Almost all of my 73 years have been spent in small towns. I spent two or three months each in the “big cities” of Salina and Wichita and found them sadly lacking in the warmth my being has always craved. With those brief exceptions, the largest town I have ever called home is Hillsboro. The series of towns and villages have always given me what I need.
The village where I grew up was similar to Goober Lindsey’s hometown, which he said was “so small we didn’t even have a town drunk and we all had to take turns.” In my childhood there were a couple of filling stations on the highway, one doubling as a small grocery store and the other as a beer joint, a school (high school until 1945 and after that a two-teacher grade school), and two churches. In my earliest childhood there was even a depot on the Union Pacific. All of those except one church have now passed into oblivion, and you probably wouldn’t have to use all your fingers and toes to count the residents. It was a marvelous safe and sane environment in which to grow up. The whole village was our playground. After all, we couldn’t get too far away to hear Dad’s war whoop from the front porch when we needed to come home.
As a single adult the towns where I lived and worked were a bit larger with a few more conveniences, but still had all the advantages of a small town. I love Marion County, because it is full of safe and friendly small towns. I am not at all sorry we do not have a metropolis.
Of course, my own special small town is Tampa, and I hope I never have to leave it. Just now we are basking in the memory of our quasquicentennial and a few other bits of small-town excitement. Our big celebration last month brought many former residents back to their roots. Just as I love to return to my first village of Carneiro, no matter how far people go from the small towns of their childhood, coming back is always coming home. We all had a great time, and the rain just made it a more jubilant celebration.
Incidentally, I suppose the rest of Marion County can blame Tampa for the long, dry summer. If we had only known that all we needed to do to bring a good rain was plan a big event with many of the activities taking place in the open, we could have done that in June.
In the past year or two, we have been proving that a town of less than 150 people does not have to be dead. If you have not visited us in a couple of years, you will find a few progressive changes. Coming into town, you are greeted by handsome welcome signs featuring covered wagons to emphasize our Santa Fe Trail heritage. I am fortunate to live right across the street from the new playground. It’s fun to watch children and teenagers playing basketball and families picnicking in the shelter house or pitching horseshoes. I’ve even ventured on the swings and pitched a few horseshoes myself.
Our downtown is no longer just a mass of crumbling, empty buildings. A group of people led by David Mueller have worked hard to get a small-town style of economic development moving. We now have a community grocery store, a fitness center, and a beauty shop.
Members of Tampa PRIDE and others in the community who have volunteered a lot of time and money to implement this progress should have the deepest appreciation of all of us. I’d like to name names, but I would certainly leave someone out. Our progress has been a real community effort.
Marion County can be proud of its heritage and cherish the neighborly warmth of our small towns.