I grew up in Alma, Arkansas, population 5,672 (but it was only around 3,250 when I was a kid). My mom grew up in an even smaller town close to Alma, in Mulberry, where we truly are related to everyone, and my dad grew up mostly in the great big town of Fort Smith, so they settled in Alma, which was somewhere in between the two. There are so many wonderful parts of growing up in a small town. Every event becomes a big meet and greet; you may or may not be related to one half of the town (which makes dating pretty tedious at times, you always have to date from a couple of towns over); and you could probably find your friends in a parking lot somewhere talking. In Alma the parking lot was between the KFC and Taco Bell, but every small town, USA has a similar parking lot, somewhere.
If you are trying to be a teenager and “live your own life” and are tired of everyone “always being up in your business” (those are direct quotes from my office), living in a small town can be a little taxing. I have lived in bigger places, and even smaller places (difficult to imagine living and working in a place where the only place to eat is a gas station, but hey, you do what you have to do when you are a 23-year-old teacher), and life seems similar in each place. The kids in my office in Fayetteville said the same thing the sweet kiddos in my office in Batesville say. They all have that desire to spread their wings and fly, some a little, some to another continent or planet, to assert their independence.
I even said the same things about Alma that they say about Batesville. I was hoping for a different life, something more exciting, a place where people did not simply hang out in the parking lot of a KFC and work through the worlds’ issues (like we could have afforded to do anything else, but still). On a wild night, we would head to Fort Smith and drive up and down Grand Avenue. My frugal self now cannot imagine why that was a good idea? But somehow heading over the river to the next town always felt so grown up and anonymous (hopefully the teenagers are seeing a theme here? Over the river to the next town, see?).
Living in a small town does have its perks though. I went to the Melba with a friend a couple of weeks ago, only to see my loan officer, Adam, working the ticket booth (he and his wife are co-owners of the Melba with the cute little Shell family, I promise times are not so tough as a loan officer). After one visit to the Melba Cole told me “ALLLL of those people who sing on the stage at church? They all work at the Melba!! Isn’t that crazy?!”. I have the opportunity to collaborate on projects for my job with lots of different kinds of people too, most of whom I already knew, which always helps collaborating easier.
In a small town, you have the ability to make better personal connections with people. I have done many a parent/teacher conference at the grocery store and soccer field (I don’t mind the soccer field as long as they don’t mind my distracted cheering), and Cole’s teachers have all been incredible women I knew before, either as a friend from church, I worked with their children, or they are just someone we knew.
I relish the friendships I have because of this small town, because they remind me so much of home (which I also despised as a teenager because my mom and dad seemed to know everything before it even happened). I am convinced that every teacher in my child’s school knows his name, and all of the kids’ names for that matter, which can only help them in the long run. Small towns equal small schools, with big implications for success and personal relationships. It doesn’t hurt that Central is about two minutes from my home, and then two minutes from the high school, because I am essentially running late every single morning (just ask my gracious principal).
Bring on Christmas season in Batesville, with the Christmas parade, where we will see so many people we know and love in the parade (like Santa!! I know him!), the Christmas lights at the park (our favorite date for every night during the season), and shopping small on Main Street. I would not want to raise my child in any other place. I mourned my bigger place when I moved here, the variety of restaurants and shopping venues, but there is something so comforting about knowing most of the people you see everywhere you go. If you see me at the grocery store or soccer field, I don’t mind if we have a conference, as long as you cheer along with me for Cole’s team. Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I pray that the holiday season brings you lots of time with the people you love the most, lot of laughter and yummy food (and lots of time at the gym afterwards, right?).