Roughly a year ago, I wrote a post called In Defense of Small Towns that talked about the value of traveling to small towns. Since it’s been a little over a year since I started this blog, I thought it might be goo to revisit some of my old posts and maybe expand on them.
In Defense of Small Towns seems like a good place to start, because I have found myself living in another small town since early February.
Foster, Rhode Island. It’s the third smallest town in the smallest state in the USA. If you drive through it, you’ll think it’s mostly of farms, liquor stores, and gun dealerships.
But that’s only on the surface. Yes, we do have a lot of farms, and no, there isn’t a grocery store in town. Our town center takes all of 15 seconds to drive through and consists of a volunteer fire station, a church, a schoolhouse turned into a library, a post office, and the town offices. Until a few years ago, we only had one actual traffic light and most of the streets were unmarked.
Now we have roughly three actual traffic lights and only 40% of the streets are unmarked.
And we like it that way, generally speaking.
But we also have a community theatre that performs with surprising frequency, a cozy diner that makes their own ice cream, and a large number of opportunities to hang out outdoors. We even have a town fair that last for three whole days in July. It’s called Foster Old Home Days, and if you’re in the area, you should definitely come.
Actually, I wrote a rap about Foster Old Home Days once for a class in college. I was particularly proud of the line “Bring your Mama to the llamas at the petting zoo.”
But the thing I enjoy most about Foster is that I can show up to practically any event and chances are high that I know someone there. If I don’t know someone there, then someone knows my step-sister or I know their son and eventually what happens is that most people know most other people in town.
A lot of people call that stifling, but I call it community.
And community is a terribly valuable thing.
I’ll give an example. Earlier this year, my Fulbright fell through unexpectedly and I came back from Indonesia a full seven months early. I was upset and disheartened, and felt a bit like a failure. But before I even landed back in Rhode Island, I had already been offered a role in the local theatre production as stage manager and had received many messages of support from people in my town. When I walked into the first rehearsal, several people came up and offered me jobs or house-sitting gigs, anything I needed to get back on my feet again.
My community is the net that catches me when I fall.
The other thing about community in small towns is that, while there’s stuff to do, there’s a lot less stuff than a city. When you live in a small town, you probably haven’t done everything that’s available, but you’ve done most of it. So instead of hanging out at Shady Acres or going shopping, you spend a lot more time at people’s houses, hanging out and chatting.
You spend a lot less time doing and a lot more time being.
So yes, it might be nice to have a grocery store in our town, but honestly, if I had to choose between the grocery store and community, I’d go with my community every time.