"Writing makes me aware of the extraordinary in the ordinary," Donald M. Murray, Crafting a Life in Essay, Story, Poem
You might have heard John Cougar Mellencamp sing, "I was born in a small town. And I live in a small town. Probably die in a small town and that's probably where they'll bury me." Every time I hear that song I feel like it was written for me. You see, I have lived in my small town since before I can remember. All of my memories are of this small town.
Growing up I remember walking to school from my grandma's house everyday as she lived in the same small town, and returning there each afternoon to hangout until it was time to go home for the evening. I remember going for ice-cream at the local dairy queen, spending summers swimming at the pool with friends, and riding our bikes around the block for hours everyday. In our small town you could ride your bike into the local dime store for candy or to the drugstore for a fountain pop or milkshake. Even at the age of eight you knew everyone was watching out for you. In our village people just did that. If you needed help there was always someone who would be right there, if you caused a little trouble you knew there would be someone finding your parents to let them know.
When I was in high school I was certain I was leaving this small town. Though I loved my friends, I'd been sitting in classrooms with the same students for years and years. My dad had sat in classrooms with many of their parents. There were only a handful of classes offered and it seemed opportunity was on the other side of the creek that marked entry into our small town. I counted down the days until I would no longer live in this small town. For years I had seen the same faces. I knew all the stories. So it was with great excitement I headed off to the university each day where I disappeared in crowded lecture halls of students.
I loved the feel of driving out of my small town every morning and driving toward the big city. The skyscrapers I passed on my way to college classes seemed like they held some magical secret that I should know about. The feeling of freedom as I parked my car on the large campus kept me coming back day after day. I was sure I would soon be finding a job and moving into the suburbs with their bigger schools and plentiful opportunities.
Life has a funny way of teaching you lessons. It wasn't long until love and circumstance landed me right back in my small town, and I learned the value of all that had been in front of me growing up in our small community. Before I knew it I was living right across the street from where I was raised. Yes, RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET. I was teaching in the same small elementary school I attended. Yes, I WALKED DOWN THE VERY SAME HALLS. I was shopping in the same grocery I worked in as a student. Yes, THE VERY SAME GROCERY. I was sitting at events beside the very same people I went to school with years before. Yes, THE VERY SAME PEOPLE. And I was happy there.
Now as I drive out of my small town every morning with others from my town that have learned that opportunity may be across the creek, but community is coming back into the still small village each evening, I notice the changes. The dime store where we bought candy as kids has been replaced by many an unsuccessful business venture. The drugstore has been replaced by a local doctor. The lot where the middle school I attended used to stand is now a green patch of land used for gathering during community events. Yes, the town has changed a little. I suppose our village status may be in jeopardy with the arrival of McDonald's and Family Dollar.
Some things are still the same. People still drive to our small town for Italian Food from a long existing Italian restaurant. On Friday nights in the fall you will find most of our town cheering for our football team. You can still ride your bike around the block for hours and someone will still be there to help you if you need it. Of course, you will still hear our children saying, "I can't wait to get out of this small town." Some of them will move on. Some of them, like me, will find themselves right back here learning of the gifts that have unknowingly surrounded them all along.