When I think about my desire for a gentler pace of life—my longing after simplicity—I often think of an essay I used to teach, “Mint Snowball” by Naomi Shihab Nye. Towards the end of the piece, after recounting the story of a lost family recipe (an heirloom of sorts), Nye explains that, “Perhaps the clue to [her] entire personality connects to the lost Mint Snowball.” She has “always felt out-of-step with [her] environment, disjointed in the modern world.” The following part resonates with me:
“Although I know how to do everything one needs to know—change airplanes, find my exit off the interstate, charge gas, send a fax—there is something missing. Perhaps the stoop of my great-grandfather over the pan, the slow patient swish of his spoon. The spin of my mother on the high stool with her whole life in front of her, something fine and fragrant still to happen.”
This is the image that often comes to mind when considering our small-town move—at least this is the dream. A life that is slow and patient, making space for “something fine and fragrant still to happen.”
Today marks two weeks of small-town life. Admittedly, most of our time here has been spent unpacking boxes and setting up house, but we’ve also taken breaks to explore the community and develop new friendships.
Over the last decade, we lived in big cities, specifically London and Dallas. We enjoyed premier shopping; we ate at fabulous restauraunts; we played at beautiful parks; we learned at state-of-the-art museums. In many ways, it was a great life. Options and opportunities surrounded us—but so did traffic, and busyness, and ever-present stress.
So how has small-town life been different? Has it captured the “slow and patient” image of Nye’s mint snowball? Here’s what I’ve noticed so far.
The welcome is big and genuine.
The day we pulled a U-haul into our new driveway, we were welcomed by two separate homeschool families who had heard the news that we were moving to town. Five collegiate athletes showed up to help unload our truck, sent by the university coaches. A fellow professor and his wife took us to dinner. And that was on the first day.
Throughout the next week, we received a steady flow of welcoming gestures: a neighbor bringing over a homemade strawberry shortcake, another neighbor sharing vine-ripened tomatoes from his backyard garden, a family inviting us into their home for dinner, locals “friending” me on Facebook.
Everyone—from the women at the flea market, to the congregants at the church we visited, to the girl who bagged my groceries and carried them out to the car (yes, people still do that in small towns!)—everyone has been genuinely friendly and welcoming.
There’s an open door policy.
They’re so friendly and welcoming, they show up to say hi. In the city, people only come to your doorstep for one of three reasons: they were invited, they have a package for you, they are soliciting something. But it seems that in a small town, people just come on over (and invite you to do the same). No more staying in my pajamas until noon!
Three people reported driving by our house and almost stopping to introduce themselves, yet deciding not to because “they didn’t want to overwhelm us on the first week.” But you know what—it’s not overwhelming at all. I actually like it. This comfort with one another suggests community, and I’m happy to sacrifice a bit of privacy and order for the sake of community. People walked up our driveway and rang our doorbell because they want to know us: I’m cool with that! And I look forward to returning the compliment.
It takes 2-7 minutes to get anywhere.
Only once we moved did we realize how our lives were organized around commute times. It used to take 10-35 minutes to get almost anywhere around the city: Target (10 min), our gym (15 min), the mall (15-20 min), the museums (20 min), Ivan’s work (30 min), the arboretum (30 min), grandparent’s house (35 min). And that’s all without traffic. So much time spent driving.
Ivan mitigated the boredom of his morning commute by talking through Bluetooth to his parents or listening to an audiobook. By the age of four, Ellie discovered that she had a captive audience in the car. As a result, our commutes often became mother-daughter discussion time; I even created the hashtag #elliesbackseatponderings for when I occasionally shared her cute “deep thoughts” on Facebook.
You know what hasn’t happened in the last two weeks? I haven’t been cut off. I haven’t had to navigate around construction. I haven’t stressed over being late. I haven’t sat an hour in grid-locked traffic with a toddler crying in the backseat. So while the lack of commute time has created unexpected changes to our life, I think the trade-off is definitely worth it!
Fewer options create easier decisions.
This one’s my favorite. Let me tell you a little story about our refrigerator. Knowing that our new home came sans fridge, I worried about how we should approach this purchase. Should we buy it in Dallas before moving and try to fit it in the U-haul? Should we buy it in Texarkana and borrow my dad’s trailer to lug it home? Should we just pay the big delivery fee?
But after all my fretting, this is what we ended up doing. We pulled into town and saw a little Sears with a placard outside stating: “Refrigerator Sale, up to 40% off!” The next day, Ivan drove one mile to that Sears. And wouldn’t you know, out of their small selection, they had exactly what we were looking for, and it was 40% off! They delivered and installed it the next day.
Would this scenario have occurred in the city? Ha! I am mocked by my family as the most well-researched, indecisive shopper ever. I infamously spent months (months!) selecting the brand of stroller in which I would entrust my children. I waste hours reading labels at the grocery store. My “Target run” will consume an entire evening. The sundry options often leave me paralyzed, unable to make even the simplest purchasing decisions.
Now instead of wasting a weekend visiting ten stores (both in person and online) to select the best deal on a fridge, Ivan picked one out in twenty minutes. Now instead of late-night shopping trips, we stay home and wait until tomorrow, because everything closes at 5 o’clock (except Wal-Mart, of course). And instead of running to grab our favorite take out dinner, we cook a meal at home.
I was truly worried about the lack of options in a small town. But instead of finding it limiting, hindering my quality of life, the exact opposite seems true: it’s freeing. Everything we need is here. There may only be one choice of organic pasta sauce, but they have it! And for everything else, there’s always Amazon.
So as we embrace this small-town life, this life that is slow and patient, I pray we are able to make space for “something fine and fragrant still to happen.”