When we rolled into the little town of Louisburg, KS, for the first time – Bryan and I and our six-month-old Eli, all in the whipped Toyota Highlander that had crossed half the country in our biggest move yet – I told myself not to be nervous. The questions and uncertainties about this new place slapped at my mind like angry rain: What if this town was ugly? What if there was no coffee shop? What if the town was run down and forlorn and what if the people who live here had no pride?
I had to laugh at myself, almost. After all, I was raised in a small town – once the least-populated county in the least-populated state. And here I was, uncertain and fearful of the emerging picture of small-town life in a new place.
It’s true the differences were dynamic, coming from Orange County, Calif., where we had spent the last two years. So removed from the incessant whirr of traffic, Louisburg boasted as its trickiest intersection the four-way stop sign on its one main street. There were no hotels in this town – none. The nearest lodging was a small manicured hotel ten minutes away, bearing the same name as the town in which it had staked claim. There was potential for a coffee shop – a quaint A-framed stucco building on the main drag with faded green letters that read “The Coffee House” on the outside and a “For Rent” sign in the dirt.
As we began to peel back the corners of our life in this new place, I had to smile. Who was I kidding? I grew up a small-town girl. I knew how to blossom in a place like this.
Below, seven things I love about small towns, and this one (Louisburg) especially:
1) Conversations in the grocery store parking lot. In the grocery store parking lot, I chase down a man who is returning an empty shopping cart to the front of the store. “Sir, sir!” I say, not sure how else to get his attention.
Finally, he turns around, looks at me and grins.
“I didn’t respond at first because no one ever calls me sir,” he says.
I’m sure I blush a little. He introduces himself as the retired math teacher of the local high school, and beams a wide grin at my two boys who are still strapped in their carseats.
“Can I give them a quarter?” he asks, fishing in his pockets for loose change before I can even nod.
2) We talk to people, not machines. When I call the pharmacy to order a prescription, a person actually answers the phone. A person named Kevin or Kathy asks, “How are you?” and “How can we help you?” There are no lines, no long string of numbers to punch into a temperamental cell phone to lock in the correct prescription number. Inside the pharmacy, black-and-white photos of the owner and his family adorn the walls.
3) Freebies and surprises for little ones. At the doctor’s office following his visit, my three-year-old, Will, receives a coupon for a free ice cream cone at the local Sonic Drive-Thru. We stop there on the way home and I hand him the vanilla cone, tall and sweet and sticky.
4) A cup of Starbucks coffee is a novelty. Because the nearest coffee shop is in a suburb of the city, each trip there is exciting, rather than routine. Bonus: my husband loves this fact because it saves us money.
5) We know our neighbors. We do crazy things like borrow their lawnmowers, accept biscuits made from scratch next door, invite the neighborhood boys to come over and play.
6) A phone book is still relevant. People still say things like, “Do you have my land line number? It’s in the phone book.”
7) Promoting local business doesn’t feel like a maze. Around here, there is one library, one veterinarian, one dentist. Sure, you still expect good service and can easily take your business 20 minutes north into the Kansas City suburbs if you’re not satisfied. But, at least in this small town, the starting points are easy.
My husband and I have spent the first seven years of our marriage mapping our lives in big places: Kansas City; Omaha; Orange County, Calif. Louisburg, Kansas, is by far the smallest town we have ever called home. But in a way, I acknowledge, I am simply coming back to my roots. And I have to admit, it feels pretty darn good.
*What do you love about the place you live or the place in which you grew up? What new perspectives have you gained as an adult about the place you call home?
PS – The “Events” page has been updated! Join me at the Louisburg Library in July for a reading, or consider hosting me to read, speak or teach a writing workshop for your book club or writer’s group!