Small Towns

Well, I was born in a small town

And I live in a small town

Prob’ly die in a small town

Oh, those small communities

(John Cougar Mellencamp)

We do still have many advantages in rural communities. Don’t mistake me. Compared to some sprawling urban concoction of  high-rises, cloverleafs, six-lane highways and sinister things looking out from dark alleys, things ain’t so bad here.

Not that we don’t have problems. The thugs and hooligans in our small towns imitate the thugs and hooligans in cities.

There’s always been bad people. There’s always been bullies. Problem is there weren’t so many of them.

Still, we rural people, whether in unincorporated areas or towns under 10,000 in population, are better off in many ways. At least, when I drive home from work, I get to see trees that aren’t planted in a little green square within an ocean of parking lot. I can look out over an expanse of healthy sugar cane, or a tepid bayou of green-black water. I got nearly two acres to roam at home.

There’s the nicety of knowing people, too. We don’t know everyone, of course. But pretty much any trip to the store or a restaurant you run into at least one person you know. You may not like them, but that’s as may be.

My family and friends who visit me from big cities marvel at how many people I am on a first name basis with. You don’t get that in cities. They say it’s because of my position, but I think that’s only a marginal advantage. Folks just know each other in small towns and countrysides. It’s how we are.

Granted, I look forward to a certain amount of anonymity if I ever find a way to live for a time on the side of some mountain or along a river in the valley below. But eventually I’ll make friends and know my neighbors.

If any of us have a chance of retaining or regaining our communities, it’s rural folk. First, all of us have to stop trying to emulate big cities. Though my friends in the school system will cringe, or laugh as the case may be, it is still a far, far better thing to do everything possible to retain community, neighborhood based schools than stuff kids into mega-mall complexes and thus break up a hub of a community.

Similarly, we need to recognize that, in light of what we’ve learned about fear and parents not wanting to let their children wander far, we need neighborhood parks. Yes, I understand, times are tough, the economy’s in the tank, there’s not enough money to go around. But I submit emphatically that an acre of park with a fraction of concrete and a whole lot of green unites communities, too.

While I dream of expanses of wood and water, I’m comfortable in a small town despite its problems, because I don’t think they’re insurmountable. That creeping beast that infiltrates many small towns these days—crime and its associated fear—can be vanquished. We just have to have the mettle to do it.

Rural American is the backbone of this nation. Again, major cities do nothing but consume in return for money. Not that money isn’t a great thing to have! But without our rural areas and small towns, big cities would collapse. They cannot sustain themselves, and money can’t buy food, fuel, water when there is none.

Now and then, a former schoolmate will visit our little community from some metroplex and remarks to me, “You should get out of here. Come to—name a big city—and really make something of yourself.”

That leaves me annoyed and dismayed all at once. I usually just smile and say something innocuous like, “Oh, I’m fine where I am,” but what I want to say is, “Really? I haven’t made something of myself? How gracious of you to say so! In your city of 835,000 people, do you wave at people you know as you pass them on the street? Wander into a restaurant and can be pretty certain you’ll find a friend or acquaintance to sit with for lunch? And by the way, ‘make something of yourself’ may mean one thing to you and another to me, so don’t look down your just-another-face-in-a-crowd at me and imply that I haven’t.”

I don’t care if I’m a journalist, a banker, a plumber, a farmer, a short order cook…to ‘make something of yourself’ is how you define it, and I define it by being happy, so if you’re happy and I’m happy and you think I’m not, you can go take a long walk on a short pier.

There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to shake the dust of this place off my heels and skedaddle out of here. And there’ll come a time when I’ll seek out and settle among lush-forested mountains and clear-running streams, but that doesn’t mean this won’t still be home. I’ll just have two homes: The one where the roots drink deep, and the other where the spirit soars high.

3 comments to Small Towns

  • Oh so right on Roger – And, as time passes the spirit grows within and all your worlds become one. I enjoyed reading this as always – Thank you for always adding a sparkle to my summer. Salud

  • In January of 2000 we moved to Franklin from Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ (yes, 3 caps and 2 hyphens). I must say that I did enjoy the newfound anonymity: Strolling through Walmart and Winn-Dixie without a friend or care in the world.
    Little by little, that changed and we began to know many Franklinites and Louisianians of all descriptions.
    One day, driving on Main St, we passed Ibert’s and I remarked to Bob, “Wow, we know a lot of dead people”. I did say ALL descriptions. Does this means that we are now fully assimilated into the community?

  • blufloyd

    Ahhh I live in a village. To most here I am the rich possibly gay possibly divorced former government agent retired. I let them think whatever. Most of the clutter, drum and strange, and assorted odd folks here neither excite or repulse me. I stay away from them and they me. If I get approached they rarely try twice. I like that. Festival day here so I’ll be on the road early looking for fish.

    I still need to move to Louisiana.

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