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Rob F. Sanderson
Box 4646
U. Station
Tucson, Arizona

I Live in a Country Town
Rob F. Sanderson

           Note: This article is of an old Americanism flavor, and presents an accurate and favorable account of life in the small American hamlets that have been fading out of economic and social memory since the turn of the century.

           I hope it will prove interesting to your urban readers, and expand the contentment of your rural readers, should you judge it suitable for publication.

I Live in a Country Town

           I wasn’t born here, and I don’t live here because I can’t live anywhere else. Neither am I retired; after living here almost nine years my wife and I are still in our thirties. This little country town of seven hundred people is our home by choice.

           You from the city may think life here dull as you whiz by on the main highway along the outskirts, for like most little towns the highway no longer passes through. On summer evenings when everything is still, save a locust sounding gently from maple boughs above where I sit in an old rocker on the back lawn, I hear the faint drone of the city dwellers’ automobiles as they charge down the pavement from population center to population center. Sometimes they stop for gas and beer at the filling stations and barbeques that straggle along the highway near the turnoff into the village, and perhaps they shudder when the thought of living in such a dead, lifeless community occur to them.

           I felt that way once; for the better part of my life has been spent among the bustle of active, noisy cities. But now, I live here by choice, and I assure you that I am a normal, healthy individual. I read the same magazines you do, the same books, listen to the same radio programs, and quite possibly take the same paper. When in the city I neither look nor act differently than you do. I am equally at home on the interurban, in the athletic club or the nightspot. Still I remain here by choice and I notice my breed is slowly but surely on the increase.

           The old country town was the product of the horse and buggy and a thing quite apart from the town I live in. Towns were located no farther from each other than a comfortable buggy ride, if such a ride was a comfort. When thirty miles was a good day’s journey, a busy farmer could not take off two days a week for shopping; and the need for a small rural shopping center not over five or six miles from the nearest customer was created. So someone built a general store on a cross road, a blacksmith occupied the other corner, soon came the cheesemaker, the harness shop, and before many years a doctor came. A doctor and a bank made the town complete.

           The contemporary country town is the product of the automobile. Paved highways and cars with sewing machine engines and baby buggy springs have made it possible for even the most isolated rural resident to buzz into a nearby city thirty or forty miles away for a half day’s shopping. The farmer’s family piles into last year’s model car after supper and speeds by three or four country towns on the way to a small city where they will shop for a short time and then take in a movie. As a result, the small main streets and squares of the villages are no longer thronged nightly with the rigs of purchasers, and the prosperous retired-farmer constituent of the population has ceased to be. Farmers either move to larger towns, or more commonly do not make enough to retire on. The businessmen cannot compete with the chain stores in the nearby city, and one by one many of the show windows have been soaped or filled with old circus bills.

           You may think to yourself, “Why does this fellow prefer living in a little burg like this?”, and if you chanced to meet us, we would enjoy telling you.

           Being practical, my wife and I would reply that living costs are much cheaper here. Houses built between 1890 and 1912, large roomy structures with thick trunked maples or elms shading the lawn, rent from ten to fifteen dollars a month. You will have a furnace, electrical lights, and running water. Likely the house was built by a retired farmer of affluence, or a retired businessman whose business has not now been for the last twenty years. It will have from eight to twelve rooms and very likely a well and a pump in the backyard. If not you will be more than welcome to use your neighbor’s well, and as soon as you move in you will remark how much better your own well water tastes than the chemically treated public water supply you are accustomed to. In a town such as this you will be one of the town’s elite and have the country doctor or banker for your neighbor next door.

           Around the large house you will have a spacious lawn with big trees and enough room for a garden on the back of the premises, where you can turn rustic to raise your own radishes, cabbages, tomatoes, peas, corn and other vegetables, all with that rare soil-to-kitchen flavor.

           If you are a plutocrat or lazy, or both, and prefer to purchase your vegetables, everyday during the summer months farmers will approach you with a trailer load of melons, potatoes, cucumbers, and every other imaginable specie of garden truck vegetable, priced at a song. My wife frequently buys a bushel of large ripe tomatoes for fifty cents, or large pink-meated cantaloupe at two-for-a- nickel. In autumn the trailers contain fine cuts of pork and baby beef, besides pumpkins, squash, and other regular fall produce.

