There’s something about life in a small town

Published 2:24 pm Thursday, September 4, 2008

Last Tuesday night I went down to McKenzie to find out the winner of their mayoral election.

I got there a little early and they weren’t ready for me yet. A nice lady named Karen and I waited out the results.

It was warm, but not sultry hot; comfortable enough to sit outside on the front steps of the old city hall. We chatted about weather, satellite dishes and the newspaper business.

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And we watched the world go by.

In this case, it was watching the denizens of a little south Alabama town slow down as they cruised around the corner.

Some paused to call out, “We got a new mayor yet?” Others simply raised their hand or gave a little wave from their pickups and cars.

We waved back. One agile fellow was riding a bike while pushing another bike along side him.

“I’ve heard of bicycles built for two, but not two bicycles built for one,” Karen joked to him, adding, “Don’t forget, I am looking for a bicycle basket – one I can plant my flowers in.”

Most everyone seemed to know everyone else.

“I tell you, I just love living in a small town,” Karen, a native of Tuscaloosa and former resident of Natchez, told me with a grin.

“There is nothing else like it. Don’t ever want to live in a bigger town again.”

She talked about going back to Tuscaloosa to visit family after living in McKenzie a while. Her folks poked fun at Karen when she waved to complete strangers as they drove down the street.

“They just didn’t understand,” she laughed and shrugged.

Sometimes I think you appreciate small towns more if you’re from a bigger place, like Karen, or, like me, you moved away for several years before returning home.

You see both sides of the coin.

Small towns can be maddening. Everyone seems to know everybody’s business and gossip mills can be rife with speculation.

They can also be nurturing; places where your neighbors actually know you, where they call you by name when you go into a store to shop. You can find yourself stopping to chat on the street or in the grocery store. People ask you how your mama is doing, and actually care about what you say in response.

Small towns are good places to raise children. Richard Metzger, the executive director of the Johnson Center for the Arts in Troy, is a big city boy who left a broken marriage behind and healed a fractured relationship with his daughter after moving to Troy.

“Big cities are a terrible place for a family – too many distractions for my daughter. She is happy now, she’s making good grades. We are in a good place,” Richard told us at last week’s Main Street meeting.

Small towns are struggling these days, in terms of our downtown communities.

If we love our small towns, we need to do what we can to help them. Eat at downtown restaurants, attend special events held downtown, shop at the stores and use the services of professionals with offices downtown.

Get involved in groups and organizations that promote the revitalization of downtown areas.

Because you may not realize just what a precious thing you have lost until it is gone.