“The nice thing about living in a small town is that when you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else does.” – Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804, German Philosopher.

I love this quote — and it is centuries old! But, is it still true?

When the phrase “small town” is spoken, you can almost see the wheels turn in the listener’s head based on their own experience with a small town, if any. Perhaps an image pops up of a road trip when they drove through a small town or a romantic movie depicting an enviable picturesque hamlet or even a village near a favorite vacation spot. Maybe they had a school friend who came to the city from a rural environment and was considered a rube, lacking big city sophistication. Some may recall depressing news reports of formerly bustling towns whose main street storefronts are now looking shabby and empty after the younger generation left for better job opportunities. 

But, if you grew up in a small town— you often have a love/hate relationship with it. When you are young, you have a driving instinct to leave it for adventures elsewhere. When you are older, you tend to romanticize the experience.

Small towns have been maligned by authors such as Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg Ohio) and Sinclair Lewis (Main Street) in the early 1920’s which led to the easy stereotype of small towns in popular culture as dull. Dull may be appealing to some today looking for a simpler lifestyle than city life affords them —especially during the social unrest and pandemic years in our recent past. Many people free to work remotely re-located to smaller towns or outer ring suburbs to get away from the hubbub in search of less expensive housing and safer surroundings.

If you move to a small town after living in a city, there is a definite learning curve.The thing about small towns is—it’s hard to remain a stranger in one. People tend to know you, or get to know you. if you have lived in one all of your life—they know your family, they know where you came from, your people. If you haven’t, the townsfolk will be asking about your people and where you came from—not to be nosy, but to get to know you.

Is that good? Or bad? It depends on your temperament and sociability— or your secrets.

Knowledge of others can be used helpfully or maliciously—secrets are kept or not. Rumors circulate or information is shared. It’s really about the intent. To help, or to malign. Do townsfolk bring you food when you are sick, or snicker behind your back?

In my novel Finding Grace, Charles Booker and Caroline Tate Booker start married life in a small town. With no family ties, they were transplants from the East Coast, moving to the midwest for jobs and not looking to get close to anyone. But things happened, and time passed; Charlie blended in and Caroline left. Charlie did so reluctantly, as he was slow to trust, and not confident he had the bona fides to fit in anywhere. But he was embraced. It was lucky for Charlie and his daughter Grace that they had integrated into the town, as they needed support.

I grew up in a small town, lived in a foreign country, a big city and a village. In my experience  wherever I have lived, it seems my neighborhood becomes a small town. Reaching out and getting to know neighbors, business owners and supporting the local economy are important to the success of any sized community and the fabric of daily life. I tried to shine a light on that reciprocity factor in Finding Grace.