2013: Last, long, lingering look

Here we are, standing on the brink of what experts are anticipating to be a brand-new year.

It?s a moment when, as we look to the future, it seems also appropriate to take one final glance back on the journey that brought us here. A journey of trials and victories, of skepticism and anticipation and of really big signs commemorating a marshmallow roast.

I realize this week?s newspaper is already crammed with year-end reviews, but I can assure that this one will be highly embellished and partially fibbed.

And so, let?s take one last, lingering look back on 2013, starting?as years seem to be doing these days?with…

January

…which began with a feeling of optimism as the Marion and Hillsboro Cham?bers of Commerce met for their joint annual meeting. It?s a display of brotherhood, goodwill and camaraderie, which is immediately followed by each chamber holding an emergency private session to discuss what a bunch of whackadoodles the other chamber is.

In industrial news, Hillsboro residents?particularly conservationists and people who like to write letters to the editor?are rattled by the new presence of a horizontal drilling rig just two miles west of town. Used for ?fracking,? a method of drawing oil from the ground by making up words, the rig?s continuous use of water causes some to worry it will drain the Marion Reservoir, displacing thousands of blue-green algae families.

Progress is also the topic of discussion in Marion, when it is announced that trains passing through town will be doubling in speed. Professional productivity is expected to increase by 20 percent, since residents will no longer spend half of their days sitting at the crossing waiting for locomotives to meander by.

Back in Hillsboro, the city police department is concerned by the growing level of in-town coyote sightings (possibly ?more than one?) and, acting with usual swiftness, outlaws stray cats.

County wide law enforcement also take action, this time against litterbugs along county roads. Five hundred dollars is the reward decided upon for a person who calls in a tip about trash dumpers, though no serious consequences for the perpetrators are decided. Twenty-four people immediately turn themselves in.

In sports, the Hillsboro High School girls? basketball team wins the Trojan Classic for the first time in the tournament?s nine-year history. This is the same group of female athletes who have triumphed in every single competitive event since 1998 summer tee-ball.

The mood is not so celebratory, however, for local farmers who are faced with news that the continuing drought will likely bring this summer?s wheat harvest to total ruin. It?s a bleakness that follows right into…

February

…which is when local Girl Scout troops announce Cookies Now!, a new method of cookie selling that brings actual boxes of cookies right to a resident?s front door, dramatically decreasing the willpower needed to order fewer than five boxes of Thin Mints.

Door-to-door activity is on the agenda for the Marion County commissioners as well, who recommend that the Hillsboro City Council consider offering curb-side recycling, a convenient pick-up system for reusable materials that will make residents feel even more guilty for not participating.

The first snowstorm of the season also occurs, which is only mentioned for the sake of making sure everybody knows it snowed. And speaking of things journalists think ought to be published, in…

March

…Peabody-Burns High School officials are forced not only to deal with an on-campus bomb threat (which turns out to be a hoax), but also with reporters from a local newspaper that rhymes with ?Jar Kernel? who are apparently very offended they were not immediately contacted the very nanosecond the threat was made, because it?s not like school officials had anything else to worry about. The paper publishes a provocative feature on the topic, which boosts subscription rates by 48 percent, or two subscribers.

Also in school news, a Hillsboro math class spends several weeks building contraptions to launch projectiles. The students receive hands-on experience with velocity, angles and how far away you can launch a beanbag and still make it leave a welt on your friend?s backside.

And as long as we?re on the subject of emergency medical response, county commissioners vote to allow EMS agents to accept credit card payment for ambulance rides, which immediately boosts birthday party and church youth group reservations.

In other county-wide news, local elections become a dramatic show of democracy in action with cut-throat candidate competition and narrow, photo-finish results.

Just kidding.

Speaking of competition, the Hillsboro girls? basketball team falls short of the 3A state championship, taking home the third-place plaque. Heartbroken fans suspect the outcome was rigged by whoever maintains the state championship sign on the south side of town because it?s running out of space.

In Hillsboro, a group of residents attend a city council meeting to request that the snowplow routes be changed so that their alleyways can be cleared, and, while they?re at it, outlaw all fireworks within city limits. The group also plans to ask that, if it?s not too much trouble, city maintenance workers also mow their lawns during the summer, and maybe prohibit the joy of bike riding and snow cones.

And speaking of snow, it snows again. But this time there seems to be enough moisture to give hope to the withering wheat crop, though agricultural experts warn it isn?t nearly enough to make any progress on the continuing drought.

Weather continues to cause trouble in…

April

…when cold, dreary conditions hamper Hillsboro Elementary?s fledgling ?walking school bus? program. Though participants?both children and adult volunteers?are enthusiastic about the program, bus drivers are frustrated that, instead of simply scraping the ice off bus windshields, they now have to stop every two blocks and scrape the ice off of students? eyeglasses.

In other elementary school news, Hillsboro fifth-graders arrive at school to find their chairs have been replaced by giant, red bouncy balls. There is no punch line, just picture a whole class of fifth graders bouncing at their desks.

