Small towns are the strongest foundation

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Mooreland, Indiana, was paradise for a child — my old friend Rose and I have often said so — small, flat, entirely knowable. When I say it was small I mean the population was three hundred people. I cannot stress this enough. People approach me to say they, too, grew up in small towns and when I ask the size they say, “Oh, six thousand or so.” A town of six thousand people is a wild metropolis. Once a woman told me that she’d grown up in a small town of fifteen thousand, and I was forced to turn my head away from her crazy geographic assessment. These people do not know small.

– Haven Kimmel, She Got Up Off The Couch — and other heroic acts from Mooreland, Indiana

I sat at the kitchen table, my homework assignments sprawled all around me. A big social studies report was due the next morning, no study hall time to save me.

Sidetracked

We had been kept late in the barn because of three first-calf heifers, all of them spooky and stanchion-shy, crazed with wanting to know where that newborn calf had gotten to. Just try to picture a frightened, wild beast doing the two-step, Rockette-style, while you wash, dry and place milkers on it.

“Dad, what is the population of Jeromesville?” I asked, hoping that seeking answers from the man who had been planted in this area by long-ago ancestors with Native American Indian stories to share was not considered cheating.

He pulled out his pipe, tapped some Sir Walter Raleigh in there and said, “Before or after Barb Krebs had her baby this morning?”

I love my little town, and I don’t mind admitting it. Like so many others, I may have bristled about how small it was back in the olden days, but being away for a few years and doing some growing up taught me to value so much.

Familiar faces

One of the first things I came to realize in those years away was how much I missed seeing familiar faces, some of them imprinted on my family for four or five generations.

Last night, celebrating Independence Day a little early at Mike and Mini Harpster’s mega neighborhood party, a group of us touched on this. A young girl who has taken a job in a nearby city said she loves her new position, but is always so happy to drive back to the farm territory that she used to make fun of all through school.

“Cows, horses, great big ole pick-up trucks … I used to crack jokes about how I couldn’t wait to get away from all of that. Now, I can’t wait for the end of the work day to get back to what I know is safe and calm. And if I need help, someone will show up to help me.”

Passing it on

One thing I have come to realize is that people with such a deeply-rooted history build a sort of trust, a sense of family. Not long ago, a man met my son for the first time. “You are Stan Young’s grandson, I can see it.”

He went on to describe some things my father had done quietly for him over the years, giving him a more solid chance at a successful life.

“If you ever need anything, and I mean anything, come to me,” this fellow said to Cort. The exchange was genuine, and left quite an impression on how doing right by others lives on.

My friends and cousins still comment on how hard we worked on our dairy farm, and some of them bristled at the thought of spending even so much as an afternoon at our place.

Comparing

My cousin Tracee said last weekend, “I can tell you one thing. When we went home and had to do our little chores, it suddenly all seemed very easy in comparison!”

Hard work builds strong character, a fact we were told quite often. Small town builds a safety net around a life, a family. The Golden Rule is a great motto to live by.

Surprisingly, it all turns out to have been true.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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