I can think of at least five good friends from Los Angeles who, like me, moved to small towns recently. I have a feeling we’re probably all re-learning what we didn’t fully appreciate as kids.
A few weeks ago, I volunteered to go with life-long friend, Carolyn and help out the women from St. Paul’s Lutheran church who were volunteering at the Big Knob Fair. (Not sure where the name came from, but I’m guessing it involves a very large knob somewhere hereabouts.) They work in the kitchen all evening and, for that evening of work, the ten women altogether make a whopping one hundred bucks. The money goes to the church. Some of the women there that night have been volunteering for the Big Knob fair for forty plus years.
Carolyn was told we’d be slicing up pie and serving it, which sounded like the best possible job because you just know some pie would tragically not make it out of the pan and goodness knows we can’t let good pie go to waste.
Instead, I ended up washing pots and pans among blue jean clad dynamos ladling out ham barbecue sandwiches, baked fish, ham loaf, and pie. There was cheerful ribbing back and forth, a lot of serving, and a fair amount of pan washing. But I didn’t mind because I knew I was in the presence of greatness.
To say that these women are the backbone of America would be a serious understatement. Where would we be without all the selfless givers among us? I never truly appreciated that sentiment until I experienced it firsthand.
I moved to western Pennsylvania, eleven years ago, after my divorce. My dad let me, my two kids and two pooping dogs move in with him. He got a cook and a cleaner, my kids and I got a free place to stay, and the dogs had their way with the poor basement.
But, I wasn’t quite done with life in the big city and was morose at first, missing my old life, my home, my friends, and my favorite big city restaurants. I thought there was nothing in these small towns that could compare to what I’d left.
Then I met the caregivers who came to help my dad. One woman was working while raising her toddler grandchild after her son was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. Another had just nursed her husband through a years-long, losing battle with cancer. Another just loved helping people. There were so many stories like this, I felt ashamed for being smug enough to think life in a small town couldn’t hold a candle to what I’d left, and that the people here weren’t as interesting.
There’s every bit as much drama, heartache, hard work and motivation here as in any big city…and very little whining. There’s a head down, let’s-just-do-the-work-mentality that’s very impressive.
If you’re lucky, you get to grow up in a small town like this, where work ethic is king — where hands go up when they ask for someone to step up as coach, PTA President, Sunday school teacher, or to run the concession stand at the fair. Then you get older and can’t wait to leave so you can get away from your small town, see the world and go make your mark. Finally, when you’re older you begin to not only embrace, but cherish that which made you what you are today.
If you’re lucky, like me and some of my friends, you’re re-experiencing what you saw as a kid, and are finally able to appreciate all that hard work and effort. I salute you Lutheran women and all hard-working volunteers in small towns because when your kids grow up and head to the big city, guess who volunteers because of your fabulous example?
Your contributions help make this country what it is and we wouldn’t be the same without you. My hat is off to each and every one of you.