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Mayberry is Better: Why I Like Living in Small Towns
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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.