Monday, August 20, 2007

Two-Light Town

My dad lives in a town with two traffic lights. Between the two lights there is a Christian college on one side and seminary on the other. Funny, since Dad doesn't consider himself a Christ-follower, that he should be so tied in with a town known for its Christian education. However, someone recently told him they saw him as very like Christ. I told Dad that was true in the way he meets people exactly where they are in life and loves them, as Christ did...until they tick him off...which is the area where Dad severely departs from Jesus. (Sure, Jesus got frustrated with people, but he didn't expend pretentious energy criticizing them).

So, along that very note, today's blog isn't focused on critiquing my father. It is, instead, an evaluation of the two-light town. (AKA "two-horse town" of old).

On our first day visiting Wilmore, Kentucky, Dad bought me a $3 plastic cup from "Clucker's" gas station. This travel mug can be refilled any time you have a hankering for a cup o' Joe at Clucker's for a mere 25c. One quarter a cup...endlessly. Dad has saved hundreds of dollars annually by slipping in a couple mugs a day at Cluckers. And, frankly, it's a nice smooth cup of coffee--one that might cost a fifth the price of a simple cup at McDonalds...and of course, a few hundred percent less than Starbuck's. Now, where else in America can you get a large cup of java for a quarter? Mmmm...two-light town.

Everybody knows your name in a two-light town. Anytime I solicited business on the street of Wilmore (Main St., of course), I simply introduced myself as Joe's daughter, and the response was the same, "Oh! Joe? Sure, sure, we know Joe. Well, it's nice to meet you!" On one occasion that afforded the kids and me a free horse and carriage tour of the town--which took all of ten minutes, mind you, but it was exciting to climb into an old white buggy (worthy of wedding photo shoots) and venture about on wobbly wheels. I tipped Dad's friend, of course, though he refused his usual fare out of respect and admiration for Dad, who volunteers so much of his time to the citizens of Wilmore.

There is a little coffeehouse in town--run by Christ-followers. It boasts good eggs and sandwiches, but the service runs as slowly as molasses in January. Holy Wilmore!! My children have never had to wait so long for food in a space where the scent of it lofted overhead tempting their over-hungry bellies to grumble, and their eager bodies to wiggle and waggle! Poor Grandpa Joe--he doesn't know how to cope with impatient stomachs. His is fine-tuned to eat just when his body tells him. But, you know younglings--their rumbly tummies are on a schedule. The body is growing fast and needs to be refueled more frequently than yours or mine. So, the restaurant eating habit of Wilmore was a definite challenge. But, while we waited, wherever we waited, friends stopped by to greet us--"Oh, hey there, Joe! Can't wait for this weekend's concert. Loved last weekend's. Who are these handsome people with you? Your grandchildren and daughter? Nahhhhh. There's no way these good-looking people come from your genes..." It's all about the light-hearted humor in a two-light town.

From the laundromat to the grocery store, a two-light town feels like one extended family. In Wilmore, you could almost say just one family owns the town!

We also got to see throwback freight trains run by a couple dozen times a day from dawn to dawn. The traditional long and short whistle patterns call out to the town, beware, there's a train comin' through. We counted the cars as they passed and became certifiable trainspotters. One lengthy wait at the crossing yielded 103 cars pulled by three beautiful old black engines bearing down fast and furiously. It was Logan's absolute dream! Plus, it was a Saturday, and the historic caboose was open with Wilmore's museum inside. A gentle aging townie told of the controversial name-change of Wilmore from Scott Station when the founding father, John Durbin Scott, lost a few donkeys to a train accident in the late 1880's. Apparently, he sued the railroad, but the town, out of spite, changed its name to honor another founder, J.R. Wilmore. Or, so I simply, and perhaps wrongly, state.

There are a few choices for Sunday morning worship in Wilmore. Since Dad knows people everywhere, I went where I knew that a few kind souls I had met the night before attended. The pastor walked up and down the aisle near the congregation, and there was dialogue throughout the service in a series of questions and answers. He acknowledged people in the pews by name, recognizing critical changes in their recent lives (new babies, weddings, struggles). The children were called to the front steps for a ten to fifteen minute children's mini sermon before being ushered back to Sunday School. There was a lot of laughter--and authentic joy. When I introduced myself to the pastor after the service he, of course, knew my dad, and had played with him a time or two. (Then he gave me a box of doughnuts to share with Dad).

