Small Town People

10 Aug

Our recent trip to Cancun included joining some great friends we met at the same resort in 2007.  These folks are just great people, and when we tell the story of them, people find it hard to believe we found anything to talk about.  These friends are Keary and Lisa from a small town in Alabama, Rainsville.  When I say they live in a one-stoplight town, I mean, they live in a ONE stoplight town.  Although we learned on the trip that the town recently put in a second one outside the the school.

They brought along with them a group of their friends all from same area in Alabama.  Here we are, the big city Chicago folks embedded with the small town crew.  And after a week with these folks, we had plans made to join them in their small town in Alabama in May.  I cannot wait.  I want to see them, and I want to dip myself in all that small town goodness.

Most folks that know me, know I grew up in Newton IA.  However, I’ve lived in the Chicago area now for more than 25 years.  On Chicago-scale, that’s a small town.  On small town scale, well, it is a big town – the bigger town that tends to be the county seat (it is), employment center, etc. that is characteristic of rural counties all over America.  But still small town America.  And the more time I spend in suburbia in Chicago and observing people that have it great yet complain about everything, I realize just how resilient people that live in small towns are and must be.

Our oldest son Joel had his first real exposure to small town America this past year – he roomed with a great guy from Greenup IL, Tyler.  Greenup is also a one stoplight town, but as Joel learned when he visited recently, Greenup’s stoplight isn’t even a real stoplight – just a red blinker.  He visited there in late July and loved every minute of the small town life.  They played golf on what passes for a golf course there – they affectionately call it “cow pasture golf” – ain’t no bentgrass to be found there unless some animal took a nap on it!  They went to the local pizza joint, Panks.  Tyler’s folks threw a pool party while he was there, and it seemed like the whole town stopped by for a beer, a snack and a soak.  His observations:  Beautiful little town.  Lots of pride in every little thing.  Great people.  He got what I love about small towns.

After a week of observing our friends from Alabama, I was struck by how resilient they are, and how resourceful they are.  Employment opportunities are scarce there, but they still get by doing things that give them a living and an enjoyable lifestyle.  By and large, when you live in an area like that, you either own a small business or work for one,  you work for the municipal services in town. Often, all of the above.  Keary and Lisa own one of their town’s two funeral homes and are the funeral directors there.  Brian and Leslie own two small businesses – Brian owns a DJ/Karaoke business and Leslie owns a small resale/consignment clothing store.  Chris/Coach is the local high school football coach, and his wife Sharon is a nurse.  Coach supplements their income by playing in a bar band.  Jerry works for the local John Deere dealership and his wife Tammy is the clerk of court in their town.  I heard no complaints at all about work from any of them while we were there.  Work is, well, the means to which they seek to live their lives, and these people don’t seem to be either defined by their work nor defined by attaining material needs.  Refreshing after living in the affluent, overly-money-conscious suburbs we live in where people are often defined by what they do and what they have.  Not by who they are.  Fantastic people, all of them.

They are resilient in the face of adversity as well.  Their county and their town was hit badly by the run of tornadoes that killed dozens in Alabama this summer – 30 people died in their county alone.  Two of the couples on the trip have recently had to take in and most likely will keep permanently, young children of family members who by either tragedy or other circumstances have been left without parents to care for them.  They didn’t dwell on it, they just did it.  It’s what they do.  Do they worry about it?  Yes.  Complain?  No.

My own small town has had its share of trials as well – several years ago, Maytag company was sold to Whirlpool, killing off the local Maytag plant and wiping out a 500-person executive operation there.  Total job loss was close to 3000., in a town of 12,000.   That had ripple effects on every business in town – from small businesses that made their living selling things to Maytag, to the dentists and doctors, the lawyers, the dry cleaners, car dealers and repair, even Domino’s pizza felt the pinch.  The town has responded and is rebounding.  A group of investors in town got together, did research and discovered an untapped demand for a world-class auto racing facility – they did the job and now IndyCar, and the NASCAR series run races there.  Who’d have thought that folks like the Andrettis, the Penskes, Rick Hendricks, etc., let alone the national news media, would descend on Newton each summer and go racing.  Certainly not me.  Speaking to friends of mine and friends of my mom, none of these folks would trade their small town for life in the big city.

Being with my new friends from tiny Rainsville, AL, reminded me of John Mellencamp’s song, Small Town.

No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be

As you were,


The crew:

From left – Tammy and Jerry, me and Robin, Leslie and Brian, Coach Chris and Sharon, Keary and Lisa


2 Responses to “Small Town People”

  1. David Norvell August 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Thats what I love about small town Stew when disasters happen nobody looks to the Fed for help each person works with their neighbors local Govt and take care of themselves, I think that is why we just cant understand when others will not do those kind of things, I love small town as well, great article

  2. carpetbagger August 12, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    I’ve driven through Alabama. A small town there is REALLY a small town. I can’t even imagine living there pre-Internet. My need for information would drive me over the edge. :>0

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