It’s a true neighborhood park, small by park standards, set in the center of a ring of houses. All the front windows gaze out at this green space—the hub of a misshapen wheel. It boasts open grass, a cluster of playground equipment, trees concealing a small winding bridge that crosses a running creek, dips and rises, assorted park benches and a dedicated volleyball court with its net and characteristic sand.
When we arrive on this blustery day, the sky mottled, sooty with scattered with intimations of blue and white, the grass fairly dances under the feet of young adults in a group doing their best to keep a volleyball aloft. They are laughing, joyful without jackets and several of them bare-legged, as we snuggle further down into our zipped coats against the cold to eat our picnic lunch at one of the tables.
An older man—I take him for a dad—is surrounded by a crush of small kids, all engaged in keep-away, or is it football of a makeshift variety—at the edge of the equipment. Soon they’ll abandon the game, and their catch-me cries will echo through the trees.
At my back, the volleyball court hosts serious training session. A young man is set up on a crate and being coached…looks like a serve is the focus today. In the course of our lunch, the pair will depart, leaving the game to the young people who gleefully move over, ready after their warm-up on the grass.
As the group passes, we engage is small conversation. This is small-town America as I like to imagine it, ruddy-cheeked and happy, outdoors and vibrant, resilient and, dare I say it—normal. I’ll savor it.