"Played with him" refers to musically. Dad plays dobro--a cool metal guitar those out-of-touch with Bluegrass might know from the cover of the Dire Straits album, Brothers in Arms. Yes, because of music, my dad knows most of Lexington & Wilmore, in fact. There are these cultural weekly events, which define Kentucky to me, called "pickin' parties." Everyone is invited to a home or a field, or some other open air venue, to bring along voice, fiddle, dobro, mandolin, banjo, upright bass or guitar (but don't you dare bring along a tamborine! You're likely to get shot at dusk). Circles are formed, typically creating a quartet or quintet, and people take turns singing and playing one Bluegrass tune after another. Sometimes they'll cover a different style song with a bluegrass interpretation. Regardless, it is all about sharing the music with eachother, and is also supposed to be about staying practiced, even if music can barely fit into one's professional schedule. So, one night we gathered in an open field behind a long-established bowling ally, and music was made in circles. Young children ran in the field as adults gathered on blankets and in chairs to support their friends and family, and to listen in on the harmonies and melodies around them. From the time I was six I have been one of those on the listening side--but a few years back I was welcomed into the circle as a vocalist. On this trip I took on "Summertime" as my dad & others played along. What Kentucky fun!

One aspect of Two-Light-Town living I thoroughly appreciated over our ten-day stay was the familiarity that gave me freedoms I have not enjoyed in my four plus years as a parent. In Wilmore it feels perfectly safe and acceptable to leave your children in the van while you run into Clucker's gas station to quickly fill a cup of coffee and drop a quarter on the counter. Transferring my sleepers up to bed one at a time from the van to the Bed & Breakfast where we stayed was far from an anxious experience. I felt so safe that I could have sworn Gomer Pyle himself might have idled down the well-manicured sidewalk at any second, giving me a smooth, "Well, how are ya?" as he passed. It was that kind of a week for us. Reminiscent. Sweet. Memorable.

And the kicker that caught me off guard was the dialogue between my son & me as we drove away from Wilmore for an adventure in Harrodsburg one late morning.

"I wish we could move to Wilmore," Logan said from the back seat of our rented mini van.

"Why is that, Logan? What do you like about it so much?"

"Well, the houses. And the train. And our church."

Our church.

In two weeks as a visitor he had felt more at home in that small Southern Baptist congregation than in four years at any other church we've attended. For one, they meet in an actual "church" building. Oh, you know, the traditional type with a steeple and heavy doors ten feet high or more. In VA Beach we always met in either a movie theater or a school. In Reston it's been the same--school and theater now, although we were in a church building for about 4 months, but the building was more contemporary. Secondly, I think he could feel what I was feeling in Wilmore--that small town living is safe and familiar and comfortable. With all the changes we've had in his young life, I think Logan would relish something so familiar.

After Kentucky we drove up to Owosso, MI--the hometown of my grandmother and her siblings. Their ancestors established the once-booming town, which almost became the capitol of Michigan once upon a time, but it is now a sad skeleton of its former self. A dying town with one fantastic attraction--The Steam Railroading Institute! They also boast an adorable little "castle," the former studio of adventure writer James Oliver Curwood. If you like that style of architecture, check out the house where my great great grandparents lived. Amos Gould was Owosso's first banker, mayor and attorney--his family home later housed the Historic Society of Owosso. We had a reception there after my grandmother's death. But Owosso is now a small town...clearly celebrating its past, but not yet embracing the future. We rode a steam train through the town, and it warn't a purty site. Makes me sad.

In Midland, Michigan, however, where my great aunt (grandma's twin) and my cousins still reside (after about 60 years+), I prepared to go out and lock up our van and Aunt Betty admonished, "You can if you want, but this is a small town."

Funny. It was the theme of this vacation--all 27 days of it.

And, if you walk down the streets of Traverse City, Michigan with my family, you will not walk far before either my uncle (in Real Estate), my aunt (a hair dresser) or my sister (restaurant & bar manager) run into someone they know. Between the three of them they cover the town.

So, after Wilmore, Owosso, Midland and T.C. I am asking myself--do I want to live Small Town?

Check this out

Something to think about.

Small Town
~John Cougar Mellencamp

Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob'ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities

All my friends are so small town
My parents live in the same small town
My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity

Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that's me

But I've seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town
Married an L.A. doll and brought
her to this small town
Now she's small town just like me

No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be

Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look who's in the big town
But my bed is in a small town
Oh, and that's good enough for me

Well I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
And that's prob'ly where they'll bury me

[ Lyrics provided by ]


Jen S. said...

Welcome back!

I like to visit small towns, but I'm not so sure I want to live in one. I'm reminded of my friend who lives in a small NC town. One day she decided to wear pants (gasp!) to church, and she was the talk of the town afterwards. And not in a good way! They actually approached her husband to discuss it with him! (Wow, they'd have a stroke if they saw our church!!)

But of course that doesn't mean all small towns are like that. They definitely have their charms.

ModMomMuse said...

That just sounds like a denominational issue, fueled by small town gosisp...but I understand! Small town does come with knowing your neighbors' business, & them knowing yours. Sometimes that is just too close for comfort!