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
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.