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Connections are what small town living is all about

By MIMI BECKER

Coffee with Mimi

Living in a small town can be whatever you want it to be. We traded our life in a much larger city almost exactly 28 years ago.  Immediately, we found differences in the way some things are done. For me, it was returning to the home of my parents. I had lived here for a few years before going off to college, and beyond in the intervening 20 years.

Because of my originally short tenure in this town, I missed out on many of the relationships which develop over years while growing up.  However, I am the oldest of a large and active bunch of siblings — all of which left their mark during their growing-up years.  They were a bridge to my return. Not a day passed that I was not greeted by a person who knew who I was. Yet I was befuddled as to who they were, and what our connection was.

As it turned out, that person went to school with one or the other of my younger brothers or sisters — or several of them — or did business just yesterday with my mom or dad. 

In a small town, even if you are not immediately known,  conversations quickly turn to topics such as which branch of that family are you and what possible connections there may be between you, them and people you may or may not remember.

That’s the thing in a small town. Connections are what it’s all about. 

There was a time, not too long ago, when life in a small town was literally that.  A good proportion of the population was born, grew up and possibly after a stint away for college, military service or what not, returned home to raise a family and work.  Kids were friends from days spent running around in adjoining backyards all the way through school.  There weren’t many new kids on the block through the years.

Times change and the semi-isolation of small towns changed, too. Lots of people moved.  And we did, too.  We came to town and because of those connections and small town characteristics, it was as if we had lived here always.

Yes, that is my maiden name but it isn’t that family, it’s the other one.  That would lead to many stories of the escapades of my younger family members and their wide circles of friends.  Therefore, my immediate reconnection to life in town.

Research shows that successful, happy and healthy communities are built on the capacity to build real and sustainable relationships and connections between people and groups.  Prosperous and economically viable towns are dependent on the residents and citizens accepting and embracing that premise.  In the digital world, every place is dependent on the strength of its own to compete and interact with the other.

There are reports, surveys and indexes to rate towns and areas on a variety of characteristics from education level of the workforce to walkability.  Yes, walkability.  It is the ease and comfort with which people can get around your town or neighborhoods on foot and it is considered important among folks making decisions about moving businesses and families.  In other words, how easy is it to be a part of the community.

A huge benefit to building relationships, connections and capacity in a small town is the ability to confront problems and solve them.  An axiom of life in any place is we all have problems and we all need to solve them.  The problems or needs of the whole belong to the individual sooner or later,  small town or large.  In a small town, the effect is likely sooner, rather than later.

But that’s where small town beats out large town most any day. 

A transplant to town with possibly no evident connection to the area may feel he or she is being grilled by a nosy neighbor.  Should the conversation move from “where are you from” to “are you related to…”, you shouldn’t be put off.  It’s the welcome sign that  connection in the community is important.  If you have no late, great relative to share, no matter. 

Do you knit?  We have a group for that.

Before you know it, you will be asked to join any number of activities in a web of connected inter-relationships.  And that is how it works.  In a bigger town, that immersion may take years.

Here, your waiter or waitress at your favorite restaurant could be the son or daughter of your back fence neighbor.  Your kid’s new best friend at school lives across town, in a small town that is a five minute drive.  Extracurricular play dates are not a traffic nightmare.

Small town life may not be comfortable for everyone.  A lot is expected of people who live in small towns.  Our concerns are right in front of us.  Problems can’t be resolved by moving to a different neighborhood.

In a small town, people have the chance to make a difference, sooner rather than later.