Mayberry is Better: Why I Like Living in Small Towns

© Brett Stoltz - Fotolia.com
© Brett Stoltz - Fotolia.com

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My family volunteers for the Salvation Army each Christmas as bell ringers outside of our local grocery store. Living in a small town offers many opportunities for service.
My family volunteers for the Salvation Army each Christmas as bell ringers outside of our local grocery store. Living in a small town offers many opportunities for service.

I don't really live in Mayberry, North Carolina, but residents of my small town in Arizona sometimes call it that. It's the kind of place where people know who you are, and notice if they don't. My town has a Mayberry-like downtown area with mom and pop businesses, two grocery stores, some restaurants, and an elementary school. And I know the names of all of my neighbors.

Small town life has been quite an adjustment for me. I grew up an Air Force brat, and we moved constantly until I was about 11 years old, to a place I abhorred. In fact, I skipped outta there so fast, I left tire marks where they pealed out of the driveway. After college I moved 10 times in as many years. Most of those moves were from apartment to apartment, looking to upgrade the cheap dives we lived in, one small improvement at a time. Then we moved cross-country to a large metropolitan city, where we stayed put for 2 1/2 years. And finally, there was Mayberry.

In Mayberry, my daughter has made strong, enduring childhood friendships--the kind I longed for as a military kid, but never found. In Mayberry, we found a church that felt more like a family, year after year, and I have watched my babysitters grow up, graduate, and start their own lives and families.

I learned that a person living in Mayberry doesn't have the same degree of anonymity as she does in the burbs. And with that reality, comes some important life lessons.

Some of Your Best Friends Aren't At All Like You

In Mayberry, the pool of friends and acquaintances is far less homogenous than in the cookie cutter suburbs where you own a home that costs just about the same as your neighbors'. I had the good fortune of meeting friends along the way who weren't all that much like me. We had some common interests, but these weren't people I would have encountered in the suburbs at all.

One thing that drew me to these friends was my involvement in the local schools. With one elementary, one junior high, and one high school, and a local population of about 9,000 people, you can't be too choosey about who your children play with. For example, you can't limit your interactions to people within your own religious domination, salary range, or even education level. Almost everyone I met who lives in Mayberry wanted to raise their children in a community, connected to others.

Older People May Actually Know a Thing or Two

I met a delightful group of older people in Mayberry, who, like me, had an interest in forming connections and being part of a community. I found out that older people actually know a thing or two! They have already experienced the life stage I am going through now, and remember it well, though sometimes in a slightly revisionist way.

Some older people dispense with formalities and tell it like it is. Sometimes they set you straight in a way that is like a splash of cold water in the face, but often they simply cut right to what's important. Young people are too distracted by the details. Older people don't have time for the distractions. They are living in the now, and seizing the good moments they have remaining.

Many older people have ceased to be superficial in their relationships. An older friend can offer sincere advice with far less judgement than some younger people can.

You'll Catch More Flies with Honey than Vinegar

In Mayberry, you have to remember that the people whose ways you want to change will be there tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that. You'll encounter these people for years. So if you are the crusading type (like me), be careful lest your warrior ways alienate you.

In my case, the crusade was about our Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Our PTA had been functioning a certain way for 30 years or so, but.didn't actively recruit. In fact, as a relative outsider, unfamilar with the PTA's accomplishments at the other schools, I assumed we didn't have one. My crusade to make over the PTA didn't go over very well. I didn't do my homework, and didn't even know that the PTA had a highly successful book sale that had been contributing money to the schools' libraries for over 30 years. Me and my group of crusaders aroused suspicion and even hostility. Finally, after a year or two of this, we wised up, and became joiners. We joined the PTA, became involved in the exisiting programs, and eventually suggested some new things too.

They've Got Your Back and Your Children's Back, and They Also Know Your Social Security Number

In Mayberry "They" is just about everyone in your community. They know you at the library, the grocery store, the insurance agency, and even the Circle K. And half the time, they know who your children are, too.

If you are the type of person who closely monitors your children's (or teen's) activities, this type of interconnectedness has its benefits. We were on a trip into the big city south of us just recently and encountered some misbehavin' teenage boys. They were taking snapshots of each other with their cell phone cameras doing rather inappropriate things. I am not a busybody, but my children were nearby, and it didn't seem right. People shouldn't behave this way in public.

In Mayberry, sure, the teenage boys act up, but not in public places. Or perhaps, not as much. Because in Mayberry their behavior would surely have been reported back to their parents. And then people would remember it for a very, very long time. That's the disenchanting thing about small towns. People escape into the big cities and the burbs for just the anonymity that they afford them. In small townspeople can be labeled for their mistakes.

Friendship is Measured by the Confidences You Keep

In Mayberry, friendship is not a matter of shared interests and commonalities as much as it is measured by the confidences you keep. Keeping each other's private matters private is an art form in a small town, since many people in small towns tend to gossip habitually, without truly measuring the harm that gossip might cause.

In Mayberry, a trustworthy and discreet friend will not betray you in a moment of weakness to the watchful public eye. Your secrets will remain yours, and your life in Mayberry will be more pleasant because of it. I have learned that if news is not mine to share, it isn't appropriate to share it.

In the Burbs, people don't really care much about your personal life, so confidence-breaking seems a little less like a betrayal.

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Comments 18 comments

Chef Jeff profile image

Chef Jeff 8 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

I love small-town living and I miss it right about now.   However, there are characters who live in most small towns and they make life very interesting at times.

I have a friend who always takes a second to say hello, ask about the kids, until he sees someone else he "just has to talk with", after which, like a cartoon, he departs leaving a dust-devil twister in his wake.

Over the years I have learned to say the next word - after the one I left off with - in the drawn-out conversation we have been having one or two words at a time.  Right now I am finished with the first sentence, and it only took a few years to get that much out in our chance meetings.

