Julie Carter is a New Mexico writer and author whose column appears weekly on Rio Grande Digital.
Small Town, America is struggling to survive in a brutal economy. The heartbeats of those towns — the grocery store, gas station, mercantile and the restaurants–are boarding up their store fronts and in many cases, ending decades of local history.
It’s easy to be nostalgic about small towns. The place many say they want to live but fewer and fewer do. Often over-romanticized in the overall picture of Americana, it has its own flavor, usually a block or two away from Main Street.
There you find the quiet streets, the picket fences, the old family homes, and the cracked and broken sidewalks that tie each neighborhood together like old ribbons from a package long forgotten.
Small towns are glued together with memories and narratives. A good portion of Americans have “small town” in their DNA and can relate to the remembrances.
We often long for those simpler days of “small” everything — small cafés, small mom and pop groceries, small bookstores, drugstores, the “filling station” and a movie theater.
Most small towns had one doctor, sometimes a dentist and if you were lucky, the guy who had the hardware store could also fix your TV and your watch.
Football coaches suggested that you haul hay for the summer to get stronger and fall school schedules were abbreviated to accommodate haying season.
You couldn’t help but date a friend’s ex-girlfriend (or boyfriend) and actually it was cool to date someone from a neighboring town as long as it wasn’t someone from the rival basketball team.
Going to parties in a barn, a pasture or the middle of a dirt road was the norm and snipe hunts were scheduled regularly for any naïve visitors that might happen along.
The stop light was the reference for all instruction for locations on Main Street. Directions beyond that involved such as “turning right at Mabel’s house” and traveling to the end of the street where the pavement ended. “And right there, just past that big oak, is an old shed. You turn right there and go down the two-track road there by the mailbox, or where the mailbox used to be, and go another 100 yards or so and you can’t miss it.”
Seeing someone drive a tractor through town was expected and bicycles on the streets and sidewalks were a given.
The local mercantile could outfit you for winter or summer as well as provide tools, cookware, hunting or fishing licenses along with ammo, rods, reels and bait.
Someone in town sold penny candy and those tasty bite-size wax pieces shaped like little soda bottles and filled with juice. Such a treat for a kid. And don’t forget the flavored wax lips you’d chew until the flavor was gone leaving only a disgusting mass.
Necco wafers, Mary Janes (those chewy peanut butter and molasses candies), Oh Henry candy bars, bubble gum balls, jawbreakers and candy necklaces – now all termed “vintage.”
If these memories are also your memories, then you too may be wearing a “vintage” label. I wear mine proudly and know that to have lived in a time that Ozzie and Harriet and Ward and June made famous was a good thing.
My job is to continue the narrative that keeps small towns real in the hearts of future generations. Along the way, it’s a lot of fun to remember.
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at http://julie-carter.com/