View from a Sawmill: Give me a small townOn occasion I am asked by visitors to my sawmill why I live and work where I do. There is a simple answer to that question. Because I want to.
By: Greg Hull, Lake County News Chronicle
On occasion I am asked by visitors to my sawmill why I live and work where I do. There is a simple answer to that question. Because I want to.
It isn’t because I have no other options, or haven’t been given other opportunities. I have. I have lived in several large cities and visited many more. But I like living in a small community.
For a good small town to be desirable, it requires certain characteristics. For example, it needs to have a strictly volunteer fire department, typically divided into two brigades. One is made up of the younger members, who savor the opportunity to rush to a fire in a truck with lights and sirens blaring. The other is the Basement Saver’s Brigade, usually made up of the older members of the department. Their philosophy is “get there safely in time to protect the outbuildings, and let the rest burn itself out.”
A small town requires a police force, but one where most of the officers were once upon a time kids in the town; maybe even troublemakers in their day. They see their job as modifying behavior, not just handing out tickets and catching people doing things wrong. If a ticket is needed, they’ll give one, but because they know most everyone, they know that sometimes turning a wayward kid over to his old man is much more effective than involving the local judiciary. They also have ways of letting the population know which laws they intend to strictly enforce, and which they consider a bunch of damn nonsense. They may routinely reduce the amount a motorist was speeding so as to reduce the potential fine, feeling it unjust for the State to balance its books on the backs of a people who may be in a bit of hurry.
Every small town has not one chamber of commerce, but two. One is made up of bankers, realtors and insurance agents who meet monthly for lunch and to plan golf tournaments and garden tours. The other meets every day for breakfast between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., holding their meetings in a café with a name like Ruby’s or Maggie’s. The name is from the founding proprietress, even though the place is now run by her granddaughter who allows her regular customers to keep their own coffee cups on pegs along the wall by the coffee maker. For this favor, she expects them to get up and get their own coffee, and not wait for a waitress to fill them. The membership of this Chamber is made up of contractors, loggers, truckers and farmers who meet over breakfast every day, before going off to work, or while they await the stores to open so they can get parts.
A small town needs its own Flaming Liberal, who usually is the only local candidate to never be elected to office. He or she may be considered forthright and upright, but also considered rarely, if ever, right. The Liberal’s counterpart is the Zealous Conservative, who by most counts is considered a cantankerous SOB, although his mother is usually a gentle saint. He likewise has never been elected to political office, but only because he steadfastly refuses to run. He is afraid that his few friends would actually vote for him, not because they think he might do a good job, but because they could then tease him about being a government employee, one of the lowest life forms in his estimation. Both write frequent letters to the editor of the local paper, which actually prints some of them, but only after carefully editing out all the libelous invective. The editor also keeps careful count of how many letters of each get printed, so that in the course of a year both are given equal space.
A small town may not have a symphony or theater, but it will have a band and put on some periodic theatrical productions. The band may require auditions, but never for the purpose of seeing if the musician can give an adequately nuanced interpretation of the composers original intent. The audition is only to determine if the candidate can play most of the notes at the right tempo at the right time. The theatrical productions are usually locally written, locally produced and of local interest. It won’t be Shakespeare, but then Shakespeare wasn’t either early on.
The best thing about a small town is that everyone knows each other’s business. The worst thing about a small town is that everyone will know each other’s business. People may not talk to each other for years and when queried, not even remember why they are mad at each other. They just know they’re suppose to be mad. But let one family experience a death or tragedy of some sort, and the other will leave a hot dish and jello salad on the porch, high enough so the dog won’t get into it, but low enough to be found. If it’s winter, a driveway or sidewalk may be surreptitiously shoveled.
In a small town, people will still stand up when the band plays the Star Spangled Banner, and the kids will know to take off their hats and stand still when the flag comes by in the annual parade. The War Veterans are respected and thanked for their service, and the Blue Star Moms are given special deference.
There are many more essential characteristics of a small town of course. Tourists can drive through one and wonder why anyone would live in a place “where nothing happens.” But that’s only because they can’t see the things that are actually happening, and that make a small town so great.
Greg Hull is owner and operator of Hull’s Sawmill. He has spent the majority of his life living in small towns. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org