We should have known it was a bad sign when Dalton’s kindergarten teacher at Lakeview, Mrs. Curtis, sat us down in those tiny little chairs and said that our son was having difficulty with his color words. I remember looking at her and saying, “But, his last name is a color word: Brown!” Yeah, he’s not a good speller. Obviously, the problem started early in his life, but never really resolved itself. Thankfully, he grew up in the age of technology where spellcheck and Siri can save the day…most of the time. Sometimes, the words are spelled so wrong that even auto correct is like, “I’ve got nothing, man!”. I recall a time when he was in high school that he wanted me to make my homemade salsa, so I sent him to the grocery store for cilantro. He came back from that 10-minute errand about 45-minutes later exasperated. He thought for sure that cilantro started with an “S” and he simply could not find it. Yeah, spelling is diffecolt challageng hard!
Although hard, spelling is also hilarious. We’ve gotten a lot of laughs out of the numerous ways he’s spelled words through the years. Which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised when we saw a letter he sent, a “friend that’s a girl” (air quotes), from the Army. The outside of the envelope had this mathematical picture on it. I thought maybe it was an inside joke because they had had geometry together or something. Nope. He meant to call her an angel once and, of course, incorrectly spelled it a-n-g-l-e. Instead of being embarrassed about it, he just rolled with it and drew an acute angle on her letter. I laughed. She laughed. I know he laughed. But, it’s true. She’s acute angle. ?
This past weekend, my husband and I saw a different kind of cute angel…James Dean’s guardian angel, in the musical Cool’s Angel. This is the story of James Dean’s life, with a bit of a twist, written by locals Mark Fauser, with music and lyrics composed by Todd Syswerda. What a great show! The guardian angel played by IWU Senior, Gabrielle Foreman, was incredible. That girl has some chops and a bright future if you ask me. But, chops aren’t everything. You must have a remarkable story to tell, written by passionate storytellers. That combination can mesmerize an audience. Add a legend like Dean and you’ll soon see, stories like his command attention—even today.
In fact, recently I was at a conference in Kansas when we had to do the stand-up-and-introduce-yourself thing…in a room of 75 people! Ugh! So, I thought I’d mix it up and said, “Hello, I’m Dawn Brown from Grant County, Indiana—birthplace of Garfield the Cat and James Dean”. Might as well do a little PR for our hometown while I’m out and about, right? About 10 people later, another lady introduced herself as being from San Luis Obispo County, California—the death place of James Dean. She lamented that they hate the fact that Dean died in a horrific car accident on September 30, 1955, in their county and normally don’t even mention it because it’s the place that broke America’s heart. People laughed at the dichotomy represented in that one room on that one day, but within 10 minutes time, we all realized that James Dean’s legacy never died.
What’s odd about Jimmy Dean’s story is that we already know about the legends tragic death; that’s what makes us thirst to learn more about his rebel life. So, as my husband and I sat in that small auditorium of about 200 people for the very first reading of the telling of the James Dean story, I couldn’t help but think that something special was not just about to happen, but was already happening. A new legend was being born right here in Grant County.
Somewhere in Kansas, a small town is touting that they have the world’s largest ball of twine and a random city in Florida claims to be home to the world’s largest chicken wing. A Georgia city claims to be the fruitcake capital of the world (no comment) and Kealakekua, Hawaii markets themselves as home of the world’s most scenic urinal. Seriously, folks…this is what some cities have to work with–and we have James Byron Dean! The world renown, immortal, rebel without a cause, James Dean!
But, we don’t just have the legacy of Dean, we have so much more. The theater that night was filled with possibility only limited by our own imaginations. We’ve always known cool was born here, but now Cool’s Angel calls Grant County home. And, what’s even better is that the future of this legend has yet to be written. It could go to the silver screen or maybe even Broadway. It could be performed annually around James Dean Days—lines delivered by famous actors and storylines relished by visitors from around the world. Everything we need to give Cool’s Angel wings is within our reach. It just goes to show, if we look hard enough, we’ll discover that everything we need for a thriving Grant County has been right here all along, too. Perhaps that’s the angle from which we should choose to view our county and our future. It’s not just acute angle, this perspective just might be the right angle.