           When we first arrived we would buy our eggs from our neighbor across the fence and get them almost before the shell was dry. On the back line of our lot was a vacant hen house, and now we enjoy our own Plymouth Rocks. My wife has all the eggs she wishes any time she cares to gather them, and does not have to decide about having a Sunday chicken dinner until after breakfast on Sunday morning. In the winter while we are in Florida, our obliging back neighbor cares for the chickens in return for the eggs. For years I haven’t been able to look at restaurant or stored city egg, in the yolk.

           Rents and foods aren’t the only things that are reasonable. Here you pay only a quarter for a tire repair or a haircut, and only fifteen cents for a child’s haircut or a shave. Though there’s but one chair in each of the two barber shops, you seldom have to wait your turn and you end up usually sitting around chattering for a time afterwards. You’ll learn how to make interesting things like turtle soup, or discovered that last spring you really did plant your radishes too deep. Often a shave ends up on a fishing or hunting trip to a nearby stream or woods.

           But economy is only minor of several reasons why we like it here so well. It seems that living here is simply more convenient all round. For instance, any time you drive to Main Street you can usually find a parking place in front of where you wish to go, and if you walk (less than four blocks) you will arrive in less time than it takes to park your car in the city. There’s no over-parking nor any nickel meters to stare you in the face or ruin your digestion by making you worry about getting back before your nickel is up.

           Suppose you go down after groceries. There are no ten minute waits, no running around with baskets serving yourself. You will be greeted by the proprietor himself opening the door, with “Good morning, Mrs. Walker, how’s Junior’s cold today?” And you sit down in a comfortable old-fashioned barrel chair while the proprietor scurries among the aisles corralling your order. When you go, you will be reminded “Don’t forget to tell your husband that Sam Hinkel was in this morning and says the trout are hitting hard on Silver Doctors out on Rocky Run!” And you can let your bill run two or three months without hearing about it.

           As one of man’s natural tendencies is the tendency to accumulate, you will soon find the old carriage barn on the back corner of your lot to be a most convenient outlet. On the ground floor, besides room for two cars, is plenty of storage space for a lot of tin cans, screens, garden tools, half filled cans of paint and other necessary accumulations that are handy to have around even though you never use them. Above, where the hay for Dobbin was formerly kept, is plenty of room for a den or workshop.

           During vacations, or when I take a short time off, I never have to go to the mountains, or run up to Michigan or Maine, stay at an expensive camp or be toddled around by a guide. All over the farming country near here are small patches of woods and many creeks, so close I can get up before breakfast and be back with a bag of rabbits or a mess of trout before the morning is half gone. I’m at home on most of the property in this half of the country and am bosom buddies with the owners. The farmers all know me and I am welcome to hunt and fish on property from which they run off strangers and visitors from the city.

           If it’s ducks I want, I drive nine miles. I have almost exclusive shooting privileges on a private millpond, which backs up into a splendid duck marsh, and I frequently go there with the school superintendent on fall mornings. I have a blind on one side and he has a blind across the pond further down. Along the creek above us, there’s a dry marsh that gives us plenty of pheasants for the table during open season, and enough for the farmer and his wife.

           During the summer months I spend many an evening fishing for trout, and if they’ve been hitting well my wife is apt to go along too. The nearest stream is within walking distance of the village and there are dozens within a twenty-minute drive. After hundreds of evenings spent with my fly rod and the sound of a distant cowbell, while the dusk dissolves into night, I’ve never tired of trout. I never caught a seven pounder, but seldom come back without enough to line the skillet.

           There’s no better place than here to raise kids. Plenty of fresh air and lots of room to run around in, with vacant lots all over the village furnishing ball diamonds. The summer evenings I’m not fishing I spend with the kids in the little park near the store section, playing indoor ball or pitching horseshoe until it is too dark to see. The schools aren’t large, and your boy or girl will know all the school kids and teachers personally. The school is modern with a good-sized gym that is open all year. Last year we won the district basketball tournament.

