“ Chasing Liberty”
It was one of those golden days of Spring. The sky overhead was a brilliant, cerulean blue. The warming sun was shining brightly and the lush green of Spring was everywhere all around us. We found ourselves this day in a lush, idyllic valley in South-Central Pennsylvania. We had laid over a night, in Altoona, on our way from Florida to Buffalo, to visit my Niece Michelle, her husband Terry and their sons Mason and Avery McGinnis.
We had already enjoyably idled away several hours that day, watching the two boys play on their respective little league baseball teams. The boys are talented athletes, even at the early age of ten and six. The timeless pastime, of parents watching their offspring play ball, was a tableau right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. This was no rag-tag sand lot ball game. Each of the miniature players had full uniforms on, with canvass bags for their bats, gloves and various equipment. The two, well-groomed ball diamonds had screened, player benches, batting cages and even a press box and electronic score board. Baseball is serious business here abouts. The younger leagues are well coached, with parents patiently instructing the kids in the various means of playing this complex sport. Some of the kids learned rapidly, some god bless them took more time to learn. But, all got to play and every parent is involved in the process. It was fun for us to be involved in this timeless American ritual, even if for only a day.
After the games, and a brief stop at Panera Breads Restaurant for refueling, we joined the McGinnis family on an excursion to the Blare County Art Festival, on the Altoona campus of Penn. State. We walked amidst the various crafters, as the boys ran up and down the vendor alley, joining a few playmates and enjoying the hubbub all around us. The boys saw and enjoyed an Inca Musical band, who were selling CD’s and small wooden frogs. The boys each bought a frog. A percussion rod struck the ridged back of these frogs, giving off a musical resonance like a hollow log. The boys played these endlessly, enjoying the clatter.
Along the arcade, the boys came across and followed a remarkable figure. A woman was dressed as the statue of liberty, in red white and blue. She had on a bright red whig and walked on stilts that made her height well above ten feet tall. The boys walked back, forth and around her, until she gently admonished them to give her some room, lest they cause her to fall. The boys moved off temporarily, like flies shooed from a horse, waiting for another opportunity to interact with her.
After browsing the vendor stalls, we collectively walked over to the row of food stands near the midway. In a series of brightly lit booths, the food vendors had fried everything that didn’t move. You could have any of the artery clogging delectables in all their crispy splendor. I tried some crab cakes and Mary the Fried Buffalo Wings. The boys of course ate everything that came near the open maw of their hungry young mouths. Kids eat as much as olympic athletes do, every day of their lives.
After they had eaten, the small people laughingly drifted over towards the band stand. There, they mimed the songs being sung, played the “air guitar” and gyrated to the music, in a manner unaffected, and gifted only to the very young or the very inebriated. The peels of their joyful laughter were a music more pleasant to us than any musical group could ever create. We watched them, in all their innocence, and enjoyed the fun they were having. All too soon they would grow more reserved, correct and inhibited like most adults.
After a time, the boys and their friends drifted back among us, looking for something else to occupy their short attention spans. It was then that young Mason uttered these most distinctive words that caught both my attention and imagination. He whispered loudly, to brother Avery and his friends, ” Let’s find the Statue of Liberty and irritate her with our frogs.” The comment was both innocent and well intentioned, but the words stuck in my mind like a phrase uttered by a great orator. What a verbal combination! I smiled and repeated them a few times to all assembled. They too laughed at the innocence and novelty of the phrase.
The evening was cooling off, as dusk approached. A goodly breeze was drifting in from the North. We walked across the campus, to the small reflecting pond near the student union and chapel. It is here that fireworks were to be set off at nine o’clock tonight. We stood collectively, looking around and above us, enjoying the peopled spectacle that paraded before us. Venus shone brightly above and just left of the quarter moon. The kids told me that it was Venus. I would have thought it just another bright star in the heavens. Kids know these things!
Mason’s phrase ran through my head several times and I repeated it to the McGinnises, who laughed at the sonorous and stentorian manner in which I uttered the phrase, like Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg address. I think Mason was unsure of whether or not I was kidding him, but I truly admired the word combination he had made. Friends of the McGinneses stood with us. They and their children stood talking, awaiting the aerial spectacle to come. It was quintessential,small town Americana. Friends were gathering at a community event. Officials would be shooting off fireworks for the delight of the crowd. When the fireworks did commence, we dutifully “oohed “ and “aahed,” appreciating the choreographed beauty of the pyrotechnics over head. Fireworks never fail to command a crowd’s attentions.
Soon enough, the fireworks ceased and the crowd began to disburse. We collectively strolled towards our waiting vehicles. We made reluctant good byes, to our newly met friends, and then made our way, along the darkening streets of Altoona, to the McGinness home on South Carlyle Lane. Still, through my head, ran the phrase “ Let’s Find the Statue of Liberty and Irritate her with our frogs.”
A smile creased my face. I knew that a story was being born. I asked Mason to collaborate with me on a story that would fit the phrase. He nodded shyly in agreement. Mason had chased the statue of liberty and we had found her spirit in the companionship of friends and family on a sunny day, in a small town, in Pennsylvania. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Joseph Xavier Martin