Friday, October 03, 2008

Small Town-ness

When I stand out on my deck in the early evening, this is what my small town looks like. I can see the river from the other side of my deck and from the other I can see all the way up town. "All the way" up town is exactly 1.2 miles away from my driveway, and thats the end of the business district. Another mile up river ends the cooperation limit. Yes, you read that right--in its entirety my town is exactly 2.2 miles from one end to the other. We have two claims to fame here in town. The first that the town was the first permanent settlement in the state of OH. The second distinction being that Betty Zane is buried in a small cemetery behind the hospital. Every summer there is a fireman's festival held in her honor and every year one little girl from the town has the honor of being Miss Betty Zane (complete with Revolutionary War period costume) for the four day celebration.

My town is nestled into the rolling foothills of the Appalachians, right along the river. Like most the towns up and down the Ohio River, its seen better days but its still my town. Its not the sort of town most people randomly move to-- you are either born and raised here or you marry someone who was born and raised here. This creates the type of community where families have known each other for generations. If you mention your grandfather's name to a friends grandfather he'll most likely tell you stories about the two of them playing pranks on elementary school teachers and taking dates to the old movie theater that used to be where the bank is now. If someone doesn't know you personally, chances are pretty good that they will know someone in your family.

Its the sort of town where people say hi to each other in the grocery story and while on nightly walks stop to chat with the people sitting out on their porches. The same group of old men gather every morning at the Bob Evans for coffee. The same woman show up for bingo every Thursday night at the ceramics store. The VFW next to the library is the best place to get fish during lent. The bowling alley has the best fries served with gravy in the Valley. In August when school starts, the volunteer fire department uses the ladder engine to hang purple and white flags with the high school mascot on them from all the telephone polls in the business district which is three blocks long and three blocks wide. On Friday nights during home football games the businesses close early because most of people go to the games. Those that don't want to pay to get into the game, stand on the bridge over Rt. 7, or set up lawn chairs in front of the water plant across the street from the stadium.

Most of us don't know road names, but rather identify them by who lives there now or who used to live there. Distance is measured in time rather than miles. The mall is 15 minutes west on 70 and the new school is 5 minutes out of town up by the old quarry. When someone asks for directions to state route 640, most of us have to think because all the locals call it the "the pike." Every hour on the hour the bells from the Presbyterian Church chime out the hour, at noon and five they chime a hymn. When the fire horn sounds three short blasts followed by two long ones, every one knows the fire crew is being summoned to the north end of town. Everyone in town knows all the fire calls and they haven't been changed in eons. When I was in high school the big hang out was in front of the pizza shop, but after it burnt down it was the Hardee's parking lot. Now its the parking lot of the pharmacy.

On the fourth of July if you don't watch the fireworks from your house, you either go to the football field, the yacht club, or the cemetery. As children most of my friends and I spent Sundays at the river either fishing or riding on seadoos. Everyone knows the best place to ride the seadoos is in the wake of a barge pushing coal or steel up or down the river. Most people take their kids to learn to drive on Front St. between the steel mill and the football stadium. Eleven years ago when the steel mill union workers went on strike the grocery store in town thats normally open 24/7 closed at 7pm and reopened at 6am. On Sunday you can get steak and eggs and a cup of coffee for $3.80 at the local diner, you just have to get there before church lets out. Every fall the Methodist church has a pancake dinner that benefits the high school scholarship fund. The Christmas parade takes place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and most people stand in the same spot along the parade route year after year.

From the highest point in town you can see almost 20 miles down river. When there is a flood everyone goes there to take pictures to compare where the water is as to where it was the last time. At 6 am every morning you can smell bread from the bakery. The gas station down by the old car lot sells the best pepperoni rolls. The baseball field is right located right next to the swimming pool. Both have lights so playing or swimming after dark isnt a problem. The town skate park which consisted of a couple of 2x4's on concrete blocks used to be in the park but was shut down after residents complained to council about the foul language the kids used. Now they skate in the lot of the old auto parts store. The same family has owned the toy store for generations and can always recommend the perfect gift for birthday and Christmas. The tattoo parlor is one of the best in a tri-state area. The biggest obstacle faced by the town mayor was over the placement of two new stop signs. Overall its laid back, quiet, and has a very small town-ness quality about it.

My small town may not have the excitement of big cities or even a whole lot to do, but its home. What makes your town or city special?


Bayjb said...

Oh man you make me nostalgic here. I'm in desperate need of a break from the city so this was a nice, refreshing read :)

Angel said...

That sounds so precious. What a beautiful little town. :0) Angel

Frank said...

What town do you live in?

I'm in Naperville, Illinois. I don't care for it that much, although Money Magazine called it the 3rd best place to live in America. The problem is that it went from 20,000 people in 1970 to 150,000 today, so it's full of ugly subdivisions, malls, highways, etc. The downtown area is just like an outdoor mall, but they still claim they have that "small town charm."

Come on, no small town business district has 5 Starbucks, a Banana Republic, and a Sharper Image store...

Mandy said...

Babyjb-- Thanks! Its good that you get breaks from the city, I would go crazy I think.

Angel -- Thanks

Frank-- I am not sure how many live in our town 4 or 5 thousand, maybe. Another 5 or 6 thousand if you count the people out in the country. We have no starbucks, banana republic or subdivisions. Just a dollar store, a pizza joint, a hardware store and a Subway.

jamie said...

I love small towns. Yours is quite picturesque! I live in a medium size town, and spend my weeks traveling to large cities for work, but when it comes down to it, nothing quite has the feel of a good old small town!

alexa @clevelandsaplum said...

i think i could get used to small town living.

i mean, i thrived on an 8 mile island for 6 months with no cars i can handle a small town.

your post makes me want to start over in one.