[NB:Last April the item Small Towns: 2 Comments from the Chateau – American Digest unleashed a flood of memories by readers here about the Small Towns they lived in or wished they lived in. This is a selection from those comments.]
Dan Patterson April 15, 2019, 4:47 AM Summertime, a long time ago. I flew countless missions in my Dauntless/Hellcat/Corsair/Wildcat/Tomahawk sitting on the broomstick cockpit seat straddling a stretchy rope tied to a maple tree branch. When I pulled hard on the controls (rope) she would nose up sharply. Give ‘er the gun and she’d climb like a homesick angel ’til the air got too thin, then stall and fall off RIGHT ON THE TAIL! of the pursuing devil Zeke/109/190/Stuka. The maneuver, repeated ’til mom called us in for supper, took about 5 seconds on the clock but hours in kid dogfighting time.
3-to-a-team baseball with two gloves between us and a waterlogged lopsided ball. Calls of “invisible man on second” and “tie goes to the runner” and always “four fouls and you’re out”.
Summertime sweat and drinking water from the hose, unless somebody’s mom made KoolAid. A fist-fight once in a while, playing with each other again in 20 minutes.
Those kids, and that time of a long while ago, are gone forever. It is always that way and always will be, but I am beckoned once in a while by their ghosts staring through a screen door shaded by the porch – momma’s cooking supper so I can’t come out right now; see you later – I can see them clearly but they don’t see me. They were at that door this morning, but I am no longer that kid and their friend and playmate; that time was replaced in small stages by the present with all it’s own good and ugliness, and that kid by an old jaded cynic with scars and a hard heart. I know him; he shaves in my mirror every morning.
It’s gotten too blurry to write, for some reason. But in a distant place it’s a soft twilight and the robins and orioles are chirping happily, somebody just cut the grass and it smells like watermelons, fourth grade won’t be for a long time yet and I’m pleasantly tired from a good day in mid-June.
Rick| We spent a lot of time when I was little living with and then visiting my grandparents in a tiny, pop 400, NC mountain town and far from the VA line. 73 years later and my heart is still there, the town certainly but mainly the time. My grandfather was a dentist and tobacco farmer as was his father before him and yet my grandparents lived in what today we would call poor circumstances. My grandmother was head of the Selective Service and drafted most of the boys in town during WWII, including my Dad and Uncle.
Never but one car, one bathroom, no AC or washing machine, a fickle floor furnace for heat, old furniture, and a radio. They never took a vacation except to go fishing down on Lake Murray once or twice a year. My grandmother went to the store almost every day because the refrigerator was too small to hold much and the freezer only had room for 2 ice trays. She spent a large part of every day fixing meals, all from scratch. What clothes didn’t get sent out she scrubbed in the tub with a washboard and Octagon soap.
Life was hard and they lived a block from the courthouse! Can you imagine what it was like for the tenant farmers on my grandfather’s farm? One family of 13 lived in a 2 room house up the hollow with 13 kids and got their water from a spring. The “big” house looked nice but was an oven in the summer and an icebox in the winter. Water came from the well across the back yard. There was no electricity until about 1965. There was a small Ford tractor but most of the tobacco cropping was done with the mules and sleds. The toothless, barefooted old men in worn-out bib overalls would sit by the barn drinking whiskey and feeding long logs into the fires day and night until the tobacco was cured.
AesopFan| The pictures could have come from my home in the Texas Panhandle; some of the stories too. Dad ran the Five & Dime on Main Street; his dad, my Grandad, parked the old truck in front on parade days, and we sat on the tailgate and ate popcorn and cotton candy from the brand-new machine that the older cousins “got to” operate. It was gone before I reached the magic age.
Small-town nostalgia is mostly an artifact of us Baby Boomers, born in the post-War decade or two, when our folks were at least one-jump better off than their folks, and moving into the new prosperous times. My Grandad missed being out on the ranch after they moved into town, but there’s no question his later years were easier than his father’s. My Grandpa was a very-small-town depot master with a “cow farm” of a few acres, but they lived very comfortably there with electricity and well-pumped water in the house. My grandparents still had relatives “out in the country” that lived much the way Rick described, and I don’t think many of us are hankering after those good ol’ days — just the better ones we knew, that were halfway between the grinding poverty of the early decades, and the overdone materialism of the later ones.
Marauder42| I remember my dad picking up the phone (no dial or certainly no keypad) and saying, “Hello, Mildred, I need to talk to old man Jones, please?” and his call getting through in a couple of seconds. He also kept his rifles on an open rack he nailed to the wall in an unused bedroom, never worrying about us kids playing with them. Of course we did so, but didn’t dare mess with the ammo.
We also picked cotton and gathered soft drink bottles for extra spending money, walked all over that small south Texas town with no worries about being grabbed by some pervert.
Ranchers and farmers came to town and parked their pickup trucks by the curbs with their rifles and shotguns displayed in the back window rack. They took care of their business, whether dining or shopping, never worried about someone stealing those firearms.
DAN | PARADISE was a beautiful small town, growing up there in the late 40s-thru the 50s. from a kids eyes it was truly heaven. don’t remember any poverty, mostly middle class working folks, mostly working in Chico, guess we were the original bedroom suburb.Nostalgia hell yes we had the best of the times, never to be seen again.
Terribletroy| They still exist. I thank God everyday I found one and raised my children here. My son just graduated HS. I’m in small central Illinois town 10miles north of a urban shithole. Pop 900, demo 98% homgenous, working class incomes from the farms, related industries and the factories in the shithole.
