HETRICK: A small-town ode to what seems like a carefree autumn

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The leaves are falling fast here in Pendleton. This morning, a few snowflakes joined the descent, tiny white flurries racing giant brown sycamore leaves to rest on the long grass.

In the front meadow, the apple tree is laden with crimson fruit. In the woods out back, walnuts drop like giant green hailstones from the limbs that gave them life.

Firewood is stacked high in the shed, ready to warm hearts and hearth on fall and winter nights. Even the bats have fled the barn, heading off to hibernate in some more welcoming place.

Some signs of fall are man- (or woman-) made.

My wife, Cheri, has lined our walks with mums—purple, rust and yellow. She’s surrounded the front lamp with cornstalks, squash and gourds. By the front door, there are pumpkins large and small—their days numbered, their jack-o-lantern destiny soon to be carved.

At the middle school across the road, cross-country teams wind their way through fields and forests.

At the high school down the way, the Friday night lights shine bright on football games and marching bands. Cheerleaders clad in green and white hail the Arabians, while the public address announcer tells us who’s gained how many yards, which down is next, and how far the offense has to go.

One week, Cheri and I went to the homecoming parade. We saw firetrucks, squad cars, rescue teams, floats, pickups, dump trucks, semis and trailers full of young athletes from the high school on down to pee-wee football and gymnastics teams. They traveled a parade route from Falls Park to downtown to Pendleton Heights High School.

And all around us for weeks on end, farmers have been working their fields, harvesting their crops of soybeans and corn, leaving the earth to its winter rest.

In our little town, the weekly Times-Post published Oct. 16 was printed on pink paper—a salute to breast cancer awareness month.

The paper featured a front-page centerpiece about a local man with breast cancer and a special section filled with stories about other breast-cancer patients and survivors.

We also learned that a preservation group is suing the local historic commission over the process it used to give the school system permission to tear down “the high rise.” (The “high rise” is an old three-story school building for which no one has a proposed use, but which some want to save and pay to maintain, anyway.)

Among other news, one could read about the town council honoring the women who pursued and secured National Register of Historic Places status for Pendleton back in 1991, a haunted house being constructed for Halloween at nearby Lapel High School, an upcoming high school musical (also at Lapel High), and an essay on nicknames.

The paper also included capsule reports on three recent police runs—one for driving while under the influence, one for public intoxication and one for driving without a license.

Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, state, national and international news, the government shutdown rose to a crescendo and died in a last-minute deal.

There was a study showing how U.S. workers have fallen behind their global counterparts in the areas of literacy, math and problem solving.

The Obamacare website moved from glitch to fiasco.

War continued to rage in Syria.

There were more murders in Indianapolis.

Indiana’s superintendent of education sued the State Board of Education.

The board chairman of Ivy Tech Community College stepped down after an Indianapolis Star expose revealed he’d sent raunchy and sexist emails to high-powered people.

Conservatives continued to push for a gay marriage ban in the state’s constitution, while the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce came out against it.

Trials continued around the state with former law-enforcement officials—cops and prosecutors—on the accused end.

The royal baby, Prince George, was baptized.

And hey, Kanye West proposed to Kim Kardashian.

The Indianapolis Star has been publishing a series called “The Kings of Indy” by reporter Robert King. The heartfelt articles recount the King family’s move from suburbia to one of Indianapolis’ rougher neighborhoods. They’ve been welcomed and warned, robbed and restored, moved and motivated.

Through Bobby’s eloquent writing, I’ve savored their journey and celebrated the reasons behind it.

But as the Kings were moving in, Cheri and I were moving out—from downtown Indianapolis, beyond suburbia to small-town America.

While my work—paid and volunteer—keeps me involved in and aware of Indianapolis and statewide issues, and while my curiosity and the Internet keep me informed of and passionate about the world around us, there’s much to be said for a rural island life: the close-up view of changing seasons, the welcoming community, the homecoming parade, the weekly newspaper, the apples and walnuts under the trees.

If you really wanted, you could forget about the world and its problems here. Some mornings, as when the leaves and flurries are racing one another to the ground, it’s quite tempting.•


Hetrick is a writer, public relations consultant and visiting professor of public relations for the IU School of Journalism at IUPUI. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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