family

Small Town USA

On an extended road trip, I had the pleasure of staying in one of my family’s heritage hometowns, Bemus Point, New York. Perched on Lake Chatauqua in western New York state, Bemus Point has a population of about 350 people. This population swells a bit in the summer and drops in the harsh northern winter, I’d suspect. Far removed from my densely populated life in suburban Atlanta.

Small towns are fascinating, so very different from my suburban life. I immediately noticed the banners on every light pole with photos of all the graduates from the local high school. Each student had their own banner, their own celebration. There were maybe 50-60 banners. My daughter’s graduating class is almost 1,000 in number. It was impossible to imagine how many miles of light poles her class would cover! Above each was an American flag.

Little woodchucks scampered everywhere on my morning runs. Numerous deer leaped for cover as I approached. Many of them were just out by the roadway nibbling when I startled them. So many creatures without that many people stirring at all hours. I smiled driving through the country side seeing all the different “heads up” signs for drivers. I’m used to seeing signs to watch for deer, but we also saw signs for tractors, bears, moose or elk (maybe?) and snowmobiles. We were way out in the northern sticks, sharing the road with many other creatures, not just cushy suburban SUVs.

Speaking of sticks, there were so many roadside pickups for firewood just out in people’s front yards. Hand painted signs…$5.00, $4.00, pay what you can. The honor system in full effect. (I also wondered if there was a price war between neighbors!)

My mother once lived in this town, and her parents spent decades living here. My family road tripped here many summers in my youth. Several downtown shops I visited as a child were still there. A local grocery store. A general store turned souvenir shop. The wing place near the dock. Each had a rocky road through the years but made it.

When we went out for dinner, many other parties that came in dropped by to say hello. Everyone knows everyone’s business. Driving around town with my aunt and uncle was a parade of small town dramas. Stories would tumble out as we passed houses of friends and family. Where someone had worked for the summer. Which person had sold their house for too much or too little. Who broke rules that brought them in front of the town council. Who didn’t keep their property up well or planted trees to block someone else’s view of the lake on purpose. Small town charm as well as small-minded petty. Little room to forget when the stories are so narrow and intertwined. Grudges and alliances last across generations.

Small town life has its ups and downs. A pleasant place to visit and remember.