There is something special about small towns; something wholesome about them that makes me nostalgic. Our family spent the 4th of July in White Pine, Tennessee, the small town where Will’s mom grew up just west of the Smoky Mountains. Her dad was the town doctor who delivered hundreds of babies. If people couldn’t pay him with money, they paid him in chickens. Everybody knew him. He recently passed away, but we got to ride in his old, red truck in the town parade. We threw candy to the onlookers as we made our way up Main Street behind fire trucks and horses. It seemed like the whole town came out no matter what their age. There was nowhere else anyone wanted to be.
I did not grow up in a small town, but there is something about them that feels like home. My mom grew up in Lumberton, North Carolina and her dad had a farm. When I was a little girl, he would bring me baby chicks to play with. Holidays visiting our relatives in Eastern, NC included lots of simple fun, delicious food and big hugs from people who had all the time in the world to hear how we were doing.
Interestingly, my mom and Will’s mom were born eight days apart the same year and both grew up on Walnut Street. Neither of them still live in their small towns, but they have both passed their roots down to us in values and invaluable childhood memories.
And now, when we pass through small towns in rural Alabama on the way down to the gulf coast, we are refreshed to see old homes with flags hanging proudly from big porches, neighbors talking together outside, country churches with humble exteriors, locally owned restaurants that close on Sundays, and the feeling that people really know and depend on each other. If these people were to get into trouble, somebody is gonna know and somebody is gonna care. The world’s trendsetters will pass right by these little towns, but they don’t seem to mind. The things that time changes don’t change here.
Time slows down and you can breathe in the deep smells of summer grass and home cooking. There’s not much fancy, but nobody seems to miss it. The crazy of the fast-paced world hasn’t gotten here yet. People matter. God matters. Sitting face-to-face and talking to each other matters. And, I am reminded as I pass through small towns, that I matter too. And away from the hustle and bustle, there is a desire in me to play outside, eat home-cooked soul food, have people know my name, enjoy long conversations in person and feel the bigness of God under a starlit sky away from city lights.
We spent the afternoon of the 4th at the family farm house. The kids looked at horses, caught butterflies in plastic cups, ran through wide open grassy space with no fear of nearby cars, and never thought for a minute about watching tv. They marveled at tractors and four wheelers and entertained the adults on the wrap-around porch.
As I reflected on my appreciation for small towns, wondering what it is about them that is sad to leave at the end of the day, my mind went to Jesus. Jesus, the King of all Kings, the One who will be the center of the new city in all its splendor, the One who made the entire universe…was born in a small town. He wasn’t born in the center of commerce or where the royalty carried on, or a place that was noteworthy on the map at the time, but in the small town of Bethlehem. As a young boy, he lived in Nazareth, a place so insignificant that it made people question his claim as the Messiah. It was a small town…and knowing that makes me wonder if his childhood memories were like the ones my kids made this week. He may have felt the same nostalgic feeling traveling through small towns once he was older. Maybe they reminded him of home and his family.
There is just something about small towns, something special that happens in these places off the beaten trail, something I deeply appreciate that maybe…isn’t so small.