As we enter this New Year, it is important to pause and count our blessings. While I have many, there is one in particular that I am thankful for today, namely living in a small rural community.
I often joke in seminars that living in a small town is a unique experience. First, we never lock our doors unless it is zucchini season. We never use our blinkers because we already know where everyone is going. And we all know that Sunday morning sermons are delivered to particular people given their behavior on Saturday night.
In our rural Iowa community, it is common in winter for all cars to be covered in road dirt. It is a mixture of gravel dust, mud, and winter slush. Everyone knows we will wash our cars after mud season in March. Otherwise, it won’t make much of a difference.
In winter, it also is common to find cars running outside the post office as we run in to get our mail, or outside the local grocery store as we pick up another gallon of milk. Men and women routinely come into town wearing insulated coveralls and heavy boots in the winter. Their cheeks are rosy red from the cold. Their dogs are sitting in the front seat of the cab, all smiles from the warmth and the trip to town.
Pick-up trucks abound. Grain trucks and semi’s moving corn or beans pass by regularly. People gather at the local coffee shop in small groups to visit every morning about life, liberty, and their neighbors.
But, for me, the blessings go deeper than the outward appearances of my small town. There are four of them in particular that I am most grateful for as we enter this New Year.
First, we take care of each other.
I live in a small town where the fire whistle still sounds at 7:00 am, 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm and 6:00 pm. Our local Fire Department is an all volunteer group. And when the whistle fires off at any other time than the aforementioned, every one stops and looks in the direction of the station. We pause and wonder who is in need.
With their blue lights flashing, these dedicated volunteers all head to the station. If we are driving in town, we just pull over at the sound of the fire siren. In minutes, the first responders will be speeding out to whomever dialed 911. We all know that the next time it could be one of us or our own loved ones.
It is common for 10 - 15 volunteer fire men and women to show up on a call. They are neighbors caring for neighbors. It also is not surprising for other people to come to help the family.
In a town where few church doors are ever locked, the second call after 911 is going to be to one of our area religious leaders or elders. They are often the second ring of support after the volunteer Fire Department. Then, the prayer chain will be activated. This circle of support moves faster than the internet in a small town.
Soon, the food and assistance comes pouring in. Be it help with chores on the farm, a drive-way that needs to be plowed or a sidewalk that needs to be shoveled, we take care of each other. Along with numerous casseroles and baked goods, we will stand by each other, hold up each other, and support each other long past the crisis. It is just what we do in a small town. It is a blessing of immense proportion.
Second, we remember our history.
In a small town, you do not live in your own home. My wife and I bought our house from the family who built it in 1919. When asked where we live, we respond “the Fawcett place.” The response amongst a certain generation is always the same, “Nice place. I haven’t been in there since I was a kid.”
We also remember our veterans. Those who served and died are memorialized in stone. Most recently, those who served and return home are welcomed by a parade around town led by the Police and Fire Departments. We are grateful for their service. We remember their sacrifices.
At the same time, we remember our history through stories told, pictures shared, and memories passed on from generation to generation. For example, in the local coffee shop, one chair is different than all the rest. It is reserved for an older man who eats breakfast there every day. He lost his wife a while back and now he starts his morning with friends at the coffee shop. It is common for those who gather to discuss events from 40-50 years ago as if it was yesterday. We take care of each other and we remember our history. It’s what keeps us going and it reminds us of what is most important.
Third, we value family.
When I first moved into our small Iowa town, there was only one barber shop for men and boys. With the striped pole and the old fashion chairs, he did a steady business all day long. One day while getting my hair cut, we began to talk about family and the holidays. Having grown up on the east coast, my family were all back east. Going to see them was a multi-day experience.
“Is your family spread out?” I asked our local barber.
“Yes,” he replied. “Some of them take nearly 30 minutes by car to see. We are hoping they will all move back to town soon.”
In our small town, we know each other so well that when we ask “How are you?”, we want to know how you and your entire family are doing. Sons, daughters, parents, grand parents and extended family are all part of the normal sharing about family.
We ask because we care. We ask because we recognize that family is the foundation of all that is meaningful. It is the place where your story begins and where you story will be told after you pass away.
Fourth, we love to talk about the weather.
Hot or cold, wet or dry, in a small rural, Iowa farming community, the weather is a constant topic of discussion. We can tell you about floods, droughts, tornados and blizzards. We know about ground temperatures, wind speed, and humidity. If it rains, we want to know what you got in the rain gauge and whether or not it is different from what your neighbor got. In a small town coffee shop, the weather and how the the local high school sports teams are doing are hot topics each and every morning.
After much reflection, I have come to the conclusion that we talk about the weather so much because it keeps us humble. We know we are not in charge even if we wish we were. We also talk about it because here in Iowa if you wait a bit, it will change. Ice will become snow; rain will become drought; and a cloudy day might just become a sunny one.
As this New Year begins, I am grateful for living in the small town that I now call home. We take care of each. We remember our history and we recognize the impact it has in our lives. We value our families and family life. And if you are stopping by for a cup of coffee, we’d love to visit about the weather, too. It’s always changing.
May you count your blessings today, and find many new ones during the coming New Year.