My mother-in-law and father -in-law grew up in Richland Springs, Texas, a city located near Brownwood, Texas with a whopping population of 325 people. The entire Richland Independent School District (grades K-12) has less than 100 students. When my husband and I visit Richland Springs, we always run into someone that looks at my husband and says, “You must be Roy’s boy”. But don’t be fooled by how small this town is. My father-in-law went on to get a Ph.D. in math, along with one of his classmates, and the Richland Springs Coyotes football team (out of 200 teams statewide) has won 7 out of 8 state championships in 6-man football. Still, the entire city of Richland Springs makes Huntington look like a great big city. They got a yellow flashing light a few years back and it was the most exciting thing to happen there in years.
I grew up in small towns, and I am just a small town girl. I moved away to bigger cities for education, but I was still a small town girl deep down. I like raising my kids in a small town. I like knowing who is teaching my children, and who is influencing them.
Of course, small towns are sometimes the butt of jokes, and some people look down their noses at us, thinking we are just uneducated hicks. Not true. But I must admit that sometimes in a small town everyone is all up in your business and they know everything about you (and some of it is actually true!). I have heard that “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in a small town sure gets around fast.” As one woman from a little town put it, “I may not be famous, but they talk about me like I am! And if I don’t know what I’m doing, someone else in town surely does.”
Maybe you ended up in Huntington after living in a big city. Or maybe you were raised here. Here are some things only a small town person might be familiar with:
• You know what 4-H is.
• You’ve ever been to a party in a pasture, barn, or gravel pit.
• The closest McDonald’s is 2 towns away.
• So is the closest mall.
• You wave at all the on-coming traffic because you likely know them.
• Local gas stations sell live bait.
• You call the wrong phone number and you know the person you called.
In America, local city government is also the most efficient of all other bigger governmental entities. If you have a problem with your water or gas, you don’t have to wait for Washington to muddle through a lot of bureaucracy to help you. You just call city hall and a real person actually answers the telephone to help you. (By the time you call a department in Washington for help, they would just put you on hold for an hour, then tell you that they have no record of you ever being born, or some other nonsense like that).
If you need a policeman to help you, they don’t need GPS to find you. They already know where you live. So does the fire department. If you lose your dog, most people already know your dog’s name and someone has probably already fed the dog. And if you have a problem in the city, you don’t have to drive far to City Hall to talk to someone about it, or to make it to a City Council meeting. We live close to each other, and we are accountable to each other. That’s how government should work.
In my job as Municipal Judge, I like knowing the people of Huntington. I want to know about their kids and their lives. I’ve even sat and talked to people about their cows or pigs. Small town people are real, without a lot of pretense. That said, there is still some drama to be found. And Facebook only makes things worse. But the values of a small town are strong, and if any of us finds ourselves in a bad way, our neighbors or our church know about it and pitch in to help.
I love living and working in small towns. Makes me think of a John Mellencamp song:
“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 probably where they’ll bury me…”
No matter where life takes you, don’t forget where you came from. And if you must live or work in a big city, it never hurts to take some “small town” atmosphere there and spread it around.