There’s a hedge along Main Street in my hometown that I pass by in my walks around the village and, in my foggy memory from 47 years ago, I remember this hedge. Back then it was as tall as me as my mother walked me to my first day of kindergarten. Today my old friend the hedge is still as tall as me as, over time, we’ve both grown. It’s still here and so am I.
That’s one reason I like living in a small town. It’s seeing a hedge that’s always been there with you, a grounding reference point that has been flexible enough to weather the changes of life, but strong enough to have taken root through time.
In a small town you get a sense of who you are. There’s a sense of identity, sense of community, and sense of belonging. People know you and you know them – both friends and enemies. It’s all out there. You are the town and the town is you.
There’s a deep sense of history in small towns because it’s all around you in the buildings, in the families, in the trees, and in the land. It reminds you, even as things change, that there were those who were here before you, who struggled here, who grew here, who thrived here, who lived here and died here. They’ve left the town for your safekeeping and for you to leave in good stead for someone else yet to come.
Small towns are places where you can’t just stand back expect someone else to get things done. If something needs to be done you have to pitch in and do it or it just won’t happen. There’s no one else. It’s you and your neighbors, be they right next door, a few streets over, or at the opposite end of town. You’re in it together and have to make it work together.
The world is broader in a small town than first perceived at a quick glance. There’s a lot there. Most towns and their schools offer concerts, plays, parks, athletic events and sports facilities. There are book clubs and arts groups. There’s also the joy of just standing around jawing with folks you come across on the street.
Politics are lively and passionate because they really matter. Political decisions affect you directly and swiftly. But, in spite of political battles, you band together with your other townsfolk on a muggy July night and watch fireworks dance in the sky, knowing that the next day you might be fighting about some obscure political point, but tonight…tonight you are united in a greater purpose of liberty tied together by Lincoln’s "mystic chords of memory."
You are not left wanting for culture and debate in a small town. It abounds.
As do the simple pleasures. There are the church dinners where for a small price you can get more tasty homemade food piled on a warm plate than you can handle. Most things are within walking distance – the post office, the grocery, your friends’ and family’s houses, community centers, parks, schools, recreation centers, shops, restaurants, taverns, and more.
There’s your porch, or stoop, where you can watch lightning bugs awaken in the twilight in the summer, see squirrels bounding about in autumn in their pre-winter madness, observe snow falling in the glow of the streetlights on a winter’s night, and watch your lilacs and peonies ease into bloom in the slow warmth of April and May.
Small towns are not just dots on a map. They’re living, breathing things of which the buildings and streets are the face and the people residing there the town’s life blood and spirit. A small town is home.
Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.