Saturday, December 3, 2011

gingerbread houses

gingerbread houses
adorn the square, shops open
late, cold heads, warm hearts

It's cold and windy, but that doesn't stop folks from turning out for the annual Gingerbread Extravaganza during the December Artwalk. At the corners of the square and in the windows of every store in the downtown area, gingerbread houses are on display, each one more fanciful than the last. Carolers stroll around the square, stopping in front of various shops to sing. People pour in and out of stores and galleries. I stop at the At Home Store to get warm and to enjoy their display of beautiful things for the kitchen in the front of the store and a collection of yarn in the back. 
          While I'm looking at bayberry candles, I hear someone behind me say, "Excuse me, Ma'am, where did you get your hat?" 
          I'm wearing a Peruvian ch'ullu, and when I turn around, I'm surprised to I see a boy of about 12 years, with the beautiful brown skin and dark eyes of a runakuna, as the native Quechua call themselves. 
          "I got this when I was in Peru," I tell him, though I don't add that it came from the Island of Amantani in Lake Titicaca.
          "I was adopted from Peru," the boy says. "I'd like to go there some day and see my family."
          I suddenly feel warm all over. "Oh, I hope you get to go. It's so beautiful, the land and the people."
          "Do you know where I could get a hat like that?"
          "Well, I believe they have some at the bookstore on campus. Do you know where that is?"
          "No, I'm from Ottumwa. I just came over tonight to see the lights. My name is Carlos and I'm on the soccer team."
          There's no way I'm going to let him go back to Ottumwa without a ch'ullu. I take off my hat and hold it out to him. "Carlos, I want you to have this."
          "Oh, no, no, no," he says, genuinely abashed.
          "Oh, yes, yes, yes," I say, pressing it into his hands. "I have another one at home and I want you to have this."
          "Thank you," he says, and holds out his hand to shake.
          I take his hand and then pull him into a warm embrace. "Enjoy," I say as we part.

          Head now cold but heart warm, I get the last seat on the red wagon drawn by a pair of Clydesdale horses taking riders from the east side of the square, past the old Carnegie Library to the new public library, where children and their parents go inside to make a small gingerbread house to take home. Then the wagon returns to the square from the west. The County Supervisor, riding in back on the wagon steps, tells stories about the history of Fairfield.  
          It takes about 20 minutes to travel a few blocks and I ask Steve how long it would take at this speed to get to Mt. Pleasant, 25 miles away. "The horses can go about 10-12 miles an hour," he says, "but they can only keep that up for about 32 miles in a day. One time we drove to Des Moines and it took us four and a half days. That's one of the reasons they built the county courthouses about 25 miles apart." 
          I try to imagine what it would be like in the mid-nineteenth century to do business at the state capital. You'd have to plan on taking at least two weeks, whereas today it's a two-hour drive. Life was slower then, but even now, you can slow down and enjoy the fellowship of warm hearts from all over the world here in our little Fairfield.

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