This Labor day weekend and every other labor day weekend for 33 years, I have attended the Taste of Melrose Park. I was there earlier today, and I was so happy to be able to bring my son Matteo to his first Taste and it got me thinking how much I love being a small town girl and how much my hometown will always be a part of me. Melrose Park is a small suburb of Chicago where I was born and raised. Though I do not live there anymore, I will never forget where I’m from. It is the same for many of my childhood friends as well. No matter where we are in life, how far away we move, how successful we become, how big our families grow, we still find our way back to Melrose. It is, after all, our own personal Cheers, the place you want to go where everybody knows your name. Big cities have their glamour and their shine, but the charm a small town depicts is impossible to beat.
The Taste is a fest where all the food is 3 dollars or less and it is absolutely free to get in. Not many fests are still free of charge, and not many have food this good or this cheap. It has music, rides, arts and crafts, and some of the best food around. It’s a place I come every year to see friends and family that I have known all of my life. Everyone has grown up, moved away, have their own families now, have huge careers, etc. but the Taste is a time where everyone we grew up with goes back to where it all began. It is always nice to catch up, to see familiar faces, find out what everyone is up to, get to see everyone’s kids and how they are growing, and of course, we do it all while eating some mouth-watering delicious food.
When I was growing up, everything at the Taste was 1 dollar, including the roses that the neighborhood boys used to buy to hand out to the girl they were crushing on at the time. The girls would collect roses and it would become a friendly competition to see how many roses you ended up with at the end of the night. If your crush gave you a rose, it sent butterflies to your stomach and sent you giggling with your girlfriends in the corner. It was the most innocent and sweetest tradition and one that I will never forget. It was a romantic act that displayed the boys being chivalrous at a very young age and the girls feeling admired and courted and wooed. All my girlfriends and I had to look our absolute best for this weekend each year. While most kids were going shopping for back-to-school clothes, we were scrounging together our saved-up money to buy the cutest outfits for the Taste each year.
The town just has a special place in all of our hearts, and many outsiders will never understand it. It’s a place that just will always feel like home. Though I moved out of town almost 9 years ago, I still got married in the church there, the same church that my parents were married and that my grandparents were married. I think that’s beautiful. I think that’s amazing. I still baptized my child there a few months ago, where my siblings and I were also baptized. There’s honor in that. There’s value in that to me. To be a part of a small town like that, to have been lucky enough to create the childhood memories we all had together and still get to see each other at least once a year is a beautiful thing to me.
I am truly loving the life I have now, I am truly loving the town I live in now and the new memories I am creating while raising my family here, but Melrose will always hold a special place deep within me and no matter the distance away or how old I get, I will always be a Melrose girl at heart.
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