A couple of weekends ago I was driving to Ft. Wayne, Ind., to participate in a barbershop competition. (No, I don't cut hair. I sing with the Louisville Thoroughbreds.) As I was sailing down Interstate 69, I saw a sign for Fairmount.
For some reason, the town jumped out at me. But why? Ah, yes, it dawned on me: James Dean grew up in Fairmount, and he was buried there.
I don't think I have ever watched a full movie staring James Dean, but what the heck? The dude is a cultural icon. I was a couple of hours ahead of schedule, and I like exploring things I come across as I travel. So I visited Fairmount, Ind.
What a cute, quaint town. After visiting the museum, I was given directions to the graveyard and the farm where he grew up. Once I located his gravestone, I was shocked by the number of fresh flowers and tokens of love for a kid - he was only 24 when he died - who passed away more than 50 years ago.
Bottles of beer, coins, fresh flowers and love letters. One letter was tucked under a rock, ready to fall off of the gravestone. I replaced it but felt the urge to read it. I opened it, and the letter started off with the following: "Jimmy, it's been over 50 years since you have been gone, and I still miss you every day.”
The letter was handwritten and two full pages. After reading the first sentence, I immediately folded it up and replaced it securely under the rock. This letter was not meant for me. I felt like I had just spied on a private moment, fleetingly, but wrongly.
I then looked at the beer bottles and packs of cigarettes surrounding the stone, and it reminded me that these icons were in many ways normal people, just like you and me. They had passions, likes, dislikes, favorite dishes, desserts they couldn't resist, holiday traditions - things that help make each of us who we are.