Howdy, Neighbor

After spending all of my life in the vast sprawling suburbs of various cities in various states around the country, fate eventually plopped me into a small town. I was fully prepared for life without major shopping malls, less traffic, smaller schools and a less frenzied pace of life. 

What surprised me was the all-encompassing web of personal connections that infiltrates small town life. While people in the suburbs have overlapping circles of friends, family, coworkers and other groups, suburbia is a largely anonymous place. You may run into people you know while you’re out at the mall, the gym or the library, but most of your life is populated by an ebb and flow of people with whom you have no connection. It’s something I grew up with and was accustomed to, though I never really thought about before. 

Small towns are anything but anonymous. Before we even arrived, people knew we were coming, knew which house we were buying, knew about our children, and couldn’t wait to knock on our door bearing homemade goodies. Before I had even memorized our new phone number, the phone was ringing with people introducing themselves and offering to include our children in the activities their kids were involved in. Before I had even learned my way around town, the dry cleaner knew how much starch to put in my husband’s shirts and someone had called the town’s favorite dentist and gotten us “in” even though he never ever takes on new patients. 

At first, I was amazed and found it sort of entertaining. At times I found it disconcerting to know that people who were strangers to me knew all about my life. What I now understand is that small town neighborliness is genuine, and that the web of connections we all try so hard to build online exists in real life in America’s small towns. 

Here in Mount Airy, North Carolina, also known as Mayberry (yes, for real), the whole town turns out to cheer on the high school football team. We really do have a Main Street bustling with shoppers. We have local diners, each with its own contingent of regulars, and a 1920’s downtown movie theater restored to its original charm. We can pick up the phone and talk to the mayor, the school superintendent or the chief of police. 

Small town life is certainly not for everyone. But, for those of you caught up in the hectic pace of life in cities and suburbs around the country, we hope y’all will stop by for a visit sometime.

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