I recently had the pleasure of viewing one of those idyllic Thomas Kinkade creations, a luminous painting that depicted a typical “Hometown Morning” somewhere in the heart of America’s recent past.
Kinkade, the popular “Painter of Light,” had captured a truly charming scene – a quiet street lined by quaint cottages, a rustic church and sheltering trees. This was clearly a time and place where children and senior citizens could feel sheltered and safe – even from each other.
Unfortunately, from my point of view, it was woefully incomplete. I mean, there are home towns and then there are home towns. Every one of them is unique to someone’s concept of what home is all about, and my own home town had several very basic features that were sadly absent from Kinkade’s work.
I carefully examined “Hometown Morning,” but I could find neither hide nor hair of our town inebriate, a revered figure who was always up at dawn to begin his daily rounds of hospitable thirst emporiums.
No, he was not a target of ridicule or pity. If you saw the nattily dressed fellow teetering down the sidewalk in your direction, you nodded politely and knew that you were in the heart of your home town. In fact, depending upon the municipal mainstay’s direction of travel on any given sidewalk, you could also tell the time of day. He had a rather set routine…
Also missing was Prince, the home town mad dog. Prince was believed to have once been a military guard dog who was kicked out of the service for unnecessary roughness. The ill-tempered German shepherd lived in a big, dark house with a reclusive retiree nobody knew.
With the body of a timber wolf and the temperament of a Republican, he’d escape from his yard every other day and terrify the neighborhood by simply standing around with all his hair standing on end. He effortlessly foamed at the mouth and could spend an entire afternoon savagely barking at an inoffensive dandelion or a crack in the sidewalk.
“Come right home from school or Prince will chew your face off,” parents would cheerfully tell their offspring to prevent after-school dawdling.
Then there were the King boys. During the 15 or 20 minutes a week when Prince was safely chained to the rusted frame of a 1947 Buick, parents in my home town could still keep their children in line by warning them that they would “end up like the King boys” if they didn’t behave.
The King boys were three elementary school males who were routinely blamed for everything from liquor store holdups to aircraft hijackings.
If a 300-pound, 68-year-old gunman knocked over the First National Bank and managed to escape, some home town detective would nod sagely and opine, “Yup, those King boys are masters of disguise. They’re probably halfway to Jersey by now…”
If a winter storm flooded downtown streets, blew the roof off the library and sent power poles crashing to the ground, you can bet there would always be three or four red-faced residents shaking their fists in the air and demanding that somebody do something about those damned King boys.
I guess by now some of you can understand my dilemma – Kinkade paints a lovely picture, but if it doesn’t have a mad dog, some soused citizenry and a fifth-grade felon or two, is it really home? Ya gotta wonder…
Originally published on January 7, 2001