After a decade of metropolitan living, I packed my things into boxes and with my courage and an aggressive dose of Tylenol, began the 18-hour pilgrimage back home in U-Haul truck that was built, I theorize, without a suspension system.
I had become something of a nomad over the last 12 years. Bouncing around Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa and Colorado. Until one day while looking out over a subdivision where I could see clearly what my neighbors were having for dinner, I realized I could not tell you any of their names. Nor could I tell you the names of any of my neighbors for the last decade. I could tell you that one liked to sing mariachi in his back yard on Sunday afternoons between 2-4pm when I was trying to nap. One burned everything he tried to grill based on smoke levels and aroma. Another often would smoke cigarettes in the wee morning hours sans pants. Their habits I knew, but I knew not a single name.
Metropolitan living comes with its share of challenges: traffic, neighbors, taxes. To simply name a few. But it has natural advantages too. Proximity to airports, shopping malls, fine dining. But most of all city living comes with a natural obscurity. Regardless of who you are you can blend in with your surroundings and live off the radar. Growing up in Mena, this concept was somewhat foreign in the beginning, but after a few years I had in effect become a professional hermit. I could be surrounded by people, and waltz through a crowd and no one around me would raise an eyebrow. On the city sidewalks of Houston or Dallas or Denver, you are simply a number.
Coming back home, I had taken for granted some of the finer points of differentiation between urban and rural living. A few of which have taken some time to modify my behavior to fit back into rural society. Take Wal Mart for example.
In the midst of the city, there is glorious anonymity at the grocery store. Being back home, one must confess there is an extreme amount of pressure to look put together to simply make a trip to Wal Mart. Should you find yourself out of breakfast cereal or toilet paper, this requires a shower, a hair cut and a fresh pair of clothes. You are after all destined to meet no fewer than a baker’s dozen of your intimate acquaintances while perusing the aisles of the super store.
This is lovely for me most days. Gliding through the produce section, tenderly selecting avocados like I am picking them freshly ripened off the tree in a Californian orchard myself. (If you see me doing this please know that there is no skill in selecting an avocado, I am merely looking for the one that will take the longest to fester and rot on my kitchen counter. Perhaps a piece is necessary on the losing campaign I have between groceries and Cruizzers.) To run into someone in that space, with a cart full of fresh herbs and all the trappings of a Martha Stewart-esque meal, is a veritable dream come true. Admittedly, this happens to me indeed all to rarely.
It is the darker side of Wal Mart that poses problems. You know the aisles where one must select other necessities like hygiene products, deodorant or laxatives. To be awkwardly trying to swipe a tube of hemorrhoid ointment into your shopping basket, usually occurs in tandem with meeting that very chatty semi-friend of yours you know from church. Suddenly you can’t go back to Sunday School because she knows about the trouble you are having with your anus and it just might end up on the prayer list.
The prayer list is another beautiful sentiment of home town living that I had forgotten in my years camping in modern Sodom and Gomorrah. Even in my distant migrant living, I occasionally found my way onto a local listing without my knowing. Imagine my surprise coming home occasionally, sitting down as a visitor to hear the Easter message, and finding my great-grandmother has put me on the prayer list. For what? God and this congregation must know. For me however, the list was too long to narrow down one single episode that would have compelled the matriarch of the family to add me to God’s watchlist. If God is truly merciful, perhaps I shall never know what intimate details she shared and to what degree they were true or not.
But now sitting in the pews of the local church I have adopted, I am moved by the testimonies the prayer call brings forth and the sentiment that they express. There inevitably are the request that come from ‘that one parishioner’ in every church who asks to have the burden of their suffering lifted from everything from bunions to bowel movements. But it is the spirit of the sharing that I find particularly inspiring.
The sharing of the load so to speak. Where in this community we can all share in the thanksgiving of a neighbor who has been healed, and we can all equally share in the battle of this life together.
That is the thing about small town living. Through feast or famine, you have a neighbor who cares to share your journey alongside you. There is solidarity in times of struggle. There is joy in times of triumph. You are never far from an outstretched hand. You are never in the trenches alone.
There are many things I love about this town, from it’s scenic views to the blessed perfection that is the salsa at Chiquitas, but without a doubt the best part about living in Mena is the familiarity of a community.
It is the people that make this small slice of earth home.
Just don’t judge me if you see me sneaking through Wal Mart in yoga pants, some habits die hard.
Originally Published by The Mena Star June 27, 2018