CHEROKEE, Iowa | "All children, except one, grow up."
The opening line in J.M. Barrie's novel, "Peter Pan," was recently judged as the single opening line which folks in England best remember.
I find myself reflecting on this line on Monday as adults scramble with the enthusiasm of children, working with a finals-week panic to stage "Peter Pan" at the Cherokee Community Center.
It's been 19 years since the small-but-mighty Cherokee Community Theater has taken flight with "Peter Pan." This week, the group returns to Neverland with an opening show on Thursday, the first of eight performances.
To me, Cherokee's an ideal spot to stage a show that illustrates the conflict of childhood innocence and chaos against that of rigid adult responsibility.
As a community, Cherokee has, for years, battled in the adult world, fighting off an unfair stigma associated with having the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders as part of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute.
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Cherokee has been forced to pick itself up from frequent Little Sioux River floods and the occasional plant closing, such as the shuttering of the Tyson Deli Foods plant last year.
On the day the plant was to close last fall, in fact, I rode with the Washington High School homecoming queen on a picture-perfect parade route. I soon learned she'd suffered a concussion on the eve of her royal election.
It's what I've come to expect to find in the county seat town of 5,253: Resiliency with a smile.
It is here you find other such points of pride and activity. The Cherokee Jazz Festival, for example, breathes life and sound into the streets each January.
It is here you find the Cherokee Symphony Orchestra, one of the smallest symphony organizations, I'd wager, in all of Iowa. You also have Creek Fest, the 80th annual Cherokee Country Club Amateur Match Play Tournament (this weekend), the Spring Lake Yacht Club and the Sanford Museum, with its other-worldly programming.
And, it's in Cherokee where you find an active and sharp downtown sector teeming with independent merchants who offer everything under Sanford's stars, ranging from large appliances to diamond rings to mountain bikes to malts to softball uniforms.
You'll also find the Book Vine, a snappy Main Street bookstore owned and operated by Mollie Loughlin, director of "Peter Pan."
"What's changed since we last did 'Peter Pan?'" Loughlin asks, repeating my question. "I'd say that we, as a cast and as an organization, have evolved. We've found new and innovative ways to tell this story."
In the process, they've kept it entertaining.
The Famous Flying by Foy group was contracted to help volunteers here put in place the hooks, cables and pulleys necessary for Peter Pan and three Darling children to "fly" about the stage.
"For a fee, Flying by Foy from Las Vegas sends a track, the cables and harnesses we need," says Andrew Linn, a farmer from nearby Pierson, Iowa, and a mainstay onstage and in set design. "Flying by Foy also sends a guy out here to teach us how to operate it."
If done just right, Peter Pan soars in an arc across the stage and lands on a fireplace mantle Linn and his cohorts built and fortified.
On a Monday afternoon, Linn discusses these flight patterns and the time it may take to change elaborate set components, including Captain Hook's ship that doubles as a hideout for the Lost Boys.
Linn, by the way, plays Captain Hook, the same role he had 19 years ago. He's also president of the Cherokee Community Theater Board of Directors.
"I've been part of the set building here for the past 20 years," Linn says. "It's a team effort and a Herculean effort for a town this size."
Linn paces and cuts and pants and paints this afternoon, an hour shy of the initial dress rehearsal. He searches for a drill, finds what he needs backstage and soon joins fellow longtime volunteer Rick Angell, an insurance agent, in attaching a board.
"I once read that the average life expectancy of a community theater group is five years," Linn says as beads of sweat form on his forehead, shining under so many bright lights. "The Cherokee Community Theater is pushing 60."
Smallish, mighty and relevant today, this theater group, refreshingly, refuses to grow up. In many ways, it's a metaphor for the town.