Janet Sheridan: Americana in Craig

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Janet Sheridan

I walked briskly along Breeze Street, clutching a cup of coffee in my chilled fingers, watching others converge on Mitt Romney's campaign event, wondering if my jacket was too light and my arrival too late.

I left my house at 6:45 a.m., the gates would open 45 minutes later and already the line stretched along the north side of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, a sign of the willingness of people from near and far to get up early and stand in line to support a presidential candidate and/or enjoy an American experience never before offered in our community.

As I took my place at the end of the line, people smiled a welcome, offered money for my coffee and enjoyed one another’s banter.

“I wanted my children to be here more than they did,” a mother with a Romney button told me, which motivated her son to add, “You can say that again,“ in a tone only a teenager could muster.

After passing through security and securing a seat on the bleachers, I thought about how our town exemplified the title, Craig, America: during four action-packed days, in a city emblazoned with flags, we graduated our young, honored our veterans, celebrated our community, viewed the museum’s Norman Rockwell exhibit and welcomed a presidential nominee.

As I watched uniformed law enforcement officers, diligent and courteous, patrol the swelling crowd, I thought Rockwell would have liked the scene: elderly and middle-aged couples, sleepy-eyed children, young parents wheeling babies about, fathers holding young ones on their shoulders.

And visible throughout the crowd, the strong miners of Northwest Colorado carrying hardhats and wearing work clothes covered with fluorescent stripes.

Rockwell, who consistently painted small town scenarios reflecting the spirit of our nation and its communities, would have detailed our ball hats and sunglasses, fleece vests and jeans, worn sneakers and cowboy boots.

He would have highlighted our civic pride and respect for our country’s traditions, just as he did for previous generations.

A quickened tempo interrupted my thoughts as the press bus rolled up and weary, business-like reporters filed off.

Print journalists huddled with their computers beneath a canopy, TV reporters prowled the crowd, interviewing local politicians and folks who looked interesting or displayed a point of view.

“Hey, there’s a policeman on the roof,” an elderly lady exclaimed, causing heads to tilt and peer. “Here’s hoping he doesn’t fall through,” her husband laughed.

Romney’s staff members ushered folks into position, consulted with one another and rushed busily about, cell phones at the ready.

The high school band, wearing black berets, provided entertainment and the promise of youth.

When the group played “Rocky Mountain High,” I wondered if Romney’s staff had even noticed the wide, burnished blue sky and cool morning air leaking the warmth of sunlight on this perfect Northwest Colorado morning.

Probably not.

They were too busy scurrying around, distributing professionally done Romney placards and other signs supposed to look homemade.

Party membership became evident as some crowd members reached for signs and others politely ignored the offer.

Our museum director, a man on a mission, collected all memorabilia offered in order to document for future generations the first-ever appearance of a presumptive presidential nominee in Craig.

The tempo of the event peaked when several black Suburbans with darkened windows swept onto Yampa ahead of the campaign bus.

As the vehicles braked, Secret Service agents exited and hurried into position.

Serious-looking men in suits stood behind Romney at all times, positioned to ceaselessly scan the crowd in every direction.

The candidate, too, played his role well, arriving nearly on time, keeping his remarks brief, focusing on the issues of Craig, mingling with the crowd around the podium and talking with the miners grouped outside his bus.

At the last minute, he insisted on holding a baby dressed in footed pajamas, handling her casually, in a way that said, “I’ve held babies of my own.”

Before Romney arrived, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang “The Star Spangled Banner” with the band.

As I spoke the promise of the pledge and sang the story of the anthem, I felt a surge of love and pride for my country.

And when I saw the wave of hats — baseball caps, cowboy hats, visors and hard hats — being removed from every head in the park to show respect, I felt a similar fondness for the people around me: fellow citizens who honor our country without reservation, even as they disagree over its politics.

I think Norman Rockwell would have experienced the same surge of affection at that moment in Craig, America.

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