Did you ever see The Truman Show?
Released in 1998, the movie features Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, a thirty-year-old insurance salesman leading what appears to be a charmed existence in a picturesque island community evocative of the 1950’s. Of course, unbeknownst to Truman, life isn’t all it seems. Adopted by a corporation as a baby and raised inside an elaborately engineered Hollywood studio set, Truman is unaware that every moment of the past three decades of his life has been fodder for a popular 24/7, live-streaming reality show known as The Truman Show.
I often find my thoughts returning to it when considering my life in Chardon and the rose-colored lenses through which I view it. I wonder if, similar to Truman, my experience of Chardon is a fantasy; a La La Land of my own construction, erected not beneath a weather-simulating dome but beneath the gleaming transparent bubble of a quaintly fashioned snow globe. Though my imagination is productive - I’ve done my fair share of waving to the Heritage House camera - undoubtedly, my life is somewhat less science fiction than Truman’s, interactions with Curt notwithstanding.
For the past 18 months I’ve taken for granted that my Chardon is the Chardon: A place where nearly everyone knows and cares for each other. A place where there are only quirky, good people and only silly, minor problems easily resolvable through direct, honest communication. It’s the kind of place where a flash mob wouldn’t be out of the question. A city whose name should be in the Guiness Book of Records for having baked the world’s longest maple bar or hosted the world’s longest continuous sock hop.
Chardon is where perpetually jovial city employees ostensibly work 24-hours beautifying the square and everywhere you look is a vignette for a 21st century Normal Rockwell painting. It’s the place that hired a goat to handle public relations, that annually throws a giant carnival in the center of town, that orchestrates no less than twenty festivals a year, that is one of the few towns in America where children’s letters to Santa are actually answered, and a place clearly destined to be the inspiration for a new, heartwarming CW family drama.
Given the amount of time I spend traversing the city it seems to me we’ve become pretty friendly. I’ve come to think of her, yes her, as a friend, albeit an imaginary one. My Chardon is 17-years-old in 1955 and her name is Sadie. Sadie’s a natural beauty known for her warmth, zeal and gumption. You can see her sandy blond hair and brightly colored lipstick from a mile away. She’s not perfect, mind you. She has her flaws, feels pain, often disappoints herself, occasionally succumbs to sarcasm, has gossiped and felt truly awful about it, and once walked out her front door with an unused panty liner stuck to the back of her letter jacket.
So convinced am I that Sadie is Chardon, I was appalled when a friend of mine asserted that, to the contrary, Chardon is quite clearly an 83-year-old curmudgeonly man named Bob who wears a red baseball cap. Certain his interpretation must be an anomaly, I immediately launched an unplanned and completely unscientific research project to understand, if a town can be personified: Who. Is. Chardon?
I began with five simple questions and cycled through my local contacts at lightening speed. Based on my unique relationship with Sadie, the questions emerged in the following manner:
Is Chardon male or female?
What age is he/she?
What is his/her name?
What is his/her defining character trait?
What is his/her designator of personal style?
Though my sample pool was limited I found sufficient variety in responses with answers ranging from noncommittal to scathing. I was interested to find that, akin to yours truly, at least some residents’ version of Chardon appeared to be a reflection of themselves or a fantasy version thereof. Others described current Chardon residents as physical embodiments of the city, mostly enthusiastically though not always with generosity. Granted, the idiosyncrasies of small-town living aren’t for everyone but look at it this way, our differences sure keep things interesting!
Take Sadie for example. She’s young, optimistic and has a whole, long life ahead of her. Unlike Bob, she’s not yet experienced the adversities life is capable of so cruelly inflicting; tragedies that are perhaps the root of his curmudgeonly nature. She has no way of knowing that his red baseball cap, ringed in decades of dried sweat, once belonged to the son he lost. Nor does Sadie know that Peggy, 31-years-old and a Chardonite born and raised, is desperate out of fear that she’ll never escape her hometown and at the same time never fit in either. Thus Peggy keeps her head down, hiding beneath the brim of her own baseball cap.
Maple, on the other hand, at 207-years-old is a standout in Chardon. Both exceedingly friendly and a fixture uptown, she’s most famous for her collection of fabulous seasonal scarves. Sadie’s heard whispers that Maple’s given name was once Henry but she doesn’t give much credence rumors and, in any case, prefers to leave the storytelling to Maple. Whoeee, she’s got some real humdingers! Spooky, a 12-year-old black Weimaraner sporting a red emotional support jacket, enjoys a regular audience with Maple. Imbued with loyalty, his greatest concerns are her welfare and that of the Fig Newtons in her sweater pocket.