I don't even know if he noticed my change of tactics, but he always asks the same question, and I just give him the same answer, one word at a time, and in a very slow delivery, which I think is just fine for a small-town boy like me.

But at least when I say "hello" to someone they say hello back, and sometimes we stop to talk.  Now don't get me wrong - I love Chicago - but when I see someone walking along the street and I say my hello, the other person either hides his or her eyes, or walks to the other side of the street, wagging a head in disbelief.

Occasionally (rarely!) the other person smiles and nods a head, but I have yet to have a small-talk conversation with anyone in a big city.

I remember the old joke about three men sitting in their rocking chairs when a newspaper blows by.  One man opens it and reads about the circus coming to town next month.  A week later the second man asks what date, and a few days after that he gets his answer.

Finally after another week passes by the third man gets up in disgust and rants at his companions for talking too much.


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen

I grew up in a very tiny Oklahoma town, and hated leaving it (12 years old), but now, gotta admit, I enjoy the energy of bigger cities...concerts, lectures, authors showing up at bookstores for readings, civic events. I've moved around quite a bit in my adult life, and I will agree that my best neighbors who quickly became real friends, have been in the smaller towns where we've lived. Nice hub!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 8 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Chef Jeff and Desert Blondie, for your thoughts. I have a confession to make. We just moved back to the burbs last week for a new job, but I felt compelled to finish this hub out of a sense of nostalgia. Can a person feel nostalgia for a place they left so recently? We've found a place with the events, libraries, shopping and culture that Desert Blondie mentioned, and are enjoying the amenities here, but I long for the small-talk that Chef Jeff describes. I am not a great conversationalist, but small talk is my forte. I didn't realize how much I indulged in it until I moved out here. Small talk is not welcome in my new area. People are all about business. The exception is the local parks. Parents strike up conversations with others about their children quite readily, but those conversations reflect an understanding that people are mere ships passing in the dark.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

Wonderful description of small townishness-- i grew up in a city suburb where people had been there for a long time and stayed. It was small townish.

aAfew years after marriage we moved to a new subdivision, a cul-du-sac where everyone was new at once. We all had front yards to establish and things we needed for a new home-- so conversations came easy. Good friends, because we had so much in common! It was a great place for growing kids.

Finally, moving to the country, fifteen miles from the small town was different. Lots of folks hre have known each others families for generations. I remember going to the grocery store and thinking how odd it was to not see anyone who looked at all familiar. Now I feel like I belong in the community. A little volunteer work-- a little writing for local papers-- I now rarely go to the store without talking to at least a couple of people.

You learned some good stuff. Good luck on the new transition. More lessons to learn, I suppose.

Oh, also, Thank heaven for the internet! or Al Gore . . . whomever.


danamisi 8 years ago

I for one miss you too, and I hope you miiss us enough to come back to visit. You know who I am. My kid misses yours too. But when you do come back to visit Mayberry we will have the peanut butter and fluff waiting for the boys to share.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 8 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Rochelle, I agree that you can find a sense of community in a neighborhood, too. I am sensing that from the new church we are attending also. Volunteering was one of the best things I ever did to make connections in my small town. I didn't keep it up after the small babies were born, but it opened the door to meeting other families with children. Serving others gives you something to 'offer' in your community, and creates a bridge to worthwhile relationships.

Danamisi-I miss you, too. My litle one misses yours, of course. We'll always be open to that pbf! If you ever come visit, we have lots of fun places to take the boys here!


KateWest profile image

KateWest 8 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Nostalgia is personal so you can practise it as you please. Small towns are indeed charming, although big cities have their appeal as well. Hmmm, I'd love to find a blend of both ....


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 8 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Agreed. My nostalgia is going on the shelf for awhile so my family can move forward.


The Rope profile image

The Rope 7 years ago from SE US

Another great read and a terrific life lesson as well. Thanks for sharing...


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks! Life lessons are important. Fortunately these ones aren't even painful!


carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

I live not far from Mt. Airy, NC, the prototype for Mayberry, and I can tell you, it's a very pleasant community- much like the one you describe. Great post!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Carolina Muscle, I was born in North Carolina but it's been over 35 years since I've been there. I hope to go back for a visit there someday. It seems like a wonderful place to live. Thanks for the kudos!


lctodd1947 profile image

lctodd1947 6 years ago from USA

Small town have their problems and their advantages. I live in one too. I understand all you said. Good writing


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Ictodd1947. We are no longer there, but if economies and such were different, I'd go back in a flash, because I feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Thank you for leaving a comment!


Neil Ashworth profile image

Neil Ashworth 6 years ago from United Kingdom

Nice article, heading back later for another look...


Neil Ashworth profile image

Neil Ashworth 6 years ago from United Kingdom

Great !! I've bookmarked this for further viewing..


Diane Inside profile image

Diane Inside 6 years ago

I just love your hubs. I grew up in a somewhat small town. And I can't tell you the number of times when i came home in the evenings as a teenager and my mom knew just what I'd been up to. After just one phone call, from one of her friends who I didn't even see while I was out. I mean one things for sure word sure gets around in a small town. I had to get resourceful. And While I wasn't a bad kid I did feel a little smothered when everybody knew every move I made. I hated it. But now that I am in my 30's I miss small towns. where everybody knows everybody. I will probably be moving back to the country before long. just loved this hub, thanks.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Diane thank you for the genuine and thoughtful comment. Isn't it funny that we crave what we rejected when we were younger? We have moved to a suburban area, and I miss small towns too. Fortunately we didn't move too far away and our former small town feels like a second home. I still do my insurance business there and my realtor is also the mother of one of my daughter's good friends. Regards and thanks for the praise! I'm honored!

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