Paul Gregory Alms explains how, both for good and ill, small town life is different. Most Americans today flee it, and then inevitably miss it.
One cannot help but to be connected to those around you in a small town. Many of them are related to you by blood. They are kin. Folks can rattle off relations and branches of the family tree. As an outsider, this can be quite intimidating. But there is a virtue in living in the midst of such family ties that is hard to describe. It involves living in such a way that you, as a person, are not an individual. You are not a solitary center of decision-making. Rather, you exist in a web of tangled claims. You are a point at which many lives intersect. You are at the same time a son or daughter, a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter.
Often you have ancestors, three or four or five generations, who are still living, sitting next to you at church. You are also a father, mother, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew, cousin, and on and on the web goes. In a small town you are confronted with those connections repeatedly, even daily. One sees oneâ€™s uncle at the gas station. One buys groceries from a cousin, gets the car fixed by a brother-in-law, goes into business with a brother, lives on land that once belonged to grandparents or great-grandparents.
This web also involves non-relatives, members of the community, people known to you. Being known in a small town does not mean you know a name or some casual facts about them. It means you know their family, you know where they grew up, where they went to school, stories about them. Oneâ€™s last name becomes a personality trait. One can say, â€œOh, he is a Bolickâ€ and explain some behavior or attitude with no need for further words. One is situated in the web of the community. Knowing someone means you share a common history, a common place, a common way of being raised. You have a shared experience of schools and churches and institutions and events.
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers and Steve Bodio.