Monday, March 3, 2014

Appreciating Small Towns

I may live in a metropolitan area now, but I grew up in a small town. While I enjoy the convenience of many things in a larger city, I still appreciate the benefits of small town living.  Here are a few examples:

Car mechanics
  • Not only do you know who to go to in town for what problem (electrical, engine, tires) but they know you, your parents, and knew your grandparents (and possibly even your great grandparents if your roots in the town grow that deeply). This is helpful almost all of the time. Why? Not only do they call it like it is (“You can probably get away with another 7,000 miles on those tires, but if you’re going somewhere with hills in winter you might want to put on new ones before then”), they don’t charge you for simple things that others might (“I don’t think that rattle is anything to worry about” or “Don’t worry about having us clear that ‘check engine’ code--it didn’t hardly take any time”). Also, they let you into the work area to visit with them. If you happen to be there, chewing the fat, and (light bulb!) remember a funky sound you’ve been hearing (in addition to the oil change you originally brought your car in for) or if you’ve ever wondered what that funky shaped thing was next to the other thingy, you can ask and they’ll answer! 

  • My sister was putting together a surprise party for my Dad’s birthday. Technically his birthday was on Friday, but in order to be sure everyone could be there (six kids, plus partners, grandkids, and helloooooo schedules and weather!) we agreed to have the party on Saturday. I was in charge of cake for the Saturday party and called several weeks in advance to place my order at the local bakery. In order to make sure he didn’t suspect our plottings, my mom and I, and my siblings who lived closer to the area, threw our typical “birthday dinner” party and got a small cake from the bakery. Because the bakery is 1) awesome and 2) knows my family from years of ordering cakes and delicious dinner rolls, they called my mom to check to see whether we actually did want two birthday cakes: one for Friday (decoy) and one for Saturday. They’ve had instances where different members of the same family had each ordered a cake, not knowing the other had already taken care of it. Talk about service and attention to detail! Plus, it is where local folks gather to get their morning coffee and doughnut and shoot the breeze.  

Grocery Stores 
  • While the selection of items may not be as diverse as that of a larger city, every time I head back to my hometown grocery store I run into people I know--Whether it is customers I grew up with or employees with whom I graduated high school (or perhaps I know their kids from my school days). It is familiar and welcoming, and half the time in the store is spent visiting with them about how my folks are doing, or how their folks are doing, or how many kids they have. And then I realize I need to rush through the checkout to get home to put the melting carton of ice cream that was sitting in my cart the whole time into the freezer before it turns into soup. 

Gas Stations
  • Small town gas stations have an amazing selection because they tend to be the only store open past 11 p.m. And sometimes, you really are willing to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a four-pack of toilet paper...and you might as well throw in that awesome battery-powered spinning candy sucker while you’re there (because who has the energy to twirl their candy using their own manpower after 11 p.m.?). 

  • Growing up I knew our neighbors. Their daughter babysat us; we bought hay from them for our horses; the neighbor two houses down (which in the country is at least a quarter-mile away from the edge of our driveway) would come and plow out our driveway (which itself was about a quarter-mile long). We kept track of one another, asking about their extended family, and generally just chewing the fat. If their dog would come visit ours it wasn’t a big deal--It was just neighbor dogs being neighborly. If their horses got out, we’d give the neighbors a ring and help shoo them back over to their place. 

Quirky Attractions
  • If you’re looking for fun slogans or strange attractions, look no further than small towns. Here are just a few of my favorite slogans from Iowa that just might charm you:
    • Readlyn: "857 friendly people and one old GRUMP"
    • Jewell: “A gem in a friendly setting”
    • Lake City: “Everything but a lake” 
    • Stuart: “Home of 1,700 good eggs and a few stinkers”
    • Mallard: “We’re friendly ducks”
  • In the realm of strange attractions, small-town Iowa has you covered, once again: 
    • Ames: World's Largest Concrete Gnome
    • Brandon: Iowa's Largest Frying Pan
    • Britt: Hobo Museum (and annual festival!)
    • Maquoketa: Two-Butted Lamb
    • Sac City: World's Largest Popcorn Ball
    • Stuart: Bank robbed by Bonnie and Clyde
    • West Branch: Creepy Goddess of Life: a Gift for Herbert Hoover (I’ll just say that the statue is appropriately described and leave it at that)
    • Villisca: Villisca Ax Murder House and Museum

What is it that you appreciate about small town living, or visiting the small towns around you?

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