Boy does Sadie thank God for Charlene, her 35-year-old neighbor and style icon who accomplishes more before breakfast than Sadie’s apt to in a long afternoon; all while wearing a 50’s swing dress (with hidden pockets) and a patterned half-apron tied around her waist. Sadie takes comfort that, having gotten all the way to 2nd period before discovering the panty liner, she can go straight to Charlene’s after the final bell knowing her front door is always open and there’s always an apple pie in the oven.
If, as Shakespeare suggests, All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players, then we each have a part to play in defining the character of Chardon. I play mine by reading as I walk through town and by penning humorous tales of small-town living. My contribution reinforces the idea that there’s a slower pace to the rhythm of our city and plenty of reasons to be happy about it.
The Coffee Girls and Brew Brothers (you gotta admit, it has a nice ring to it) each convene weekly at Beans to catch up on each others lives and maintain the bonds of long-established friendship. When I see them gathered it reminds me that Chardon’s full of friendly people and that, while getting to know them may take time, it’s completely worth the investment.
Jamie Ward and Ward Lawrence, two well-known Chardon residents, have each made a lasting impression. The former showcases our city’s walkability as well as our newsworthiness via the Geauga County Maple Leaf. The latter Ward, a.k.a. The Mayor of Main Street (between Water St. and Short Ct.), maintains Chardon’s shining reputation or at least that of Main Street, sweeping its brick sidewalks free of trash.
Chardon’s strength comes not in numbers but in personalities. Though ours may be a small town it’s still plenty big enough for the likes of Sadie, Peggy, Maple, Spooky, Charlene and so many others. Perhaps a few curmudgeons and maybe even a Bob or two*.
Who is your Chardon?
PS. Good morning! Oh, and in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night.
*Keep scrolling for a full list of responses to “Chardon Who?”
Female, 17 in 1955, Sadie, gumption, wears brightly colored lipstick
Male, 83, Bob, curmudgeonly, wears a red baseball cap
Female, 31, Peggy, desperate, wears a generic baseball cap
Male transitioning to female, 207, Maple, friendly, wears a scarf year-round
Female, 17, Maple, welcoming, wears a Chardon Hilltopper hoodie
Male, 12 (in dog years), Spooky, loyal, wears a red emotional support jacket
Female, 35, Charlene, hospitable (her front door is always open and there’s always an apple pie in the oven), wears a 50’s swing dress (with hidden pockets) and an apple-patterned half-apron tied around her waist
Male, 38, Jamie, a catalyst, wears flip flops until just after the snow starts then again as soon as it ends
Female, 35, Donna, snobby (always asks to speak to the manager), wears sunglasses
Male, middle-aged, Tom, staunch republican, wears a t-shirt with jeans and work boots (a hunter and also he works with his hands)
Male, 60, Ben, outdoorsy, always with his German Shepard
Female, 42, Carla, cheerful, wears a scarf
Male, 60, Charles, confident, wears a scarf
Female, 200+, Chariss, full of grace and kindness, wears a soft scarf
Female, 52, Eleanor, strong and proud (plus kind and honest), wears a beautiful seasonal scarf (and is always on the square)
———, 207, ———, slow and deliberate (plus reliable and self-assured), wears fall colors
Male, old (Mr. Magoo-ish but stronger and smarter), Chardon, young at heart and steady (not averse to change but not reinventing the wheel just for the sake of it), wears a fresh-pressed shirt (button up and iron-free) with slim cut pants, smart shoes (nicer orthopedics), trendy glasses and always a scarf (seasonally appropriate designs)
Male, 65, ———, conservative, wears white New Balance sneakers
Male, 41, James, laid back, wears a 20’s style suit
Male, 207, Peter Chardon Brooks, unique, wears a suit but has a yoga outfit in his gym bag
Female, 19, Chardon, readiness, wears a scarf
Female, ancient, Thistle, hardiness, wears a muff with a fur hat and a dress from the 1800’s
Male, retired, Dave, traditional, wears flannel
Male, 70, Chester, hard working, wears flannel
Female, 45, Olivia, inquisitive, wears flannel
Male, 50, Max, arrogant, wears a shirt and tie
Male, 90, Franklin, strong, wears a suit
Male, middle-aged, America, conservative, wears a nice casual jacket and a tie
Male, 30, Charles, strong, wears a polo shirt
Male, 81, Peter Chardon Brooks, Forbes Top 100, wears a bowtie
Female, 46, sincerity and dependability (the older aunt you adore), Toulouse, wears nice jeans
Female, 85, Ruth, not open to change, wears a turtleneck
Female, 52, Chardonnay, ———, drives a Jaguar and wears a red dress with black shoes and a black hair bow