One time in junior high, I was riding in the car with my Peepaw (Hudge). We went to the grocery store and on the way back home, he saw someone he knew. So he threw his car in park, got out, walked up to the car in front of him and knocked on the driver’s window. And then they hugged and spent a minute catching up. There were three or four cars behind us by the time he got back behind the wheel and no one honked their horn. In fact, one lady stuck her head out the window and said: “Stay out of trouble, Hudge.”
I decided long ago that greatness is built on the back of small-town America, and it’s a unique place to live and grow up. I graduated high-school with 108 people, most of whom I’d known most of my life. My principal was also my Sunday School teacher. I walked down the same halls that my mother before me had, and she was on a first name basis with every teacher and administrator. The FFA hosted events like “drive your tractor to school today”, and a Friday night football game draws the whole town in.
In Greensburg, Kentucky people still show up for visitations and funerals–in suits and ties, no less. They write ‘thank-you’ cards. They still bake casseroles or desserts when someone is sick or new to town. There’s a church on every corner, and they still host potlucks and play the organ. The men still gather outside of the hardware store on the square and talk about who knows what (maybe the good old days?). Our rural community smells like freshly mowed hay and cow manure on summer days. And it is beautiful. We still have festivals and fireworks and lemonade stands. People still sit on their front porch on summer nights and wave to the cars passing by, and as a little girl, I’d walk to The Corner Drug Store and get two scoops of chocolate ice-cream in a cone. And Ski still comes in a glass bottle.
In Greensburg, Kentucky, you’re identity tends to merge and you’re known better by the blood in your veins than by your given name. “Oh you know her, that’s so and so’s daughter.” “He’s a Smith.” “Yeah, I went to school with her grandaddy.” I’ve been known as Hudge and Larkie’s granddaughter or Fran’s daughter my entire life. And my God, does that make me proud.
People have a lot to say about the negative aspects of small-town life. The gossip and bigotry and judgment can be plentiful. But so are the love, the prayers and that some little something that doesn’t seem to exist anymore: dependability.
Every single graduation, wedding, birth or death in my life has been celebrated and mourned by the people in that town that love me. They have been my champions and my cheerleaders. And if now, at this moment, I picked up the phone and called any one of them to say “Help”, then help would surely come.
For me, one thing will never change: when I cross the county line, my soul sighs. ‘You are home’, it says.
So feel free to lament about the lack of things to do, or about the old-fashioned view points, or about how backward some people can be. It is easy to feel trapped. But at the end of the day, remember this: ‘Small towns are where the juices come from, and that’s where we made it, not made it in terms of success, but made who we are.’ Your small town gave you good soil and strong roots and now you can plant anything in it. They will be your shelter in life’s storms. When I count my blessings, Greensburg, Kentucky–and the people in it–are near the very top.
Love and other drugs,
E. Hunter W.