Living in a small town like Vincennes has both its rewards and its shortcomings. I have been lucky enough to have been raised here and then spend 25 years moving around the country to cities such as Chicago, Houston, Jasper and Hickory, North Carolina. But in 2007 I made the move back to Vincennes with my four children and I realized once again what a gem we have!
The book, “The Year We Left Home,” by Indiana native Jean Thompson, speaks to these differences. As one family leaves its rural home and moves to other larger cities the members realize just what they are missing. The story asks us to consider the enduring, unifying power of place — why we choose or are forced to leave and when we decide to come home. One quote in particular tugs at my heartstrings every time I read it: “But back home, I can look up and down just about any street and there’s people I’m either related to or I’ve known them my whole life and my parents have known them and my grandparents knew their grandparents and there’s a comfort in that. I miss it. That’s all I’m saying. Here (in the city), it’s like we’re not from anywhere.”
It was this connection to Vincennes and our small but revitalizing town that led the Red Skelton Museum to pursue an Indiana Humanities grant to participate in the “One State/One Story” program in Indiana.
We were notified in late February that the museum had been selected as a Community Read grant recipient, receiving $700. This money is to be used to promote at least three programs around the theme of the selected book, “The Year We Left Home.” We also are partnering with other Knox County organizations such as the Knox County Public Library to promote this excellent program.
Our plans, for the community read in Knox County, are scheduled to begin in mid-September with the opening of a new exhibit entitled, “When Red was Richard,” which will focus on Red’s time in Vincennes before he left home to eventually become a world renowned star of radio, film and television.
We also will have author Sara Eskridge, who wrote the book, “Rube Tube: CBS and Rural Comedy in the Sixties.” This book looks at the phenomenon that occurred in the late 1960s when CBS made the decision to remove rural-themed shows from its line-up in favor of more urban-based shows. “The Red Skelton Show” was in the top 10 in the ratings at this time, but was still cut from the CBS lineup in 1970. Sara will be in Vincennes to speak on Sept. 17.
One final component is a community book discussion on Oct. 15. Our hope is to have a panel of people with various backstories, those who have lived in Vincennes their whole lives, those who lived here then eventually moved back and those who left and did not return. This will enable us to have a great discussion about the value and drawbacks to living in a rural community.
We are partnering with the library and the Knox County Chamber of Commerce to promote our Community Read. The library has multiple copies of the book, and even though they are closed at this time you may still call to request a copy of the book.
If you are interested in becoming involved with project or have any questions, please call me at the Red Skelton Museum at 812-888-2105.
Anne Pratt is the director of the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy