Welcome to summer, dear readers! I know, blah, blah, blah...it isn't the "official start" of summer yet. But in our books, Memorial Day weekend is the weekend right around the last day of school in these parts, the weekend where graduations are held, party tents spring up, grills fire up, pools and ponds are open for the season, the boating forecast is now a regular part of our weather casts, and summertime festivals start each weekend off in small towns across the county.
Growing up in Akron, Ohio this weekend meant two things to us. Chicken from Diefeo's on the spit and the Indy 500 on the TV and radio. We would sit in the driveway at our grandparent's house while grandpa grilled that chicken, our mouths watering, nibbling on potato chips and Coca-Cola, bare feet smushed into the grass. The summer seemed like an eternity before us. Grandpa would mutter under his breath as the racing teams bearing Firestone tires fell behind Goodyear. The backyard we were enjoying this picnic in was nestled in the Firestone Park neighborhood of Akron, Ohio. It was a house bought and paid for by two people (our grandparents) who made their livelihood through the fortunes of tires that America rolled around on. My grandmother was a Rosie the Riveter through the wartime, and stayed on after for nearly 10 years more. My grandfather worked as a pipe fitter for various rubber companies in the city, eventually retiring from Goodrich. Memorial Day weekend in the city of my youth was a battle of pride. Whose companies tires would propel the car to victory? We would all wait the outcome with breathless anticipation.
As an adult, I love the Indy 500 every bit as much as I did when I was little. There is just something so lovely, so nostalgic, so distinctly Midwestern about it. While I will not get to watch much of it this year, as I'll be sitting in a high school graduation ceremony, I will know those tires are squealing out there, and the crowds are roaring. I'll be keenly aware that the city of my youth is still hanging on each turn, eager to see who will claim victory this year. (even if the fortune of the tire companies have long since left town)
Us Midwesterners hold on to things with fierce pride. This race, it is part of our identity. So, gentlemen, and ladies...start your engines. It's going to be a hell of a race!