grew my hair out to the middle of my back, wore long skirts and sandals, and preferred Blues, Jazz and Folk music. Suddenly those days of the dark punk life seemed to harsh and cold.

Manhattan has several Local Legends. These are people that you may or may not know personally but have crossed paths with many and made a lasting impression. There is Terry the Candle Man, a middle-aged man that rides a 3-wheel bike with a basket full of his handmade candles that sells to provide for himself. Terry is a sweet, kind man who always has a smile and friendly hello as he passes you. Then there is Bob, the vision-impaired elderly man who has his own seat reserved at Auntie Mae's Parlor. It's just not the same without Bob around.

We only lived in Goodland for a couple of years, but Local Legend John Golden was impossible to miss. This patriarch of Goodland always knows the best place to eat lunch on certain days of the week and never fails to greet you with "Isn't today the best day of your life?!" You know he is going to say it and no matter how grumpy your day has been, you can't help but reply, "Yep, every day I am alive and my family is healthy is the best day of my life." He can tell you the elevation of every county in Kansas. He can tell you about any part of the world you have ever been, because he has been there too. His wisdom, enthusiasm and honesty are traits that I can only hope to achieve.

We've been in Hutchinson for two years now and there are two Local Legends that have caught our eyes. We don't know them yet and we haven't heard their story. The first person that we noticed is a man in his 60s who roller skates and wears big 1970s style headphones as he cruises around town. Regardless of the weather, he is out there skating to and fro. We have seen him eating at Fraise Drugstore, and the skates do not come off. The second one is a guy, could be 25-30 yrs old, with long dyed black hair, seen wearing a knee-length fur coat, fishnet stockings, and Ugg boots in the winter. His summer attire is fishnets with heels, short skirts and tank tops. The interesting thing is he is always on an old three speed bike. We have never seen him walking in a store or restaurant, he just is on the bike, back and forth across town. I'd love to hear what their stories are!

I'm in my mid-30s now and I have certainly merged into someone that blends in with the crowd. I feel so out of place at rock shows now. I'm more likely to point out haystacks to my sons then to consider it as a hairstyle. I don't yearn to be the young adult I was, but I don't want to be WalMart Mom either. My parenting choices are alternative to some, but I have a wonderful group of like-minded friends that keep me company. My parents are thankful that I don't get tattoos anymore (though I would like one in honor of my kids) and I am presentable in nice settings. I may not be a Local Legend, but I think I am still on the path to being the individual I want to be.

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