           Contrary to some outsider’s ideas, the residents here aren’t small natured or stodgy. They might have been without the direct contact with outside influence that automobiles, more popular magazines, the radio, moving pictures and better newspapers have given them. But today they’re up-to-date with the current books and magazines and I never knew a better-informed group of radio listeners; they have weekly program schedules and make a list of the programs they will tune in on. I think my friends here do more intelligent reading and have a better critical sense than most of my friends in the city. Perhaps it’s because here people have more time, or because there’s not as much diversion and they have more time for reflection. They’re in close contact with a city of thirty thousand or more, and some belong to the clubs or fraternal orders there. They manage to see all the better pictures.

           I’m not talking just about the doctor and his wife, or the school principal or the minister. The grocer’s wife can tell me much more about child educational psychology than the minister’s wife can, and the hardware merchant and the barber can discuss the United States foreign policy with penetrating volubility which makes me bide my words and switch the subject lest they catch me up on my ignorance

           People here have leisure and they’re willing to do for others. Often a little girl will come over with some cake or half of a fresh rhubarb pie that “mamma sent over”, and my wife always bakes an extra couple dozen of her famous molasses cookies. No matter whether my neighbor’s strawberries ripen before mine - he will see that I get some and in return I’ll give him some of my asparagus. I’ve got the best asparagus bed in town (it was well started before I arrived). No matter what time of the day or week I can always find someone to go hunting with me. When we leave town for the day or the evening, there is never difficulty in getting someone to stay with the children.

           Everyone for miles around knows us and is ready to help us when we need it. If I lose a hunting dog, he will be brought back to me the next day. If I need pruning scissors or my lawn mower breaks down, I can drop into my neighbor’s garage and borrow what I want - without asking, if he is not at home. He doesn’t lock his garage unless he is gone for the day, and if he is I can find the key in the eaves spout. People here will drop their house key into the mailbox, no matter who is watching, as unconcernedly as they will spit. I can’t recall ever hearing of a house being broken into, and no attempt has been made to rob the bank.

           By living here my wife and I save more money, compared to the living expense in the city we came from, than we spend on our annual winter trip to Florida. We have a grand time down there every winter and neither of us would miss the trip for a great deal. If we lived in the city, we wouldn’t be able to afford it. Every time we make the trip, we appreciate this again. When we return, everyone is crazy to see us and hear about the trip, and we borrow our dogs back and begin to care for our chickens again

           Compared to the man who rides the interurban an hour each way every day, I save three whole weeks, which I can apply on my vacation, besides being home with my family for lunch each day. I’ve never tried to compute how much time I save in car parking or waiting for the barber, but I’m sure it’s enough to equalize the balance of my Florida vacation. Two month’s vacation with pay and paid for - not bad? Call it rationalization if you will; but it makes me very happy

           So while the fact living is very reasonable makes life here more pleasant, it is far from the only reason we stay here. For time as well as money goes farther here than in the city. The mechanics of living - whether it be car parking, shopping, going to school or to work are accomplished infinitely faster here than in locales of higher and denser population. This is why we see suburban shopping centers increasing so rapidly in the cities. But they are a shoddy compromise for the life you can lead here.

           Here, we have time to talk for talk’s sake, pitch horseshoes after dinner, and to give a neighbor a lift. To me, it seems to rest on an economy of living gained by small, personal units. Your neighbor’s interest in you is not in terms of what name to call you for being in his way when he wants to make a turn at a traffic light, but is in terms of a comradeship in life with the same problems of living. You are close enough that, instead of trying to trod each other under to improve a living standard, you both give understanding and co-operation to each other

           Nosey? Perhaps. Bu these same “nosey” people will tend your furnace for you if you’re gone overnight, and feed the dog and the chickens when you’re away. When your wife is sick, they invite you out to eat; and when your husband is sick, they bring over warm broth

           Will I ever move to the city? No, I’m satisfied here. It’s just a little country town, but I wouldn’t leave it for anything. One day I asked my wife if she’d like to move to a nearby city. I noticed her eyes moisten slightly as she asked, “We’re not really going, are we?” and for some minutes she was very, very quiet.

           Just a country town, where the roosters waken you on summer mornings and you peer out of your bedroom window to see if your neighbor’s corn is really taller than yours, as your small son told you at supper. Which reminds me to do a little snooping the first time I get in the garage next door and find out the brand of the fertilizer I saw him using last spring when he was walking back and forth on the fresh damp earth with his corn planter!

© 2003 Chronicles of Bob