Sunday, January 17, 2010

That same small town in each of us

Who knows how long this will last
Now we've come so far, so fast
But, somewhere back there in the dust
That same small town in each of us
I need to remember this...
Before we say goodbye

- The End of the Innocence, Don Henley

Your shoes can beat the pavement of the fastest, most culturally advanced cities in the world.

But if you came from a small town, I defy you to tell me some part of you does not reawaken over a town gathered together for a meal.

This is the first, and potentially the last, reason paper plate and napkins, and Styrofoam cups will be advocated at Blushing. As a landfill quivers, small towns and the way they can move a soul will take precedence, momentarily.

Recently, a small colonial town not far from our Virginia home called Upperville (the subject of the John Updike poem which follows), saw a beloved monthly local event of a fire company breakfast come to an end. I note the fact because their work was an extraordinary gesture; inviting the entire Mosby Trail to breakfast once a month is no small feat. That they did so in a town populated by well-helled swells who could afford to support that fire company with little issue, goes to their ultimate commitment to serve without sense of entitlement in merely being Upperville, a town largely dominated by a magnificent church built by the largesse of Paul Mellon and his peers.

They could have stayed home and asked for checks. But that is not their way in Upperville, a town largely defined by community and valor since the revolutionary period.

I know a little about small towns; my hometown being nearly a twin to this village. The powerful notion of a community that recognizes your children and takes a stand to look after one another, to keep an eye on things that move too fast through town, and run by the house when something looks amiss, is ground which small colonial towns in rural Westchester share with Upperville.

And I know about food. Both the kind of town breakfasts and the sort brought on trays when someone is sick or has died. I chose to make a life in places like this. Not because I could not stand the competition in New York or Boston, but because I was ready to get home, and these gestures mean something to me, to my children.

Small towns can be a rocky road. Everyone knows your story, from the gum stuck in your hair when you were seven to that boy who was not good enough for you when you were seventeen. Best to finally figure out not to do the crime if you don't want to be hashed at breakfast. That has settled in for me in the years away in cities that never fit like a glove. I can live with being discussed if people like these will come when my house is on fire.

While I was at the breakfast, I noticed two ancient volunteers shaking hands on the street in front of the building. Two old acquaintances who no doubt met at least once a month, but surely always on a Sunday morning after church at the fire breakfast. As this small-town meeting of neighbors fades from a one American town, one had the distinct feeling another tiny but critical piece of the American ideal may be slipping away.

Here is to Upperville, where, surely of a Sunday morning, they will long talk of those days when they gathered together. I can imagine how they will miss it.

Upon Learning that a Town Exists in Virginia Called Upperville
John Updike, 1961

In Upperville, the upper crust
say "Bottoms Up!" from dawn to dusk
and "Ups-a-daisy, dear!" at will
I want to live in Upperville.

One-upmanship is there the rule,
and children learn, at school,
"The Rise of Silas Lapham" and
why gravitation has been banned.

High hamlet, but my mind's eye sees
Thy ruddy uplands, lofty trees,
Upsurging streams, and towering dogs,
There are no valleys, dumps or bogs.

Depression never dares intrude
upon their sweet upswinging mood;
Downcast, long-fallen, let me go
to where the cattle never low.

I've always known there was a town
just right for me; I'll settle down
and be uplifted all day long --
Fair Upperville, accept my song.


JMW said...

What a wonderful ode to the small town - great post! Sorry to hear the fire house breakfast will not be taking place anymore - that's a shame. The church and surrounding buildings are beautiful.

Marsha said...

When we moved from Charlottesville to our current (forever?) home in Southeast Pennsylvania our first social outing involved the fire company breakfast. The neighboring fire chief/road master (another feature of small town living: few people wearing many hats apiece) invited us as we watched the emptied moving truck struggle down the drive.

I'm glad we went. That meal marked a capital-B Beginning for my family. I'm sorry to hear that this post marked an ending, instead.

Suburban Princess said...

Oh yesh, we moved from the bit city to a small town - what a culture shock! I am used to it now but I was amazed at how everyone knows everyone and everyone's business!

It's a shame the breakfast isnt happening anymore :O(

Town and Country Mom said...

So sorry to hear it's the end of the monthly breakfasts. We lived for a while in a truly beautiful small town, and my heart goes back for every tree-lighting in November and for every Shrove Tuesday pancake supper.

ADG said...

I love Upperville. You should read Paul Mellon's bio...."Refelctions in a Silver Spoon"...he did so much for Upperville. His funeral was held in that lovely church.

ADG...remember me/us?

home before dark said...

I came from a very small town. Good for building confidence. Not so good for acceptance of differences. As James Joyce said of Dublin, he didn't have to mind his own business because everyone else did.

This Lovely City said...

I'm not from a small town, but I secretly wish that I were! There is something so sweet about a community coming together. Upperville looks lovely! XO

The Blushing Hostess said...

JMW - we are too. We are so new, it would have been lovely to have once a month...

Marsha - indeed the cider and donut breakfast and spaghetti dinners were favorites of mine ine Bedford too. And it is a great place to take your new neighbors - indegestion and all! Everyone should suffer equally with the donuts I figger (as our beloved ADG would say)...

SP - for generations! Once when looking for a home I asked my brother in law about the list of sex offenders in the small town in which my Husband grew up. He said, "Well. So and so was eighteen and she was sixteen. That was more of a misunderstanding. And So and so, that was an incest charge and he lives a long way from town... I'm not excusing it. And So and so, he is a little guy and can be dealt with..." Yah. Off the top of his head. Lemme tell you SMALL. Everyone knows your stuff, as Home noted above...

T & C Mama - Shrove Tuesday! I love the sound of that celebration which is a great way to enjoy the day before you have to walk around with dirt on your forehead. Although, my Mother always said that was the day you knew for sure who the good guys were!

ADG - Can you and LFG come see me?? Some lunch at the Red Fox? Come on out to the house and go for a romp? I'm still with you ADG I just get pissed off reading about Miami and feel I should not comment on stuff I commented on before :)) Ok, let me know!

Home - well said and beautiful requoted. Entirely true, both the good and bad of it...