Sunday, February 17, 2008

Small Town Joys

After living in Central Florida and Baltimore, Maryland, nearly all of my adult life, moving to the small town of Middleton, Tennessee, in June of 2007 brought many changes, nearly all of them ranging from good to heavenly.

I began to notice the differences immediately. After we bought our house, the real estate agent, Mr. Virgil Nutt, drove us to the gas company to establish our service, which was about 25 miles away, then to the electric company and the driver's license office. The entire trip took about 2.5 hours, and he didn't financially benefit at all. He had already earned his commission.

When we were looking for new counter tops for our kitchen, my wife called a supplier in another small town that was about 45 minutes away. The woman at the store gave her directions, but we stopped for lunch, which delayed us by about half an hour. When we arrived, the store clerk came out and gave my wife a hug. "I was so worried about you," she said. "I thought you might have gotten lost!"

That was just the beginning. Now that we are settled here, everyone seems to know us. I went to our bank recently, and the teller greeted me by name. When I handed a check to her and asked for cash, I instinctively reached for my wallet for identification, but before I could get it out, she had already counted out the money and put the check away, without even looking on the back for an endorsement.

Since I ship out quite a few books, I go to the post office frequently. The clerk is required to ask if any items in my package are "fragile, liquid, or perishable," so I told her she could shorten it and ask if the package has anything FLOP. Now when I walk in, she asks the question that way every time. Even if I haven't checked my P.O. box for an oversized package notice, she hands a package to me, and if the rural carrier is there, she asks me if I want my mail before she makes her daily run. All of this comes without anyone asking me my name. After being accustomed to impersonal service, these experiences are both delightful and a little spooky.

At the town's grocery store, Kirk's, the bakery ladies know me, because I frequently come in for a couple of donuts, usually right after my post office visit. When they see me, they sometimes have my order in a bag before I can tell them what I want. I sometimes laugh and tell them I'm going to surprise them someday and change my order, but I don't think they believe me.

Probably the greatest delight of all is the rural setting. My wife and I go on long walks on lonely country lanes, seeing deer, turkeys, songbirds, and foxes. What a great time for prayer and meditation! We drop in on our neighbors uninvited and chat for a while, and they do us the same favor. In just a few months, we have made true friends. Amanda quilts with the elderly lady up the road. The retired firefighter stops by to help with our horse fence. A neighbor calls and shares news, asks what she can pray about, or to tell us she's going to make a chocolate pie for us, just because. Coming from a land where neighbors only smile and wave on their way to a too-busy-to-bother-with-conversation day, this place really does seem like a piece of heaven.

I don't miss the bustle at all. Sure, Wal-mart is a lot farther away, but without the crazy traffic, it doesn't take any longer to get to it than it did before. Do we have a McDonald's? Nope. Wendy's? Negative. But you can go to the Southwind's Restaurant, get some fried chicken, okra, turnip greens, and black-eyed peas, and listen to the latest news from the gathering of locals. The blend of southern cooking and sweet southern chatter is a delight that can't be described adequately. You just have to sit and let it soak in. I think it won't be long until I adopt some of that southern twang. It feels smooth and easy, almost like the down-home food relaxes your voice and says, "Honey, this is the good life."

And it is the good life. Y'all come and visit us sometime, you hear?

9 comments:

Kel said...

Bryan:

I know exactly what you mean about living in a small town. I live in Northern Indiana, and your description of Middleton could be a description of my hometown (minus the southern-style food).

When I was younger I wanted to leave as soon as possible. After attending college several hours away, I realized how blessed I was to live in a small, rural, close-knit community. Our particular community has been hit by a tornado, violent storms, and other tragedies over the past year. We have come together, helping those who lost homes, businesses, etc. Other cities and towns around us were amazed at our willingness to help those who had lost everything.

I currently teach English at the local high school, and love every minute of it (I've taught at the middle school, too). Many of my students are the children of people I went to high school with.

I also work part-time at the local library, and patrons comment how nice it is that everyone at the library knows them by name. While there is good and bad in living in such a close-knit community, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I, too, enjoy the quiet country road we live on, the breath-taking sunrises and sunsets I experience each day, and the friendliness of our Amish neighbors.

You are very blessed to have found such a wonderful place to live!

Blessings to you and yours,

Kel

Galactic Overlord-In-Chief said...

Wow that does sound great. What a great experience. It's not much like my area. I live in a packed, but not smotheringly-so, suburb west of New Orleans, where I have my picks of McDonalds, Wal-Marts, Wendyses, Office Depots, shopping malls, etc. (Unfortunately, that environment isn't conducive to me developing a southern twang. I've been told at times by northern visitors that I have no accent) But often times I go to the same places, and people start to know me. I've had a few food places give me my order after I've ordered the same thing there many times. And this area is mostly built up, so there isn't the rush of new homeowners looking for a place to live (they go north of N.O.) and thus not a sufficatingly constant flow of traffic.

So three cheers for the places we live in! :)

- Jason

Araken said...

Wow, sounds great. I live in a rapidly growing suburban area. Can't stand it. It's not really fast, but I long for a quiet place like that. The southern-style food sounds awesome, so long as it isn't Mexican. I am NOT into spicy food.

Pais Charos said...

Aye, I try to come and visit as often as I possibly can. Despite the fact that I come to visit you and your family (first and foremost reason I come), I love the country setting and the peaceful atmosphere up there. I love being able to just say, "Hey, I'm going for a walk" and take as long as I need to. I truly wish I had that here - I think it would lessen a good amount of my stress.

Roheryn said...

Sounds wonderful...

I live in a small town, in the middle of urban NJ... we've got a few neighbors that we can just drop in on... mostly family, and people we've known for years...
but most of the town we can't even talk to, 'cause they don't know English, and we don't know Spanish...

and NJ ish not... the most rural place... hence the fact that I looked for the smallest, most rural colleges nearby that I could find....

heh, and I'd love to drop in sometime!

Elenatintil said...

I live in the suburbs now, but both of my parents came from small towns...and most of my mom's relatives still live in her's. In fact, my great-grandfather is so well known that one time a letter came to the post-office with only his name and the name of the town written on it, and they knew exactly how to get it to him!

I love small towns (part of the reason why I love the movie Elizabethtown, because of it's realistic portrayal of a small town) and sincerely hope that I can raise my kids in a similar setting someday.

IQ said...

coolness. that's really awesome. yeah, you gotta love the southern talk. being a Texan-i've lived with it. it's hilarious when you meet northern people and when say ya'll they give you the funniest looks. i love when you have recognition in stores like that. no body says your name yet they all know who you are. it's great. i have that a lot at church and even school. i really think it's cool.

-The Infamous IQ

Arianna said...

I love you, Dad!
The doughnuts remind me of Publix. :)
Laramie, WY is a small town, but it definitely does not have the nice feel of a southern town. People here are downright rude.
I miss you and the South.

Love, Anni

Galadriel said...

You know you live in a small town when...
You dial a wrong number and recognize the person who answers.
You walk into the pharmacy and the pharmacist knows exactly what you need.
A "traffic jam" occurs when all the school buses leave at once.
Everyone's related.
The same student is on the Academic Decathlon squad, track team, president of FCCLA, and stars in the school play.
Manure is a front-page headline--ask me about it!
The week of summer camp, Sunday School is empty.
You can recognize someone by their vehicle.
The librarian orders books just becuase you recommend them.

I live in a town of 1600 and LOVE it! I can't image living anywhere larger than 30,000 or so.