Travis, over at One Word, One Rung, One Day, has been doing a regular themed post called My Town Monday for quite a while now. I have put off writing about my town because I couldn't decide which town to write about: the town where I went to high school, the one I attended college in, the city I lived in for years, or the tiny town I live in now… I finally settled upon the last option. Today I’ll attempt to articulate what small town life means to me.
When my husband and I bought our first house in the ‘big city’, we knew it wasn’t where we wanted to stay forever. It was a nice first home, but the city life just wasn’t for us. Maybe we realized that when our son wandered away from home one day at the tender age of two. He walked past several of our neighbors who did nothing to stop him, before a stranger who lived four blocks away finally rescued him from going towards one of the busiest streets in the city. Perhaps we decided to move after we watched the 120 pound Rottweiler named Tiny, who was forever tied to a tree in the yard next door, toss a squirrel up in the air repeatedly. Playing catch, only with a small animal instead of a ball. For my husband, it was the thought of the kids attending high school with 2500 students. He grew up in a small town and this idea was foreign and unwelcome to him.
So it was a relief to us when a house that fit our price range was listed for sale in a tiny town 25 miles north of the big city. And I really do mean tiny. In the 2000 census, Alleman had 439 people. Our town has no grocery store, bar, bank, convenience store. We don’t get pizza delivery and there’s no fast food. We do have lots and lots of cornfields, a school, a co-op, and a café that caters to the local farmers, and is open for breakfast on a very irregular schedule. We also have four very tall blinking television towers – the only landmark that helps explain to Iowans where our town is located:
On the day that we moved in, we received two loaves of banana bread, a plate of cookies, a house plant, and some lemon bars from the neighbors. They came over one by one to say hello as we unpacked the moving truck, feeding their curiosity about the newcomers. I could hardly believe it – we’d only barely known our neighbors in the city. This was something else!
It wasn’t totally Mayberry, though. In the city, we'd let our dog roam free, since she was very good about staying close to our home. We gave that a try in our new house, until our next door neighbor, a crusty retired police chief who was meticulous about his lawn, told my husband, “I’m pretty easy to get along with, but I won’t tolerate dog shit in my yard, so keep that dog of yours away.” So, poor Merlin didn’t get to roam free anymore, but she did get to go on plenty of walks.
Our neighborhood sits a mile to the south of the actual town of Alleman. It consists of two streets, one long straight road, and a curved street that connects with the straightaway on both ends. It’s perfect for a walk. The loop around the neighborhood is 0.7 miles, so a couple of times around is just right for an after dinner stroll. Our youngest daughter was born a month after we moved in, and I would walk the kids and the dog around the neighborhood to help work off some of that baby weight. In the process, I met many of our neighbors.
There’s the woman who lives with her aging parents and has two giant poodles, a black one and a white one. She’s very active in politics, always pushing the fringe candidates. This year, she put pamphlets about an unknown presidential candidate into the goodie bags of the trick-or-treaters. She once gave me two grocery sacks full of daffodil bulbs.
And there’s the neighbor who shares the back border of our property. He’s a character – a compact, leathery man who spends his summer days either in his garden or his garage, always listening to a game with a can of beer within reach. My kids adore him, and I never need to buy tomatoes or peppers in the late summer because he keeps my fridge stocked.
An old man, I don’t know his name, takes a walk faithfully every day. His left side is weak, and he needs the help of a cane, but he’s out there for his walk, even when it’s cold outside. He’s not a talker, but he nods and smiles when we pass him. I’ll be sad when I don’t see him walking anymore.
Then there are the children... Teenagers, toddlers, boys, girls. My older kids play sardines in the darkness of the summer nights, and my youngest has two best friends who live next door. On a warm day, you can drive through the neighborhood and see families barbequing, with their kids playing in the bright green grass. Children on bicycles dart through the streets, ponytails flying behind them. In the cold of winter, you’ll see snowmen and angels, forts and tunnels created in the snow. Any hill you spy will have sled tracks snaking down it. This is the perfect place for kids to grow up.
My commute to work is longer than before, it adds time to my workday. I have to deal with traffic and the freeway, and when gas prices were high, it pinched our wallet. It takes me half an hour just to run to grab a gallon of milk if we run out. The school district is made up of four combined towns, so I do a lot of driving to taxi my kids to their friends’ houses and their activity practices.
Though I miss many of the conveniences of big city life (what I would give for Chinese food delivery!!), we will never go back. The benefits outweigh the inconveniences, and we feel like we’ve found an oasis of old fashioned life hidden away from the modern bustle of the rest of the world. Alleman is our home, and we have created a nice life here among the other 434 people around us.
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