My students are currently writing about the things they value the most. People. Places. Things. Whatever it is that has brought them the most joy and happiness in their lives. There are dozens of things I love about this farming community, but I will share the top ones on my list in the spirit of the given assignment.
The people. Everyone here has time for conversations and relationships. They work as hard as any people on the planet, but when it is time to visit or share a story, they stop everything and act as if they don’t have a responsibility in the world. As it is, I am blessed with many special friendships from my years in college, teaching, and church, but my heart has expanded to include the people in my new hometown due to their uninhibited expressions of love and friendship. I am blessed to have found some amazing colleagues and church friends to travel this new journey alongside our family.
The work ethic. This is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. During the first couple of months of teaching here, I was shocked by the speed with which my students completed their class assignments. I would plan a lesson that I would think would take an entire class period and they would whiz through it in 20 minutes and ask me what was next on the agenda for the day. It was a little shocking that, after 28 years of teaching, I was relearning how to plan lessons. After the first couple of months, it became apparent that this was a new world for me. A world where children have lots of responsibilities and chores. Time-consuming and dirty chores that cause them to have to wake up early and use their time wisely. It was shocking to see the difference this fact made in their work habits at school. Due to the fact that many of my students live on large farms and ranches, they have learned to use their time extremely effectively in order to complete school work, chores, and extracurricular activities. Only one year into this adventure, some things are starting to make sense to me now. I am seeing why my husband thinks everyone should wake up at 5:00 a.m. to start work. When he was growing up, he lived with his East Texas, hard-working, ranch-owning grandfather during the summers and was on the same demanding schedule my current students carry each day. A person starts before sunrise and ends right as the sun sets and then rests and relaxes until bedtime and the start of a new day.
The hometown pride. I love it. How can a town of only 1,177 people carry out so many special events and celebrations? There is a huge Homecoming celebration in the spring of each year. In addition to that, the entire town turns out in droves for Halloween on the town square. This fall, our high school football team advanced in the playoffs and I loved, loved, loved seeing the town covered in green and gold, hay bales painted with the high school mascot, people wearing green and gold incessantly, and everyone talking about the latest game at school. Even though I have come from wonderfully spirited schools in the past, the feeling of small town pride is palpable and unexplainable. Many of my students have parents and grandparents who attended the same school and, therefore, are steeped in the tradition and way of life here. There are only approximately 75 students per grade level here which results in the students knowing one another very well. That can be both good and bad at times. New students and teachers are greeted with immense curiosity and interest by the locals. City-slickers, like myself, are of keen interest to everyone in town. Everyone wants to hear about city life, meet us, and help us in whatever way possible.
The store hours. They are only a suggestion. Only moments ago, I tried to mail a package during my lunch break and, guess what? The post office was closed for lunch. I chuckled to myself when I opened the door and saw the partition closed. After a year in small town America, this should not surprise me at all. The most famous BBQ restaurant for miles around is only open on Saturday. The amazing local bakery is only open on Fridays. The local antique store is only open on Saturdays as well. The list goes on and on. When we first moved here, we had to catch the DPS office open on an odd day for only a couple of hours. Since The Outdoorsman and I are both from Houston, we have gotten some laughs about the makeshift signs changing the posted hours with a marker on a daily whim. And you know what? I absolutely love it. I love the fact that these people are able to run a business for years with such infrequent hours. That gives me hope for reopening my antique store, The Rusty Coop, for only a couple of days per month after I retire.
The courtesy. When we lost our Longhorn heifer, the rancher who had her on his land fed her for over a month and penned her up for us until we could pick her up. When we lost our pigs, many people in the community posted their whereabouts until they were found. The same rancher ended up finding them hanging out with his dogs and helped capture them and get them back home. Our neighbors have had our bull on their property for about six weeks and have volunteered to rope it and put it back in our pasture as soon as they can catch it. Everyone we have met is more than willing to help you out as much as humanly possible. Even my junior high students exhibit courtesy for adults by opening doors, responding with manners, and making eye-contact at all times. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and, in this case, it is a wonderful thing.
The scenery. On every drive to almost every destination, the scenery is breathtaking to me. To get to a chain grocery store or fast-food restaurant, the closest city is a twenty-mile drive from our house. This may sound daunting to a city girl like me, but au contraire. It is lovely. A beautiful dream. At least twenty miles of ranches, farmhouses, barns, cattle, horses, and goats in every direction. My dream has come true. Several times, I have almost driven off the road peering at a newborn calf in a pasture or checking out the layout of the farms on my way to work. The long drive is not stressful at all when there is beauty surrounding you in every direction. Thankfully, it has not grown tiresome to either The Outdoorsman or me during our first year in the country. I can’t imagine it would ever grow old so see such beauty.
Many of our parents, including my own, couldn’t wait to leave small town America. Today, I sit here and wonder why. Small town America is what I dream of for my own children and their families. A simple life. A slower pace. Lifelong connections. Hard work. Strong faith. Community pride. I am thankful for my fifty years in Houston, Texas, but grateful to God for allowing me to have the amazing experience of living in small town America.