We are just finishing up what could be described as our own personal city-spawned festival season, having had Grease Festival, Fiddlers’ Convention and Storytellers’ Festival, just about back to back. Each has brought much joy, (and thankfully some money as well,) to Athens, and now we are gearing up for the Veterans’ Day Parade, then all that comes our way with Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Why is this stuff important? In the Strategies section of Gary McCaleb’s book, The Gift Of Community, celebrations are discussed as an important part of what makes a city a community. The following is part of that commentary:
“There are a lot of things wrong in our cities today-but there are a lot of things right. Elected officials and non-elected leaders in every area of the city have a responsibility to plan regularly for celebrations. Parades, festivals, sporting events, and concerts are just some of the ways a city celebrates. And these celebrations don’t always have to be big and expensive.”
We talked about the fact that we are all guilty of “running too fast, too hard,” as Mayor Ronnie puts it, and if we don’t take the time to celebrate things as a city, and more importantly, as individual families, we can find ourselves in a position of becoming individual and corporate human structures that are sorely lacking in humanity.
Speaking of celebrating, recently the Mayor had a “six degrees of separation” moment that brought him more than one source of personal joy. He was at a conference, and, as he always enjoys, was making a point of getting to know new people around him who were also conferees. As a football fan, Ronnie was well aware of the NFL career of a fellow named Rocky Bleier, who played for the Packers during the Terry Bradshaw era, and Rocky was in attendance at the conference. That alone was a reason to celebrate, and then it got better.
It turns out that Rocky and Ronnie were in Vietnam at the same time, and while they never met, Ronnie’s unit supported Rocky’s. “Rocky got shot up,” he told me, “and no one expected him to ever walk again.” The fact that he not only went on to walk, but to play football, was a source of inspiration to the Mayor, and to find out that they were essentially comrades in arms was yet another reason to celebrate.
One of the things I have come to celebrate about my own personal version of “Mondays With Ronnie” is getting a chance to hear his stories. While most of the time they are just very funny, sometimes there is a moral to the story that is a great take away. This one goes back to his days as a student at UNA, when he was at an establishment on the Alabama/Florida border, waiting for the music to begin. Out of nowhere a very large motorcycle gang came in, and basically tried to take over the place. One guy came up to Ronnie and said, “Can I have this table?” Our Mayor then turned the tables, and more than just symbolically. He looked the biker in the eye and said, “No, you can’t have this table, but I’d love to have you join me. Pull up a chair.” The biker was probably not used to someone cheerfully refusing to be bullied, let alone using the pending celebration to disarm him. Oh, and the celebration? Bonnie Raitt took the stage, the rest, as they say, is history, and celebrating is one of the things that makes Ronnie roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner