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?