It is early June in 1954 in a small town in northwestern Indiana that lies forty-five miles from Chicago and fifteen miles south of Lake Michigan. On the town square, nighthawks and swifts contend with darkness as they dive from the rooftops of two-story buildings that surround a courthouse built in the previous century. They are feeding on insects drawn to the street lights that are just coming on.
There is not much traffic on the square besides a few people going in and out of the news-stand to purchase a magazine or to test a tube from a black and white television. Two miles north of the courthouse, the lights of the Dairy Queen, the only franchise business in a community of 5,000 people, attract a half dozen cars that surround a white cement block building without a drive thru.
The customers are families who have just finished a little league game or kids who have walked across the highway from a housing development named “Liberty Park” that was developed shortly after the World War II.
On the south wall of the Dairy Queen is a porcelin water fountain with a sign above it that reads: Free Ice Water. And it is cold. Vanilla cones cost 5, 10, and 20 cents, although the largest size seems an indulgence that almost no one takes part in. Air conditioning for most people is a decade in the future, when window units will begin to appear thoughout town.
Just north of the Dairy Queen is a public golf driving range, one of two in the county, where customers hit drivers from mats that automatically tee up the next ball following contact. No one is hitting off grass. No one is practicing the irons or wedges. The driving range provides metal drivers for people who don’t have their own driver.
These aren’t the light weight metal drivers that will replace persimmon twenty-five years in the future, but heavy steel clubs designed to withstand abuse and mis-hits off the rubber two inch tees. It is like hitting a golf ball with a wrench.
Further north, there is a red glow that comes from open hearths at the steel mills on the edge of Lake Michigan. But it is the heat lightening that draws the most attention. Behind the large 250 yard plywood sign, the lightening throbs with the consistency of a firefly. Golf balls fly up into the lights, then above the lights into darkness like shooting stars that fall back to earth softly in the backlight on the horizon.
Time never stops. But on this night, for this eight year old boy, it unravels for a few seconds before he turns and heads for home.
–Terry Pettit (terrypettit.com)