I grew up in a small Oklahoma town, about 9500 population. Until now, that was the smallest town I had ever lived in. My new home isn’t quite 2,000. Some folks who have seen my photos on Facebook have commented that it looks like we live in “Mayberry,” that we seem to have stepped back in time.
There is a sense in which this experience does indeed feel like we have entered a time machine. As a kid, I walked everywhere or rode my bike. Growing up, Main Street was the focus of the town. Little shops lined the streets. Lew’s Drug boasted a soda fountain along with medicines and merchandise. Link’s Drug, the competition, was across the street. Security Bank where my mother worked was on one corner. The National Bank was one block down. The town was on the Chikaskia River, a tributary that eventually becomes part of the Mississippi River.
In my new home, I can easily reach on foot any place in town I want or need to go. Main Street is a central “shopping district,” so to speak, where one can peruse little shops, go to the bank or the florist or the auto parts store. Sadly, the drug stores with soda fountains have mostly disappeared from American culture. But we do have a Whistle Stop Café and a Chinese restaurant. And our town is right on the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri River.
Here is the pivotal difference in the two experiences: Growing up, I knew or knew of most of the folks living there. When I was downtown, inevitably I encountered people with whom I was familiar. In my new home, I am perpetually aware that I am a newcomer. People are friendly enough, but I am an outsider. I met with two pastors of nearby Congregational churches, one of whom I was meeting for the first time. She asked where I was from. When I replied “Tennessee,” the other pastor gently teased, “Can’t you tell when she opens her mouth? That lovely accent!” (I am thinking, “What accent??”)
So as we move on from our known experience to the unfamiliar, we can be certain that change will bring some discomfort. I am enjoying so many aspects of my new life. But I don’t like being “the new kid on the block,” aware that other people have deep roots and longtime connections here. I am challenged to consider these folks “ friends I just haven’t met yet” and reminded of the old adage “to have a friend, one must be a friend.”
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”—William Butler Yeats * “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson