by Betsy Hall
“Well, I was born in a small town. And I live in a small town. Probably die in a small town. Oh, those small communities.”
Many of us may recognize these lyrics written by John Mellencamp about the place he was born, raised, and where he still owns a home (albeit larger than the one he grew up in). The town is Seymour, Indiana, but it could be any small town in America, which is why the song resonated with so many people in 1985 and still does today.
On Sunday, Darwin and I traveled east along US 50 to Bainbridge, Ohio. Along the way we passed through several Ohio small towns. Many were so small that they contained only a few houses, a gas station, and maybe a store. Others, like Hillsboro, were larger with parks and well-cared-for historic buildings. What I loved the most was that it did not take us long to leave the “big city” and travel through the beautiful open spaces of the countryside. Here was farmland, wooded hills, and the small towns which support the life and work of their people. Marathon, Vera Cruz, Monterey, Rainsboro, Dodsonville all made me wonder how the people who settled here came up with the names. But most of all, why they stayed. Was it family ties, land ownership, a small business, or maybe just a preference for small town life? Because face it, the opportunities are limited, as are the tax dollars needed to maintain the often-decaying structures in these towns.
The big city of Cincinnati attracted me right out of college. I love the excitement, the sports, the opportunities, the food, the music, the river. I am not a small-town girl. However, I do understand the appeal. Because I promptly found my own “small town” right in Pleasant Run, in a small church that serves its community and is still striving to do so.
But back to Bainbridge. The Fall Festival of Leaves was going on. And my goodness, the scope of this festival blew me away. Food vendors stretching up and down the side streets; craft vendors selling everything homemade and homebuilt along with the requisite t-shirts; games; carnival rides; and citizens with their own “garage sales” in their front yards. Then the parade which featured high school marching bands, football players, fire trucks, tractors, and visiting “royalty” from all the other small towns. Each with the opportunity to invite us to attend their festivals. The crowd was amazing! Happy, friendly, proud of where they lived, and enjoying their small town.
The point of the story—”There’s a reason God placed us right where we are.” Pastor Marsha Webster used to quote something like this in her benediction (adopted from Pastor Peter Marshall). And I believe it with all my heart. Look around you, find your reason, and live your life to the best of your God-given purpose and location. Big city or small town.