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When I tell people that my husband and I moved back to my small, hometown after we had our first child, I can read the looks on their faces: “Why?” Well, I’ll tell ya, it wasn’t because of the private school options or the chance to move up the job ranks. It was for reasons that – to me – are way better. Much deeper. And far higher than any seat on a corporate ladder.
It’s where I was raised. From babyhood through 12 years of schooling, I spent them all in the same little town. And it just so happens to be the same town where my parents were born (literally in the old hospital on main street) and raised, as well as my grandparents. I often hear people make the derogatory statement that, “He/she will never get out of this town,” as if it’s a death sentence for a person’s life. And while it’s true that many people stay because they don’t have the means to go elsewhere, others stay because they want to. To me, there’s something special about raising my kids in the same town where their parents and ancestors grew up. We share a heritage and a connection here. When I tell them someday about meeting their daddy at Steamboat Days, they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about because the Steamboat Days festival has become a part of their childhoods too. When I tell them about breaking my arm as a first-grader at the city park, they can picture it perfectly. It’s the same park where they’ve had birthday parties and countless playdates. Of course, if we lived somewhere else, I could tell them stories and use my words to create mental pictures. But I don’t have to because they’ve lived in this place. They know these people. This is their life too, and they just get it. My daughter, Eden, enjoys a Steamboat Days ride with her daddy.
I know my kids’ teachers and coaches. As the old cliché says, in small towns, everybody knows everybody. And if I don’t know them, I just ask Mama, and she’ll tell me their whole family history. To me, this is comforting as I raise my kids. Next year, my oldest will start kindergarten, and when she does, her teacher will either be her current children’s church teacher (who is also married to my cousin) or a girl I grew up with in school and even cheered alongside. When she goes to first grade, there’s a good chance her teacher will be my aunt (who also taught my husband in first grade). Maybe I’m old fashioned, but this is the way I think life should be. We’re closely knit here. I trust the people in authority because I know them well. I’ve been doing life with them for 27+ years.
My kids can take off on their bikes. At five and two, my kids aren’t old enough to do this yet; but I fully expect the day to come when they take off down the back streets, and I’m not there walking beside them. Because this is one of the perks of small-town living. Yes, I’m aware that bad things can happen anywhere, but still, there’s a safety here that’s just not felt in larger cities. I think I know someone personally on every street in this town, and to an extent, it’s really just one big neighborhood.
We look out for one another. The camaraderie here is strong and tangible. When you’ve done life together for generations, it’s the only thing that makes sense. My dad tells a story of being about eight years old and moseying into the service station to buy a pack of Beechnut chewing tobacco. “No can do,” said Mr. Louis who was working the counter. “Your daddy’d get me good if I sold you that stuff.” Mr. Louis had been a friend of the family’s for a lifetime, and like small town folks do, he was looking out for the youngest son of his old friend. So I appreciate the fact that as my kids get older, I don’t really need eyes in the back of my head. I’ve got nearly 2,000 sets roaming the streets of this town. And they’ll surely let me know if and when my kids get out of line.
Townspeople gather for young girl’s prayer vigil. Photo credit: Laura Estes.
We carry each other’s burdens. I think back to two years ago when a six-year-old girl in our community became suddenly, dangerously ill. During the weeks she was in the hospital, I saw our community ignite and get to work. Someone posted her picture on flyers all over town asking for prayers and donations. Someone quickly started a fund at the local bank. Someone started a Facebook page to spread awareness and encourage prayers. The barbecue joint sold “pork butts” with proceeds going to her family. And more than 100 people gathered and held hands in front of the courthouse to unite together in prayer. A year later, a 15-year-old girl was in a serious car accident that left her hospitalized. It took just a couple days for a fundraiser dinner to be planned, lime green ribbons (her favorite color) to go up all over, and everybody in town to buy a T-shirt of the same color. In the end, God decided to take both girls home. But I know the support of the community was instrumental in carrying their families through. I’ve heard them say so. And if, God forbid, I ever have to go through a tragedy, I don’t want to be anywhere but here.
So there are plenty of reasons my family has chosen this simple, slow-paced, small-town life. In fact, I had to streamline this list down to five reasons just for reader benefit. But really, it’s all about community. Try as they may, no mall or movie theater can compete with that.
Arkansas Women Blogger member Kelcie Huffstickler is a small-town mama from Des Arc, AR. She enjoys living blocks away from family members, feeling safe if she forgets to lock her doors, and visiting the occasional Friday night catfish buffet. She and her high-school-sweetheart hubby double-team their two pre-school daughters. Between spilled milk, sister fights, playing dollhouse, and doing laundry, Kelcie somehow manages to fit in a little writing. You can find her on her blog at thisbeautifulinheritance.com and also at momlifetoday.com.