Hillsboro?s annual garage sale day is a success, continuing the timeless ritual of the same pieces of junk gradually migrating across town.

In sports, a Hillsboro long-jumper breaks the school record at the James Thomas Invitational with a distance of 23 feet and 5 inches. The previous school record, set in 1956, belonged to an event volunteer who tripped on his way to rake the sand pit between jumps and fell a distance of 23 feet, 21?2 inches.

On the subject unlikely success, local farmers receive more bad news about the spindly wheat crop: late-season freezes are killing sprouts already weakened by the ongoing drought. Agri?cul?tural experts say all hope is lost for this season?s harvest. However, news is off to a more plucky start in…

May

…when the Hillsboro school district continues its wacky method of education by teaching sixth-grade math students to quilt. The course is meant to give hands-on experience with rations, proportions, measuring, fractions, and decimal equivalents. But it also puts sharp objects into the hands of adolescent boys, so it?s probably a good thing county law enforcement officers are geared with new equipment:

Marion police officers are now wired with body-mounted cameras, which will not only produce footage of evidence from the officers? points of view, but will also greatly increase the chances that the MPD will be featured in an upcoming episode of ?Cops.?

Hillsboro police, meanwhile, receive new bullet-and-stab protection vests from a national Groupon event. Officers also receive dinner for two at an upscale restaurant and a buy-one-get-one massage coupon.

And speaking of good deals, Tabor College officially announces it will finally build the performing arts center it has been promising for three decades. School officials say construction will be completed by 2073, or before the sun burns out, whichever comes first.

The performing arts remain the subject of conversation in…

June

…when Marion?s Chingawassa Days planners predict this year?s event will be ?the best year ever.? Headlining the weekend of high-profile concerts is a band called Firehouse, a name that becomes somewhat ironic when it rains and the band cancels.

Speaking of bone-headed moves, an underground contractor attempting to lay a new line along U.S. Highway 56 slices his backhoe right through the cable that provides Internet, phone and television service for all Eagle Communications customers in Hillsboro. The outage continues for 19 hours, during which the offending contractor receives 23,816 irate text messages and a dozen long-stemmed roses from Cox Communications.

In other digital news, a Peabody farmer who spends his spare time making humorous videos about agriculture and uploading them to YouTube begins attracting national attention. Included in his bag of tricks is a green screen, onto which he superimposes himself into an image of a full, healthy field of wheat, which helps him sleep at night.

Meanwhile, the Hillsboro Development Corp. and Tabor College purchase the Trail Lanes bowling alley. But before anyone has much time to snicker, harvest of the lackluster, shrivelled, frost-bitten, water-deprived wheat crop begins. So naturally, everyone is surprised in…

July

…when it is announced that?even with 20 percent of wheat still in the fields?the 2013 harvest is one of the best ever, topping 4 million bushels. Because sometimes irony is just too good to make up.

The jocularity continues as communities across the county celebrate Indepen?dence Day like every patriotic American should: blowing stuff up that was made in China. Peabody?s annual fireworks display draws 4,700 dazzled spectators and 68,000 hungry mosquitoes.

The Marion County Fair Board also reports a high attendance at the summer tradition, crediting accommodating weather conditions and ample parking space since, hey, we didn?t have to put up with that pesky carnival. Among the many attractions was concert headliner Susie McEntire, who isn?t as famous as her sister Reba, but looks enough like her from a distance that fair planners maybe could have gotten away with saying it really was Reba.

Back in Hillsboro, six youngsters in the seventh and eighth grades are given a rare look behind the scenes in the city?s first annual Hometown Youth Adventure. Chauffeured around town in emergency vehicles, the students are pelted with water balloons from the city?s 40-foot-tall bucket truck, blasted by the fire department?s high-pressure hoses, watched the city?s sewage get processed and observed how dirty water is turned into drinking water.

All six students, upon returning home, immediately swear off water for the rest of their lives, which is unfortunate for them because in…

August

…the county?s two-year drought finally comes to an end after 20 inches of rain falls in just six weeks. Staying true to form, local agricultural experts begin discussing how the generous precipitation will harm future crops.

Despite the continuing downpours, fall sports practices begin with round-the-clock workouts, which are interrupted only when coaches are reminded that school is also in session.

Also on the subject of local athletics, Tabor College?continuing its recent tradition of creating new teams for which there exists no collegiate-level competition in the entire state?announces its intentions to begin a competitive swimming program. Rumors begin circulating that Quidditch is next on the list.

In emergency rescue news, the Hillsboro Fire Department and Cooperative Grain & Supply team up for grain-rescue training in which volunteers are buried in a vat of grain and, if all goes well, pulled back out. Local techies suggest using the underground contractor who sliced the Eagle Com?munications cable and cut off all digital services for 19 hours as the practice victim.

And on the subject of feeling trapped, the county medical community is rattled when Newton Medical Cen?ter announces plans to bring a clinic to Hillsboro. In a display of outrage, the community protests by knocking down the Hillcrest Motel, effectively evicting roughly half of the city?s lice population.

