I can breathe in a small town.

Dear friends,

Our downtown at night.

A year ago I left the sweet small town of some 4,000 souls I call home. The town where I grew up. The town where my grandparents made their home all their lives and where my father grew up. The town I left when I was 19, then returned to 25 years later in search of “small town life” after a long stint in an unremarkable, wholly unsatisfying, small-city-turned-metro-suburb saturated with convenience stores, strip centers, and chain restaurants.

My hometown, both when I grew up there and when I moved my family back, was imperfect in so many ways. Yet I idolized it, romanticized its brick streets and charming old homes, held it up on a pedestal of native allegiance that never tarnished with time.

And when I left my hometown, I said I was excited about my family’s prospects in our new place (a small community by most standards but still five times the size of my hometown). But if asked, I also would have said our new place could never match the town-ness of my hometown — the “Mayberry” of my youth that became my standard for neighborliness.

I think I was wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, I left my office in the middle of the workday to run a quick errand. (That kind of thing is possible, I might mention, in a small town where the post office, bank and dry cleaner — among other things — are all a few blocks away.) As I pulled away from a stop sign near our bank, a woman darted in front of me and I had to brake quickly. We were both startled, but in the process we recognized each other.

“Hi Joan!” the woman said as she waved wildly. Deb is married to a colleague of mine and lives a few blocks from me in a house on my running route. I don’t know what it was, exactly, about that particular moment that made me feel at home, but it surely did. It wasn’t the first time since we moved here that I’ve run into people I know on the street. It happens often, actually. But something about Deb’s wave in our small downtown on a quiet spring afternoon made me feel the town-ness of our home for the first time and made me want to drop the words “our new place” from my vocabulary.

A few days later, I came home from work to eat lunch (another luxury of a small town) and Mr. Mom was nowhere to be found even though his truck was in the garage. “Where are you?” I texted him. “Checking on Dan” he replied.

Dan is an elderly man who lives across the street. We take him an occasional plate of supper and he gives us okra from his garden. Not long ago, he came over in the middle of the day and asked Mr. Mom for a ride to the emergency room. Turns out, he has pneumonia. Dan’s daughter takes good care of him, but she lives a couple of towns away, so Mr. Mom checks on him frequently. Yesterday, Mr. Mom repaired his riding lawn mower and Dan allowed him to mow our large yard with it in return (saving Parker a few hours with our push mower).  Town-ness, I thought.

Also this week, Mr. Mom discovered water in our basement. At the root of the leak was a faulty valve, so he set out to fix the problem Thursday night after dinner so he could turn our water back on in time for bedtime showers. In the mean time, a neighbor couple stopped by. (I told you about them in this post.) The man, Tim, ended up spending a couple of hours helping Mr. Mom solve the problem, including making two trips to his garage for spare plumbing fixtures. More town-ness.

I realized town-ness has nothing to do with the town and everything to do with the people. There are good and neighborly people everywhere if you allow yourself to connect with them. A year ago, I knew we were moving to a “great community,” but I didn’t know how well we would connect, how comfortable we’d feel, whether or not homesickness would mark my entire life here.

When we moved, a friend in Tulsa told me “Give it two years. It’ll take that long to make friends and fit in.” I remember being aghast at the time, nestled as I was in the midst of people I had known and loved my entire life. But now, I know two years sounds about right.  Still, at the one-year mark, I’ve concluded we’re fitting in nicely. We have friends. And neighbors. And a social life. And I’m not sure we could ask for anything more.

With gratitude {for neighbors — in the best sense of the word — in a place filled with town-ness},

Joan, who thinks it’s a very good sign that she spent Saturday afternoon shopping for two graduation gifts and a baby gift, and has three parties to attend in the next three weeks with no-longer-new friends

Got nothing against a big town,
Still hayseed enough to say look who’s in the big town,
But my bed is in a small town,
And that’s good enough for me.

— John Mellencamp