I live in a cookie-cutter house in a cookie-cutter suburb of Austin, Texas. As I was mindlessly getting ready for work this morning, with Good Morning America droning in the background, I started wondering about what it would be like to live in small-town America.
When I left for work this morning, I noticed our young neighbor who lives his life in a house just yards away. I know nothing about him – not even his name. He refused to meet my gaze, never smiled or even looked my way at all. I observed his untended and dying landscape and sadly realized that I had not seen his wife in months. City life – with all its supposed sophistication, excitement and busyness – somehow seems to numb a person’s ability to relate and care about others. However, well-meaning – there are never enough hours in a day. What happened to the friendliness, and the feeling of knowing one’s neighbors and in turn being known by them? These traits seem to be part of a world which is rapidly fading away.
This feeling was reiterated as I made my way to the freeway (feeling like part of an ant colony on a mission – or better yet a frantic rat caught in a trap). Every car held one lonely occupant – lost in their own desperate thoughts – gearing up to face another day of corporate America. Now please understand, I know that “every day life” whether city or small town – both now and then – was and is difficult. However, sometimes as I am facing another day – I am transported back in time – to a place of quiet, tree-lined streets, with neat and well-tended frame houses, whose doors are never locked, and a pie is always cooling in the kitchen – where life appeared to be just a little bit simpler and where “everybody knew your name.”
My husband grew up in the small west Texas town of Brownwood. Although I, as a city girl, have had a hard time relating at times, I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing the many stories of living life in small town America. Stories which include Eddie and Jimmy King – two brothers who owned the small neighborhood grocery store – King’s Grocery. My husband was employed there as a grocery stocker and a bag boy. Not only was he expected to bag the groceries with a smile – he was expected to walk them home AND unpack them too! Milk, sugar, eggs and lives were shared freely with each other – much time was made for family and friends – hardships and burdens were borne together. The men worked hard and long making a living and the women worked long and hard tending to their families. And of course, everyone knew when the man across the street had one too many drinks the night before at the local bar. I’m told that he regularly bashed his car through the garage door – leaving the evidence for all to see!
Below is a short list of what I’ve learned from my small town American family and friends. Let me know if any other things come to your mind!
Parents still discipline their children in small town America. Instead of caving into peer pressure (and/or exhaustion) and plopping their kids in front of the TV or newest game system – small town kids are expected to pitch in on the farm, ranch or perform other chores around the house. Small town families still spend a good deal of time and attention to teaching their kids proper values, respect and manners – “yes sir,” “no ma’am” and “thank you – please.” In small town America most teenagers hold a job and work for the things they have. What could us city folk learn from that example?
In small town America – folks still take care of their elderly – in fact, not only do they take care of them – they respect and value their wisdom and life experiences too!
I’ve observed that in small town America you are included in everything. Maybe this is because there are fewer people – and so everyone is needed to pitch in?! It seems that you are invited to every imaginable charitable cause, church function and family reunion. No one is ever left out of anything!
God and country are still first in small town America – enough said.
The kindness and hospitality of small town America (and especially small town TEXAS) is real – it is genuine. Small town folks DO care about their neighbors. You can be assured that there is always someone watching your back. Neighbors will gladly watch over your house, your yard, your truck, your livestock and will even smack your kids around if they need it. They know when you are out-of-town and they know when you return. As my friend Susan told me – she once received a call from her mother’s neighbor who had grown concerned because Susan’s mother hadn’t checked the mail at her regular time that day. City folks may sneer at that and call it nosey – some just call it being neighborly.
So I’ll leave you with this southern greeting from my friend Susan - a native of Alabama - “How’s yo momma and them?”