Close your eyes for just a moment and think of the theme song to Mayberry RFD. I bet you know it and I bet it makes you smile. Something about Mayberry, as fictional and unrealistic as it was, makes many of us long for the relaxed and laidback life Andy, Barney, Aunt B., Opie, Howard, Thelma Lou, and the rest of the gang enjoyed in their all-American village.
Or maybe, sing along to John Mellencamp’s hit “Small Town.”
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
Both my husband and I grew up in small towns and went to college in small towns. His hometown is actually referred to as “the village” and if Norman Rockwell could paint a town, it would make the perfect model for his brushes. We raised our daughter in a suburb of a big city that had a “small town feel.” Everyone loved the ice cream shop, adults were addressed as “Ms. Smith” and “Mr. Lopez” regardless of how well you knew them, and Friday Night Lights football meant the whole town came out. It was idyllic in that it was “small” but near a big city.
We’ve lived in that big city for 36 years now. We started in the central part of town but with each move we’ve moved further and further away from downtown and now live in what is often considered one of Texas’ most charming small towns. We’re still close enough to the city…a city that has exploded over the past 10 years…but we are far enough away from the things crippling it and many of America’s cities.
Come to find out, we’re not alone in moving out and moving away.
It seems there’s a boom in relocating to boom towns of small town America. Granted, some may be suburbs of bigger cities but it’s still becoming more and more apparent that Americans are growing somewhat weary of what living in a city really entails. Crime. Traffic. High cost-of-living. Leaders that seem far-removed and out-of-touch from their lives and concerns. And most recently, what’s being taught in our public schools and what’s not being taught. For the first time in recent years, the decline in U.S. rural population that began in 2010 reversed itself. Small towns, it seems, are having a big comeback. If you watch the news or read the reports, it’s easy to figure out why. Another day of grab-and-go retail robberies, protests protesting protestors, division, crowded everything, and noise.
As more and more shake the dust off of their city shoes in exchange for perhaps the dust of the outskirts of town, they are reportedly not only surviving but thriving. After two-plus years now of societal isolation, those making the move say they love the connectedness that small towns have perfected and they love how helpful and friendly people are.
Granted, a slower paced life in a smaller community is not for everyone and we need city dwellers! Yes, it’s great to live near good restaurants, fabulous art and activities, and an airport, but it’s also nice to have space and peace and quiet. A fast-paced life is much easier on the young than even the young-at-heart, so what’s somewhat surprising is that young couples, families, and even millennials are taking part in the move to move away. They’re choosing to nest. Choosing to create a home and life that are comfortable and comforting. Perhaps they’re trying to replicate their own childhood memories.
“A longing for our childhood home never leaves us. Wherever we live, we carry inside us a vision of the place in which we were, if not in every case happiest, then first conscious of the world beyond ourselves.” Marcel Proust
I couldn’t agree more. Maybe it’s because in the past month my family sold my childhood home as we moved our mom into assisted living. My life may not have been perfect and full of only happy memories in that home, but it was my home. Now, I’ll likely never step foot in that simple yet special house again.
As some of you are grappling with the same issues, maybe you’re thinking of moving to a small town to bring back that hometown feel. Slow things down. As we age, time does in fact speed up and feels like it goes faster and faster by the years. This is no mere perception, but perhaps science as Adrian Bejan recently surmised. The professor presented an argument based on the physics of neural signal process and hypothesized that, over time, the rate at which we process visual information slows down. This is what makes time “speed up” as we age. I always thought it was because we see fewer and fewer years ahead of us but I’m going with the scientist.
A slow down to this speeding up of time is maybe what we of a certain age are craving as we consider small town living. Places where doctors are nearby and know your name, school boards are accountable and listen, “shopping local” means shopping small, and common courtesy is common place. At the very least, we seem to all be gravitating to neighborhoods and communities that offer what many consider small town assets. Having everything has been replaced by having certain things.
The past few years have taken a toll on all of us. Cities still seem to be masked up while small towns are less so. We’ve heard again and again the benefits of both minimalism (culling possessions and keeping only essentials) and maximalism (accumulating even what you don’t need or hoarding) but as one of my favorite bloggers of SusanAfter60 recently wrote, maybe it’s time for essentialism…culling what’s not essential and accumulating what is. Even Mary Poppins knows enough is as good as a feast and said so in one of my favorite quotes of all time. You might have less possessions but each one will hopefully serve you well. Wherever you live.