[A word about disclaimers: Many a blogger offer disclaimers at the beginning of a post after a long absence. I have even been guilty of such garbage. However, I have recently decided that I personally don't like reading them, so I am not going to write one. Furthermore, you all probably know we just bought a new house, which includes endless amounts of work. You also probably all know that I am a teacher and as such have been drinking up the glorious days of summer...and most recently panicking that I haven't done more to prepare for this school year. But since I decided I am against disclaimers... I won't write one and will spare you all the torture. You're welcome].
A fellow teacher-friend of mine came to visit me about a month ago. In the darkest part of winter we had decided that when the July heat was in full force we would don our cutest bathing suits [whether or not we had attempted any form of working out previously], lather on sunscreen, and pretend like we were thirteen again and spend a day at the great and marvelous Oceans of Fun in Kansas City. We were both a little surprised that we followed through with our winter promise to each other, knowing full well that when one hasn't seen the sun and has been walking on snow for a month or two your decision making abilities are not always at their highest capacity.
That being said, she drove South to my place, we lathered, I hadn't worked out, we put on our suits, we judged our aging bodies accordingly, packed a lunch, and had a wonderful and glorious 7 hour day at the water park of my childhood.
However, this post is not about waterparks [although they are still incredibly strange places where people walk around in what can sometimes be deemed less than underwear and it's considered normal], and it is not even about making everyone who did not choose a career in education jealous [although it is worth noting that you should be incredibly jealous of our lazy summer days... even though while we were laying in the wave pool my teacher-friend and I had a brief discussion about whether it is lay or lie and how we teach our students the difference... but I digress]. And no, this is not even about me arguing with those of you that will say, "You are 24 for crying out loud! Your body is NOT aging..."
No, this is actually about something quite different entirely. It is about how this visit from my teacher-friend who is also a city-girl [and all sorts of other hyphenated words], helped turn the tide in my process of moving "home."
You see we went to this quaint little store just outside of town, run by a local Mennonite family. We both ordered some coffee and in the process I struck up a casual conversation with the sweet lady that owns the place. It went something like this:
Sweet Lady: Are you getting a little more settled now?
Me: We still have a lot to do but yes, we're feeling more and more settled everyday.
Sweet Lady: Now you moved here from Nashville, right?
Me: No, Louisville. My older sister is in Nashville.
Sweet Lady: [Apologetically] Oh that's right! And she's the one that has that sweet little girl, right?
Me: Yes, Caroline. We're all a little nuts about her!
Sweet Lady: Well I know your parents are really glad to have you back. Here are your white-chocolate mochas [because hey, who said Mennonites don't serve fancy coffee!?]. Have a great day ladies!
Teacher-friend and I proceed to sit down at a little table next to homemade jams and spices and sip our coffee. She looks at me with a huge smile and says, "Wow, Kels." I peer over my steaming mocha, thinking she is probably going to say something like, "Seriously? Are you bff with the Mennonite lady or something?" But instead she says very sincerely, "You must just LOVE this. All of this. Being known again." And as I formed the word "Yes" I realized I really meant it.
My teacher-friend is very wise. I love her to pieces. I really do. [Except that she looked far better in her cute swimsuit than I did... but I guess we all probably have a friend like that :)]. While we were sitting at that little table someone else came in the store. I got up, hugged the customer, had a little chat, and then sat back down. Teacher-friend just smiled and said, "Every face is familiar. When we were in your backyard yesterday two cars drove by and you knew both of them and they waved at you! I don't even know my neighbors. Oh Kels, you're going to love it here."
Later that morning I hugged my teacher-friend in her city-girl dress and she got into her black city-car, and as she drove away I began thinking:
Most of America idolizes small towns, but live in large cities or suburbs. If you think about it the iconic "Main Street" of small towns is everywhere: Disneyland and Disney World even put a Main street at the center of their paradise, every truly great classic movie has a peaceful main road in the center of their town. And these places are dying because even though people secretly long for that welcoming and convenient small town, they can't bring themselves to live there. And so these places are dying.
But here [and I'm going to try to be more careful about not saying exactly where we are], that's what I really love. Because here it is the way small towns are supposed to be. Our Main Street is complete with an old, brick courthouse [complete with familiar faces from my childhood], a post-office, a true old-fashioned hardware store [where you can buy anything from a birthday card to a microwave to paint to a lawn mower!], a couple of banks, a couple of bars and restaurants with clever names like "The Tavern," and "Coffee Time Cafe"], a little public library, a family drugstore and lots of churches. Most of the buildings are old brick, paint from every decade showing. Wide sidewalks and waving passersby line the brick roads. Local farmers' daughters sit in the back of pick up trucks at the four-way stop and sell sweet corn and tomatoes. It is a scene you have seen in the movies a million times. And I realize now how rare this place truly is. Global and national chains have not tainted this place with a loss of personalization. Sure, I can't run into Wal-Mart to buy Great Value milk and bread, but I can walk to the local grocery store which has been owned and operated by the same family for years.
The most common question I have been asked by people back in Louisville [or friends from other cities] has been, "Do you miss the convenience of the city?"
My answer: Life is way more convenient here. Sure, I may not always have the cheaper option that retail chains can offer, but if necessary I could drop my car off for an oil change [and talk to the car-guy about his granddaughter whom I graduated with], walk over and have a sandwich at the local cafe, walk to the post office and do a little business, go to the dentist, the local tax office [and have the lady work up my taxes and then not charge me but rather ask for some iris bulbs in return], the drugstore, the grocery store, the courthouse, the bank, and the hardware store, and then walk back to pick up my car all in less than hour if I wanted to! And along the way I would know everyone with whom I was choosing to do business. In the city I would have to plan a full day, if not two, to accomplish what I could accomplish here in an hour ON FOOT!
I would bet that you could ask almost any American to picture the quintessential American town and they would think of images such as parades on Main street, and black and white movies like "It's a Wonderful Life" set in places much like I have been talking about. It is likely their images will always involve a small-town scene.
And though most people don't have the privilege of living in such a place [because these places are almost all stamped out], I do... and I think my teacher-friend was right: I'm going to love it here.
** But I do miss Starbucks' java-chip-frappuchinio.