#1 NYT bestselling author Linda Lael Miller

Chili and Cornbread Memories

What a beautiful, sunny day we’re having here in Spokane! This is the kind of weather I remember from childhood–the crisp snap in the air, the leaves beginning to change–though most of the trees around my house are pines or Douglas fur. We’re seeing more deer–fawns following mama into the woods. When Joan and I were at the lakehouse last week, we actually saw a fawn in the back yard, almost close enough to touch.

Way back, there used to be a big rummage sale in Northport in October, and the whole town looked forward to it. There was always chili and cornbread–50 cents for both, if I remember correctly–and people would wait in line to get in. The sale was held in an old storefront, and the stuff in the windows tantalyzed us for weeks before the big event. Several folks usually wanted the same item, and they were prepared to compete to get it, albeit good-naturedly. They plotted the snatching up of a particular vase or necklace or potato ricer ahead of time. Northport isn’t exactly a metropolis, and all the items on offer were donated, but we all enjoyed buying each other’s junk. :) I scored my first pair of western boots at that sale–for 5 cents–and wore them until my mother made me throw them away. (“They’ll ruin your feet!”) They were pretty bad, but when I wore them, it was easier to believe I was Annie Oakley. :) Today, I own many pairs of boots, snazzy and jazzy, but they don’t have the same magic as the ones I bought for a nickel.

Now, of course, I understand that it wasn’t the cracked plates and forlorn prom dresses that brought out the crowds–if any group in Northport could ever be large enough to qualify as a ‘crowd’–it was the conviviality. The cornbread and chili. The chance for a whole community to gather, setting out early from lonely, far-flung farms, everybody in their best clothes and carrying a dollar or two in pocket and purse, to celebrate the change of seasons. To laugh and talk and proudly display our eagerly garnered treasures. At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, I can tell you, it was a lot better than eBay, simply because it was personal. Face to face. Elbows bumping at the chili tables.

There was no internet, of course, and only three channels on the TV–plus a fuzzy one out of Canada–and it was forty miles to the nearest movie house or library (we had one, but it was only open on Tuesday afternoons and there were zero new books)–so the annual rummage sale was an EVENT, like the lighting of the Lion’s Club Christmas tree in the center of town and the Labor Day picnic out at the park.

OK, so maybe I’m making it sound like a Norman Rockwell painting, but it really was wonderful. Today, a crowd is a big collection of strangers, cautiously polite at best, and anonymous. Back then, it was a gathering, people had names and faces and histories, and they interacted. They had a place to share their stories.

I miss that.

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