Monday, February 8, 2010

A Pocket Full of Change~
In the past couple of weeks, I have been reminded just how a little change can make a big difference.
   Following the earthquake that ravaged Haiti, everyone started collecting money, including a small school in Tampa.  Though the student body is small (around 150 students), their hearts are big.  The kids were challenged by Student Council to create a dime line; the classroom that yielded the longest line of dimes would win the accolades of their efforts, and a small prize (like a free dress day, or a pizza party).  
   With less than a week's notice, the students rose to the the challenge.  Even the local media turned out to document their efforts.  Spirits soared with a "spirit day" attire as parents, staff, and students laid dimes side by side.  When all was said and done, the students managed to raise more than three thousand dollars.    Most importantly, they did it not so much for themselves as for others.  All from a coin that used to have a store named after it .Remember the "Five and Dime"? Go ahead, look it up.
   The second example of change appears in this week's TIME magazine which features an article about a man who hopes to foster a small change, himself, by opening a coffee house and used bookstore in Cairo, Illinois.  Although Chris Johnston is not a native, he hopes to help become part of a solution for a town that has dwindled over the past several decades.  The "Ace of Cups" might be a small step in the right direction.
   Think about it.  Coffee, books, conversation.  If communication is a pathway to change, why not offer an opportunity to grab a cup, and a chair, and engage in something that can bring people together.  Stories shared.   A history preserved.   Something so simple could help build bridges in the community.
   Admittedly, I have fond memories of Cairo.  Since my grandmother and grandfather and assorted other relatives lived there (some still do), I spent many muggy summer afternoons strolling along the sidewalk in front of my grandmother's porch, playing with cousins. Occasionally Grandma would take us to Woolworth's, where she worked, and we would be allowed to choose something from the "five-and-dime" bins.  
   Once, when I was about four years old, my grandfather bought a sack of tomatoes from a roadside market. For about fifty cents, we got a large paper grocery bag filled with juicy red fruit balls only slightly  larger than my four-year-old fist.  Grandpa and I sat down on the stoop, and he showed me how to eat a tomato  and thoroughly enjoy it, sprinkling it with a shake of salt for flavor, and giggling as the juice ran down our arms.  The messier it was, the better it tasted.
     As cited in the article, there were many reasons that this small river town (immortalized by Mark Twain's scamps, Tom and Huck),  began to fade as a center for commerce.   And yet, there may be just as many reasons to try to reinvent the sleepy town that rolls up its sidewalks as the sun begins to sink. 
     Cairo is a testament to history, both the good and the bad.  It is the first city one passes through when crossing into the state, heading north.  It sits cradled between Missouri to the west, and Kentucky, to the east.  Just across the river is a significant archaeological excavation.   The "City of New Orleans" train stops in Cairo around midnight to let weary college students off, before continuing on to the Crescent City.  
Most importantly, Cairo is where the mighty Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet.  Standing at the "Point" park just south of the town, one can see the dark murky waters of the Mississippi as it blends with the current of the Ohio.  And it is an amazing thing to see.   There is a fantastic sense of force, of nature, and of  time flowing incessantly as the currents combine and continue toward the Gulf.
Remember, I mentioned that Huck and Tom visited Cairo in Twain's books?   I can very well imagine their adventures.  I think my uncle and my dad used those tales as a guidebook for adventure. My daughter just finished reading Huck's adventures.  She had no problem envisioning the river.  She'd been there often enough.
Magnolias, hydrangea bushes, front porch swings, and Shemwell's pressed barbecue sandwiches  are all part of the Cairo I grew up enjoying. 
Change helped transform a school's spirit; it promises to help a nation irrevocably changed by tragedy; and change might help save a town struggling not to fade into history. 
Ah, to revisit childhood and once again know  that sense of wonder that a small bit of change can inspire...That would definitely be worth the price of a cup of coffee.