We are pleased to partner with WFYI to present a series of powerful essays on Spirit & Place Festival’s 20th anniversary theme, DREAM.
by David Bodenhamer,
The year was 1957. I was a 10-year old Southern boy whose dream was to be like Roy Rogers— a courageous righter of wrongs, manly but gentle, respectful of old people, kind to animals. Roy also had a great horse and he played the guitar. (Even at 10, I understood that a guitar would help me attract girls.) If I wasn’t playing football in the side yard with my brothers, I was riding the range in my imagination, rescuing damsels in distress and fending off the bad guys.
We had just moved from a small farming community of 200 people to the cotton mill town of LaGrange, Georgia, where my father had begun a new pastorate. The elementary school was right across the street from the parsonage, and I often used its large bushes as hideout and as welcome shade from the hot Georgia sun. One late summer afternoon, shortly before school was to begin, I was in my customary spot, waiting for the outlaws, when Mrs. Lee, the fourth grade teacher, walked out of the building. I had been assigned to her class but I knew only two things about her: she had square thumbs, surely the result of pushing all those thumbtacks into the blackboard in her room; and she was mean, by far the strictest teacher at Dunson Elementary School.
“Like you, I have had big dreams, some of them personal but others more centered on what we as a community can do to redeem the ideals we claim as Americans and as Hoosiers. Spirit & Place is one of those dreams.”
Her reputation—and my dread of the upcoming year with her—demanded action. Stepping out from behind the bushes, I yelled, “Hey, meanie.” Mrs. Lee paused, then resumed walking. I yelled again, this time louder, “Hey, meanie.” This time she turned slowly and stared at me. “What did you say?” At that moment, it dawned on me that perhaps I had acted precipitously. “What did you say, young man?” Now I have always been a quick thinker but not necessarily a smart one, so I replied with the first thing that came to mind: “Oh, I was just calling my dog. Here Meanie, here Meanie.” (I had no dog.) Then I walked away with as much nonchalance as I could muster, although with the hindsight of fifty years I am sure I was running, shouting all the time, “Here, Meanie. Come here, Meanie.”
I had scarcely gotten out of sight when the adrenalin rush disappeared, and I was left in a mess of shame. I had betrayed my dream: I wasn’t Roy Rogers, defender of what was right and just; I was Black Bart, the evil one. I wallowed in despair, made worse on the first day of school when Mrs. Lee brought some dog treats for me to give to Meanie. (In good southern fashion, she knew how to pile on the guilt.) Finally, I confessed to my mother. After the expected rebuke—“David, how could you?”—she reminded me that it was not enough to pretend to be Roy Rogers. I also had to act like Roy.
Lesson learned, although not always remembered. Like you, I have had big dreams, some of them personal but others more centered on what we as a community can do to redeem the ideals we claim as Americans and as Hoosiers. Spirit & Place is one of those dreams. I share my desire for an intentional, reflective community with hundreds of participants who gather each November to celebrate the spirit of this place we call home and to dream about ways we can make it better. But each year I also am reminded that dreams are not enough. They are essential but not sufficient. Shakespeare got it right when he has Hamlet say,
“To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub.”
To listen to the audio version of this essay click here!
About the author
David Bodenhamer is the executive director of The Polis Center. An active researcher and professor of history, Bodenhamer is author or editor of eight books, including The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis and The Main Stem: the History and Architecture of North Meridian Street, and has published almost 30 journal articles and chapters in books.