Small Town Ways

With a warm spring finally here and hotter weather to follow, a store near me has filled its seasonal section with all things summer. Though still April, I saw stacks of Fourth of July themed party supplies, plastic cups for poolside use, and a display of various sunscreens. It was the sunscreen display that reminded me of a day trip I took years ago with my kids.

The three of us set off to spend a day on the beach of a small town I’ve visited all my life and I knew the kids would enjoy sun, sand, and saltwater. As for me, I immediately felt calmer simply leaving work, traffic, and fast-paced living. While the kids argued in the back over who would be first to get in the water once we arrived, I drove and looked forward to experiencing again the small town ways I love but see disappearing. It’s hard to describe those ways, but you know them when you see them and every time an example pops up I hear myself say “There it is.”

People used to wave when they passed one another. Strangers smiled and nodded to each other. If you got lost while traveling you pulled over and the service station mechanic happily got you back on track. If he didn’t know how to then the man reading his newspaper while waiting for an oil change certainly might. And you didn’t have to ask, he’d eagerly put down his paper to help.

There it is.

People reminded one another to carry an umbrella as the weatherman had mentioned thunderstorms for later. If you needed a pen then the woman in line behind you was glad to offer hers. Everyone seemed genuinely interested in each other. There was no agenda, helping out wasn’t done for personal gain, and kindness was expressed simply because it was good and right.

There it is.

As I parked the car at the marina the kids scrambled over each other to race to the beach. I looked around, sad to see some of the quaint out-buildings now gone. Rustic boathouses and a tiny bait shop were replaced by an over-priced restaurant and a store with neon signs screaming at me to buy souvenirs. No wonder small town ways are disappearing; they have no place to live.

Carrying towels, toys, and floats, I made my way over hot sand to where the kids waited by the water. It was then I realized I’d forgotten their sunscreen. Reluctantly, they left the beach to walk with me to the shiny new store at the marina. I hesitated, unhappy about supporting something that helped replace the very ways I’d been reminiscing about, but the kids needed sunscreen. Gone were the days of the smiling bait shop owner asking how he could help. We’d just have to go in and hope a cashier would even notice us.

Walking in I was surprised. There beneath garish fluorescent lights was an old man stocking greeting cards. Wearing faded jeans and a worn flannel shirt, he used a cane for balance as he stooped to fill the lower shelves. Although surrounded by displays of magazines, coolers full of sodas, and racks of colorful t-shirts, I saw no sunscreen. Interrupting his work, I nodded towards my kids.

“Do you have any sunscreen?” I asked. “I forgot theirs.”

“Well, I believe I might.” he responded with a smile. “Let me look.”

He seemed out of place there surrounded by beach jewelry, scented candles, and baskets of packaged seashells. Dance music over store speakers nearly drowned out his voice. As we followed him through aisles crammed with flip-flops and plastic buckets, I thought sadly how his working in such a place was final evidence that the small town ways had been all but swallowed up by sterile progress. This man, and others like him from the old days, had to adapt to the new or be left behind. Surely in that transition small town courtesies would be lost, gone for good, all part of the change.

The old man led us to the checkout counter but I still saw no sunscreen. Using his cane again, he stooped to reach down behind the cash register and lifted up an old knapsack, obviously his own, and opened it on the counter. He dug inside removing a frayed wallet, rusty keys, and a tiny old notebook before saying “Yep, got it.” With a smile he produced a large tube, told me there was plenty to cover both kids, and handed me the last of his very own sunscreen.

There it is.

Stuart M. Perkins

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161 Comments

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161 responses to “Small Town Ways

  1. My parents grew up in a small town. Your blog describes the way they taught me to be. Now I understand why some people think I am strange.

  2. I, myself grew up in a very small town and yes it is hard to explain, but it is just different. My 11 year old daughter recently described my home town as “going back in time” on one of our trips to visit grandparents. She said ” it’s like old fashioned”. Funny, I never looked at it like that, it’s just warm and cozy to me and what I will always call home.