Speaking of insects, in…

September

…Hillsboro High School?s Oracle student newspaper publishes a fascinating feature on various ways to prepare and consume crickets, furthering speculation that the federal government?s new school lunch policy is failing.

In Marion news, the city spends much of the month focused on keeping up appearances. First, city council members consider ways to keep yard waste such as grass and leaves out of storm drains, finally voting to outlaw all residential grass and leaves. But there is no movement made on the legitimacy of pink toilet fountains as yard art.

The city also avoids a potential disaster when the Main Street resurfacing project?delayed by summer downpours?is barely completed before thousands of visitors pour into town for the annual Art in the Park.

Meanwhile in Hillsboro, the Arts & Crafts Fair is deemed a giant success, as 50,000 guests somehow manage to cram into a city that has about 12 parking spaces, four and a half of which are marked ?handicapped only.?

County pride continues to thrive as a giant sign is erected at the county lake location of the March 2012 Guinness-world-record-holding marshmallow roast. More than 1,200 marshmallows were toasted simultaneously on that day, and environmentalists are still working to clean the resulting goo off of nearby wildlife.

The world?s largest shipment of Dawn dish soap has yet to arrive, though critter rescue remains the…

October

…topic of conversation when a Marion veterinarian nurses a wounded ball python back to health. The snake was accidentally slammed in a closing drawer, which is why animal advocates recommend not keeping your reptiles in household storage compartments.

In sports news, the Hillsboro High School female athletes clinch yet another high-profile victory, this time winning their third-straight state volleyball championship. Attorneys from the Lance Armstrong investigation begin swooping into the city, just in case.

Victory celebrations are stunted, however, when the Kansas State High School Activities Association announces classification changes to take place immediately: Hillsboro is bumped to 2A status in all athletics but football, which will remain in 3A for one more year. The shuffle continues throughout the county, with Marion football downgraded to 2A, but remaining 3A in everything else, while Goessel football switches from 8-man Division II to 8-man Division I and Centre switches from Division I to Division II?unless a train leaves Marion for a 637-mile, nine-hour trip, traveling at two paces, and where was the destination of this trip if it took place before the speed was allowed to double through Marion?

As Halloween approaches, eduction news is grim when Hillsboro school officials discover the district lost 44 students. Just like, ?puff,? and they were gone. Luckily, the students are later found under the gymnasium bleachers scavenging for dropped popcorn and Skittles after finishing their government-regulated school lunch.

Hillsboro schools remain in the news in…

November

…when the elementary school asks the Hillsboro City Council for permission to house animals on an on-site educational farm. Though current codes do not permit livestock within city limits, the school cites studies showing that caring for animals can boost responsibility, productivity, focus and discipline. And if not, those students could be taken out behind the barn.

In other school news, the Oracle student newspaper publishes an investigative report about dress code policies and the recent, controversial trend of female students wearing form-fitting leggings such as tights or yoga pants without any other covering layer. In a student poll conducted by the newspaper, 50 percent of females responded that leggings were appropriate and not distracting, while 100 percent of the males failed to respond to the survey because they were too busy staring at 50 percent of the females.

Meanwhile in Marion, the city is honored to host Sen. Jerry Moran?s 1,000th town hall meeting. Aides to the senator explain Moran picked the city because it was the location of his first town hall meeting in 1997, and ?he thinks he might have left his watch on the podium.?

As Thanksgiving approaches, county consumers?responding to pressure to shop locally?obediently rush to purchase the last two and a half remaining heads of cabbage from area grocery stores. And the holiday spirit continues into…

December

…as Hillsboro hosts its annual Down Home Christ?mas event, a festive day of local retailers, crafters, bakers, artisans and a heck of a lot of guilt for sneaking to Wal-Mart the day before.

The mood sombers, however, as city residents gather for a ?community conversation? about the future of Hillsboro. The meeting, led by a panel of 24 community representatives made up mostly of upper-middle-aged men, struggles to find a solution to boost the city?s population. I?ll say it again: Representatives of city residents. Mostly old guys. Can?t figure out why population is down.

Things seem even more bleak when the Hillsboro schools? district office is discovered to have been hit by what appears to be a bullet. The situation lightens, however, when the projectile is revealed to have been misfired from one of the high school?s math class?s projects.

In county-wide news, the old county jail undergoes demolition, destroying not only the building, but also any lingering hopes of voters who were against building the new jail in the first place, and were hoping maybe we could move the inmates back into the old jail and lower taxes.

And yet, even as the year seemed to be at its darkest, just days before Christmas the county is blanketed in a beautiful layer of snow, which is mentioned not just to make sure that everyone knows it snowed, but also because somehow the pure whiteness gives hope for the new year: hope for nourished crops, hope for renewed vigor in a down economy and hope for more marshmallows

And so, as we stand on this threshold to a brand-new, unsoiled year, let?s toast to the future and raise our glasses of non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice. Whether it?s healthy to drink or not.