What’s Good About a Small Town

Sometimes, like when I tell people that there aren’t any Advanced Placement classes in our county, or that the high school (built circa 1950) doesn’t have air conditioning or more than two outlets in a classroom, I wonder why on earth we live in this small town in southwest Virginia. I grew up in Fairfax County, a well funded school division outside of Washington, D.C. My high school had a separate arts building with multiple auditoriums, as well as air conditioning. My kids have had a much different educational experience than I have, and sometimes I lie awake at night, queasy with guilt.

But last week, in a chilly church parking lot, 35 people reminded me of what is good here.

Seventeen years ago, my husband and I, both products of suburbia and military families, moved to this town, population 9000, seeking a sense of community. We live nestled against the Appalachian Mountains, and the views are gorgeous. Unfortunately, the funding is scarce.

We have three grocery stores (two are Food Lions), four auto parts stores, and no decent shopping.  (The nearest mall is 45 miles away.) We have a movie theater, but it’s never crowded, and I’m afraid it will close someday, which would devastate my teens as it is one of the few sources of entertainment here.

The general mentality is conservative (Trump posters abound); the local accent is a drawl. Recently, our county Board of Supervisors decided to spend millions building an agricultural expo center in the hopes of drawing business to our economically depressed county. The same Board declined to spend millions on building new schools, even though a high quality school system would also attract business and new residents. For a mother of four children, this is frustrating.

But here’s the good part. Last Sunday, my son asked for volunteers from the community to help him with his science fair project. These people weren’t going to get anything for their time, just the appreciation of a kid collecting data on headlight glare. Over two chilly evenings, 35 people showed up in our church parking lot, including a woman who taught him in preschool and one who taught him in third grade. (”He’s gotten taller!” she said. 🙂 ) All of them expressed interest in my son and his project, and I’m wise enough to know this says as much about their character as it does about my son’s.

We don’t have a Target or state of the art school buildings, but we do have something else: people matter here. I’ve seen many examples of this: when friends take care of my children during family emergencies, when people in the community clip and share photos of my kids from the local paper, when adults who aren’t related to my kids attend their sporting and academic events and send them notes of encouragement. Once, when my 15 year old daughter complained about how horrid our town is, I listed the names of 10 people outside of our family who care about her and pray for her.

I never had that in Fairfax County.

So, when the next wave of doubt hits, and it will, most likely at 3am, I will try to remember those 35 people who came out to help my kid. True, my children have experienced limited educational resources and a lack of progressive thinking, but because of that, they have learned to make due with what they have and to find ways to challenge themselves. I hope when they graduate and leave this place, they will thrive in academic environments with more opportunities. I also hope they will remember what they learned growing up in this small town: people matter.

All communities have their pros and cons. What are some of the pros and cons of where you live?

Julia Tomiak
I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and Wordsmithstudio.org.

8 Comments

  1. I can relate – although on a positive education note – after a bitter fight at town meeting (oh man, those are incredibly entertaining and enlightening) we passed (by a thread!) a bill to finally update our one elementary/middle school. HUGE news!!! Our taxes will bump up a bit, but it’s worth every penny.

    And I love your people observation; in a small town, I’ve found the same wonderful friendships and care.

    1. Yay for school updates! Our Board of Supervisors doesn’t want to raise taxes, and neither do some of our residents, but I think an updated school is well worth it. I’m happy for you and your town.

  2. For the past fifteen years, we have lived in a village of 700 (having come from a city of 550,000). What you won’t find here is anonymity. What you will find is people who greet you by name and message you on Facebook when they find your driver’s license in the grocery store parking lot. Love, love, love this place!

    P.S. Somehow we get double blessings: Ten years ago, we got a brand-new public library and this fall marks the opening of the new, improved combined elementary/high school. We live in an economically depressed province, so I’m not sure where the funding is coming from – but I sure do appreciate it.

    1. Ah, yes, the lack of anonymity is a HUGE issue in small towns. It’s part of why we live outside of town on a 100 acre farm – it gives us a little privacy in a place that’s hard to find it. Your village is significantly smaller than my town – glad that you love it. Amazing that it’s funded so well – send a little of that south to me, please. 😉

  3. We live in a very different environment. Pros: great but tough schools, diverse community, wonderful extracurricular opportunities. Cons: lots of pressure to do everything and be the best at it, some insanely competitive parents (and kids), the privileged attitude of (too) many. Fortunately, we have found a community within that larger community, and it is small and supportive like yours.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Dana. You have confirmed what I have guessed would be the trade off of living in a bigger area. Every community has its challenges. I’m glad you’ve found support within yours. 🙂

  4. Great post. Rest assured that where one grows up does not need to determine their success in college or in life (coming from someone who grew up in a small town). You do not need to feel guilty, but easier said than done at times. I know.

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