My son enjoyed all the freedom(s) you have described in as close to a Mayberry RFD environment that you can imagine. Traditional America is still alive and producing good citizens. Shitbirds don’t last long here cause no one will put up with their garbage. I am originally from NYC and the Northern VA suburbs of DC. My family still lives out there and I can’t fathom why anyone would willing live like that anymore.
I’d have more materially if I had kept the corporate job, but the cost was too high on my soul. I truly believe living in too large a hive breeds insanity. There are probably 15 to 20 similar towns in the immediate region. The biggest negative is that we are in Illinois. The real state of Illinois and Chiraq are totally different places and I dream of a day where Illinois and Chicago have separate legislative bodies, but as it is, openly corrupt Chicago controls the state. I suspect that the future will bring the possibility of a forceful divorce, but who knows? In the meantime we are here and still producing quality young men and women with traditional values.￼
MOTUS I didn’t grow up in a small town but I did grow up in a medium-small conservative city that I couldn’t wait to get out of. Now as I enter my golden years I wish I could go back but it’s true, you can never go home again. The simple city I grew up in is now just a smaller version of the large urban shit hole I already live in. It’s an enclave of progressive politics that favors all forms of diversity other than thought. Like many cities under the guidance of decades of urban planners besotted with the notion of “smart growth” – that encourages the growth of dense urban cores – it’s grown larger and decidedly less conservative. It seems “dense urban cores” are just that. ￼
Small southern town, more country than town. On Sunday no stores were open except Sam’s Gulf station and the drugstore near the hospital. After church there was little car traffic. People sat on their porch…and all they did was sit there, talking and waving at the neighbors. I knew the names, children’s names, where they went to church and where they worked of 90% of those who lived on my block. From 10 on I had a .22 and ammo in my room and a pocket knife that had more blades than a kitchen drawer. Other than a few 8 tracks stolen there was very little crime. The radio station played the top ten of every chart: rock, country, soul, big band or crooners. You would hear the Rolling Stones, then dean Martin, then Ferlin Husky followed by Lawrence Welk…. And we listened.
Moneyrunner| Dutch immigrant here. Grew up in a small town in Western Michigan, population 10,000. The place had a few factories making mufflers, pianos, bathtubs and refrigerators cabinets, machine shops. And there was the Coast Guard station that rescued boaters in distress and broke the ice during winter.
Turn-of-the-century Washington Street was five blocks long, sold everything you needed and ended at the river that emptied into Lake Michigan. The Carnegie Library was my home-away-from-home where I could read Flying Magazine (I wanted to fly) and Boy’s Life (I wanted to camp) for free and take out as many books as I could carry.
My best friend lived across the street and when his family got a B&W TV we went there every afternoon to watch the Mickey Mouse Club. Annette Funicello was every boy’s heartthrob and the Adventures of Spin and Marty was the serial for our cohort of the Baby Boom generation.
The beach had a drive, called The Oval, and people congregated in the summer to play and swim in unsalted, shark-free water. Tourists from Chicago came during the summer. The few “rich” people never drove anything fancier than Pontiacs or Buicks. The poor – like us – bought new cars that were 15 years old and not too badly rusted from the salt that went on the roads in winter. I spent my weekends and summers roaming the woods and dunes with my trusty .22. We walked to school.
Casey Klahn| On point, I think a change has happened that is…searching for a word. Millennial. We have kids that never go outside, and cannot write a thing down on a piece of paper. They thumb it into an electronic thingy. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, now, for some time. I always knew the constant thing in life was change, but we just turned over the whole life. Welcome to the Information Age.
Snakepit Kansas| April 14, 2019, 6:32 AM
What a bunch of fun reads about growing up in various small towns. Small town Kansas for me. The all brick roads of the downtown area are wearing well to this day. The movie theater with neon lights built in the 30’s is still up and running although by some local group that has kept it alive. My Dad took me to see JAWS there when I was about 12. My Dad drove me to Wichita to see KISS in 1979 and I only bring that up because an unheard of guy names John Cougar was the opening act, and nearly got booed off the stage.
captflee| I grew up in a small city, one that was oft referred to, back in the 60s, as a big city on the idiot box’s most popular small-town sitcom. Today that city is not so small, with about seven times the population as in the year of my birth.
Can’t say I personally experienced much in the way of poverty, as the economy there has roared for many a year, and the place always has shown well on those “best places to live/work, etc. lists”, and on average educational attainment. That said, I am related to a blue million country folk, and have spent no end of long, quiet evenings visiting relatives in little farm towns baking down on the coastal plain, or in little mill villages, running wild with a hundred cousins, days and nights that will always live in my heart.
scory| April 14, 2019, 8:46 PM Have lived in small towns and large cities. Small towns are friendlier, cleaner and saner. The smallest town I ever lived in had a population of around 600. We attended a two-room elementary school – grades 1, 2, 3 in one room and 4, 5, 6 in the other. I have no idea where the older kids went – probably to the big town (pop. about 5,000) on the other side of the lake. One barbershop and one drug store. The drug store sold comic books and kept all the good EC books on a top shelf that the little kids I couldn’t reach but the barber had a few ECs on a small table and we could read them while waiting our turn. There was a real general store too that sold groceries, hardware, and soft goods. One doctor who ran his practice out of the front room of his house (I remember getting a cut over my eye stitched while laying on a couch – mom paid him $10). I still think about that place from time-to-time and contrast it to what I lived in since. That little town comes out on top every time.