I Have Lived In Cities, But I grew up in a small town in north central Illinois. How big was my small town? Back then about 1,200 souls or a third the size of Paoli my nearest town. Wherever I went after growing out of Princeville I would go to a larger community. The University of Illinois-Urbana was huge by comparison. Over 7,000 in my entering first year class. Big city stuff to a farm town boy like me. I did the required four, turned the tassel and moved on.
My theological training took me East to Princeton, New Jersey where it seemed everything was one sprawl of millions of people. Princeton itself pretended to be an imaginary idyllic settlement of intellect and money.
I took a year’s internship in St. Louis, Missouri. I loved the river, the great park and a job that said I was on my right career track. It was from the tower of my Westminster Church that I watched a mile or more of silent mourning for a murdered Martin, Jr. Then it was time to go back to Princeton: The Pretend.
My field work took me north to Newark every Sunday. I took US 1 to a place I where I would never blend, racially, politically or religiously. My church of 200 was a block away from St. Someone the Very Pius with its 10,000 FAMILIES!
What shook my mind was the geographical reality that US 1, the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway all blended together some few miles from Newark. It made me think that all that asphalt, amoeba like, would melt and flood over the whole state on some hot day. The Beginning of the End would start here. I was an outsider to the East. I wanted out.
I went to McArthur, Vinton County, Ohio about the same size as my hometown. My favorite elder told me, “Bob, we know we are a training wheels church for new preachers so if you are here four years from now, I’ll be disappointed in you. I left after three.
It had been an event filled time; coal truck drivers struck, and scabs were shot at, school bus drivers struck and were shot at but only if no students were on board and the sheriff was assassinated by an old high school classmate. I could stay there the rest of my life and still be an outsider. I needed to move on. And did.
To Houston, Texas. In the 70’s the oil industry was booming. The Chamber estimated a thousand people moved into Houston EVERY WEEK! Subdivisions sprouted up like thistle patches. Perspectives and sense of scale were skewed.
My elders wanted me to go to a conference for small churches. Mind you we had 600 members. But we were small next to Tallowwood Baptist with 8,000 or Memorial Pres with at least 5,000. And the cars! I thought a third of all cars in America drove around Houston. This was not for me. I wanted out. And did.
To New Orleans, Louisiana, actually across the river in Harvey. The City was then and maybe still is known for its crime, corrupt politics, bawdy entertainment centers, great gumbo and messy powdered beignets. And Mardi Gras which brings thousands to The City while thousands of dwellers escape.
It didn’t bother me that our house was four feet below sea level. That we were 16 feet below the Mississippi River was worrisome. The climate was awful, and we didn’t trust any air we couldn’t drink or syphon.
Yet I enjoyed living there but was never proud to live where le bon temps did indeed rolouer even when the times were not good. But I was an outsider and a Yankee to boot. So I moved on.
To Hammond, Louisiana. We had a decent small university where I got in the door for the rest of my career. A real joy were the good folks I shared with at the Arpodhon Hungarian Settlement church where the language was still spoken, cultural activities thrived, and community was strong.
The smallness was not an enclosure but an open gate for anyone to enter. And I did. I got inside as far as a non-Magyar could but after 4 years I had to move on.
To Bloomington, Indiana. Was Bloomington a city? It didn’t want to think it was, then. It was the home of IU; famed for research, a school of music and an arrogant but winning coach. The research produced Crest toothpaste, the Jacobs school provided more student counseling encounters for me than all the rest of the university and Bobby, well we know what happened to Bobby.
Walk west through the Sample Gates and you’re in another community — the real Bloomington. Here people work day jobs. Many went to North or South High and resonated to the Cutters in “Breaking Away”. Have their own bars and relish summer with its parking spots.
Was I living in a city? Yes, actually two cities; The “Safe and Civil City” of the mayor’s office and the fabled Indiana University where basketball was king and football was pawn to the rest of the Big 10, 11, 12, 14 or whatever Big Number it is now. I was sort of an insider to the one but I never got into the other. Then my ideal job came along and I left.
The job was in Louisville and on Delta flights to anywhere. Our home, though, is Windsong Farm in Southeast Township, Orange County, Indiana. Population 2 humans, 2 cats and 1 dog at the moment. About as small as you can get.
All the necessary worldly conveniences are pretty close by. The dump that Kevin runs is 3 miles away. Steve our mechanic — a mile. We shared a dog for a while. My doctor is 8 miles south. The general store is over in Hardinsburg.
It is 15 to town to our beloved Lost River Co-op grocery. We do our money changing and recycling at the other co-ops in town. Town is where my pulpit is. Great yoga! We do our Buck-A-Book Booth thing in Orleans. Buy my lumber from the Amish. Recently we went to a live, original theatre production. Next Hoosier Hometown Radio event is 11/11/22.
And when people come out here to Windsong we count the minutes until the visitor says, “Sure is a pretty place.” All of it is. Indeed, it is. Now is not the time to leave so we’re staying. Far from any city. Here where it is a calm and quiet place to
Keep the Faith, Do the Job and Ask for Help.
Questions, comments? email@example.com