Today Deb and I notch another anniversary — sixteen years ago we stood in my employer’s parking lot in front of a justice of the peace, a handful of friends and a few family to declare, “This is it.” It was the simplest of ceremonies and the most remarkable of moments.
You already know this, but I’ll say it again: She’s everything to me.
Time was when we’d mark the occasion with burgers and beers at Squeek’s Bar & Grill. Last year we had dinner at DeVito’s Restaurant. This time we drove over to Yellville for the 76th Annual Turkey Trot, our adopted hometown’s yearly festival.
Anyone who thinks that’s no way to celebrate a wedding anniversary doesn’t know us very well.
If you’ve heard of Yellville’s Turkey Trot it’s probably because, beginning in the 1940s, live turkeys were dropped from a low-flying airplane over the festival grounds. (Unlike the famous WKRP stunt, these were wild turkeys, which can fly. Or at least glide.) Some years the “turkey drop” was an official event, other years it was unofficial and sometimes, depending on how much negative publicity preceded the Trot, the drop didn’t happen at all.
I’ve heard that the most recent such drop was in 2018. We saw no falling/gliding/flying turkeys today.
We arrived early, hoping to catch the opening ceremonies and avoid the crowds. (We accomplished both.) Booths and food trucks lined the streets surrounding the Marion County courthouse. We started at the northeast corner and began working our way around the block.
The first vendors we saw were local volunteer fire departments and rescue squads. All were raffling off one or more guns. We ended up entering each drawing, dropping 30 bucks on a total of 16 tickets.
We also bought Turkey Trot t-shirts and buttons, as well as hats — Let’s Go Brandon for Deb and MAGA 2024 for me — jerky, pork rinds, home-canned salsa and pickled garlic. At the county heritage society’s booth we met a charming older woman who listened to our story and spun yarn after riveting yarn about the area’s history.
Around noon, a solemn invocation was delivered from the stage at the south end of the festival, followed by a member of the local American Legion post singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Deb and I faced the largest flag we could see, hands over hearts.
Everyone at the festival did the same. Everyone stood still, stopped talking, Everyone, young and old, pressed their right palm to their chest or saluted. The scene moved us.
Right after the national anthem, Deb felt a hand on her shoulder. It was the woman from the heritage society. She’d been standing behind us.
“Y’know,” she said, “y’all belong here.”
We know — or we believe so, at least — but it was deeply touching to hear her say that.
Eventually we made our way back to the truck, paying a brief visit to The Mountain for porch-sittin’ before returning to Harrison.
As we rolled west on US 62, Deb and I talked about what we’d seen, heard and felt at the Turkey Trot. In a way it was a typical small-town festival, like many we’ve attended over the years. Still, both of us sensed something else amid the unapologetic patriotism, the strolling families, the unmistakable atmosphere of hospitality and community.
I’m not sure either of us could put into words exactly what it was. But just as we were about to leave the square, we saw it.
On the courthouse lawn were dozens of kids, grade school through junior high, playing like we used to play. A bunch of boys played touch football without a football. Others fenced with plastic swords bought from one of the vendors. It was joyful, sweet, so very simple.
That, like the whole experience there today, was as if someone had heard us lament a loss of innocence, wishing for the America in which we grew up, and said, “Ok, here it is.”
On this, our 16th wedding anniversary, that was one helluva gift.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.
With dinner tonight, home-canned salsa.