  3. I am always drawn to Small Town stories..Brings back nostalgic moments. Great blog..

  4. I just wanted to say thank you for subscribing to my blog. Please share it with your friends as I will be growing the blog to post 10 to 15 articles a day of news that CNN seems to lose. I discuss many subjects and I am working on a radio show podcast. If you are interested I am looking for guests for the show to give their viewpoints and to write articles with me. If that’s something you’d be interested in let me know. Thanks again for subscribing and getting the word out about the work I have been doing.

  5. That was gorgeous! Made me smile.

  6. I absolutely love your writing style and this descriptive narrative! What a delightful twist at the end. There it is.

  7. My Dad was raised in a small town in Texas. I recall going to visit my grandparents and heading to the garden to cut the heart out of the watermelons. We ate them sitting on the ground surrounded by family. Thanks for taking me back there.

  8. Made me tear up a little. Not bad at all, Mr. Perkins 🙂

  9. To us small town people & our small town ways 🙂 Funny how its us that change the world… I wonder why?

  10. There it is! I smiled throughout, but I share in the underlying sadness. Great piece!

  11. Very nice. Your writing is nice and fluid. I could see everything that you wrote 😉

  12. Pingback: My Little Bubble in the South | What's Love Got to Do With It?…EVERYTHING!

  13. Such a wonderful and true depiction of small town life. When I was 17 I moved from Toronto to a small town about 2 hours north of just 2000 people. I suffered a bit of culture shock for the first little while. Strangers waving and acknowledging your presence as you passed each other on the sidewalk? That was simply unheard of in the big city. I’ve grown to love and miss the small town ways as I now live in yet another big city, Vancouver. Wonderful post, you’ve captured the essence of small towns beautifully.

  14. Well, I must say, that brought tears to my eyes! The kindness of strangers can ignite a flame of love, so long as there remains a breath of life to feed the spark, our changing environment cannot take away our inner personality.

  15. There’s more than enough kindness in the world to go around. Might as well give it out for free. I mean – no sense in hoarding it now, is there? 🙂

  16. Thank for this, it brings back memories of all the wonderful things about growing up in the south.

  17. I live about 4 miles outside a village that has one traffic light. People still wave when a car drives by or someone walks past. Your story is wonderful in that small town ways are comforting. There’s a fellowship in small towns that you just can’t find in cities. Thank you for relating the experience with the old man and the sunscreen. It’s good to know that, in spite of the sprawl that finds even the small towns, the people are still small town folks.

  18. litzwired

    Thanks for stopping in!

  19. Thanks for following my blog. I share alot of the same sentiments about missing common courtesies from days gone by. Congratulations on being selected to write for Virginia Living.

  20. I was deeply moved by this post… I too remember a time when it was not like it is now – when “relationship” was what mattered – thank god for animals – they still understand the meaning of the word.

  21. Wonderful story! In our small town everyone still waves to one another. It’s one of the reasons why I love it here.

  22. Small towns are special!!

  23. Wow!! Beautiful story!! 🙂

  24. Diane J Hagan

    I grew up in a small town. We had one traffic light. Today, there’s two. We were a family. All Moms were watching you and you felt cared for. When my mom got sick, everyone helped my family. There’s nothing like small town living. I would never replace my childhood and experiencing it.

    Many things are changing and new ways aren’t always better. Visit Blind Turns… Dealing with Death, Change, Anxiety & Fear… http://bit.ly/1SfGt9c to learn how to handle today’s challenges.

    Keep posting.

  25. Hi Stuart! You recently “liked” one of my comments on another bloggers page, which is how I found your blog! I am so glad that I did… your writing is simply beautiful and, though I’ve scrolled through a few of your other posts, this one is my favorite. You have successfully gained a new follower! I hope that, if you haven’t yet, you will check out my blog at https://mmessickblog.wordpress.com/ – I would appreciate any feedback you have to offer, as well as a “follow” if you like what you read!

    Morgan

  26. Reblogged this on ChristianBlessings and commented:
    Holidays with good memories are the best.

  27. I grew up in a suburb that had that small town vibe to it. It had an old, historic town square, and being situated in the south, people grew up living and breathing hospitality. There’s a certain charm to that way of life, and if I ever move I hope I can find that feeling again. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Pingback: Sunscreen - Island in the Net

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