Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: “Our Town” Revisited
Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”, has always been my favorite play. It reminds me of how important each day of our life is, no matter how uneventful that day may be. The play is narrated by the stage manager who comments on how life in the little town of Grover’s Corner in 1901 is how life is played out in every small town or huge city around the world. The stage is bare throughout the play except for a couple of step ladders that represent stairs in neighboring homes, and several rows of chairs, representing the cemetery in the last act. Wilder was stressing the fact this play could take place anywhere, and we need to listen to what is being said and not be distracted by stage props.
The thrust of the play is that we let our everyday lives slip by much of the time, never realizing how precious those moments with friends and family really are. How, if we would pause and take it all in, we would cherish each day, and try to burn that day into our memories. When one of the main characters dies, she wishes she could go back and spend just one day with those she loves. She is counseled by others who inhabit the cemetery to not do it, the pain will be too great. At least, they said, pick an unimportant day to return to. She picks a birthday, and as an observer, watches herself and her family go through that day again. She pleads with her family to stop and look at her, at each other, to see how wonderful each day of their lives had been, but to no avail. The stage manager closes the play in a routine manner, affirming what the play is telling the audience about life’s habit of putting blinders on each of us as we go to work, raise a family, suffer through sorrow and deal with life’s changes only to grow old and “miss the parade”, never being really aware of how amazing life actually is.
The stories I write have come from memories I have of growing up in a small, nondescript town in the middle of South Dakota. I have shared these memories with my family over the years, and find it fun to share them with others through this column. I have discovered that my memories strike a chord with many people, reminding them of moments in their lives or in the lives of someone they know. That excites me, and I realize that our lives have common threads, and loving and caring for each other is the strongest of those threads. I would love to spend an unimportant day with all my grandparents, to talk to them, to see what their everyday lives were like. They may not think that day was special, but it would be to me. Life is so short in the big scheme of things, but it doesn’t have to be passed over and forgotten. It can be handed down from father to son to grandchildren for generations, if we only will take the time to tell our stories and realize that every day is a gift and an opportunity to share this wonderful life with the ones we love.
Enough with the sermon, Gary! I must say that writing is fun and therapy in many ways for me. I hope the end result is something my family will read in the future and feel like I am sharing a day of my life with them. Thanks, readers, for taking the time to read my memories. Be sure to share yours with your loved ones.
Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News