The Paul Simon song, My Little Town, always rang true in my mind. Having grown up on a farm, the nearest town had about 500 people. This is the town where we went to church and school and where friends gathered at Harvey’s Place to play cards, pool, or foosball.
As Paul Simon sang:
In my little town
I grew up believing
God keeps His eye on us all
And He used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall…
In my little town
I never meant nothin’
I was just my father’s son
Saving my money
Dreaming of glory
Twitching like a finger
On the trigger of a gun…
There are several parts of this song which undercut small towns. For instance, there are a few lines about lacking imagination and only the dead and dying are back in my little town. As a teenager, I believed those parts, but these thoughts have faded as my age advances. Small towns, like any place, offer great opportunities for families to prosper, communities to connect, but limitations can set in and cap growth.
Regardless of your thoughts about small towns, these lyrics track a memory of a funny story in my life. It is the line about being just my father’s son. How true that statement is, especially in a small town.
When I was working in politics in Washington, DC, I had to go through an extensive background check. Secret Service agents made a trip to my town of 500 to check me out. When they stopped at a local farm supply store to ask if they knew me, they couldn’t recall who I was. All of a sudden, it dawned on them. “Do you mean Harlan’s boy?” It finally clicked! The context had to be a parental one before the recollection was made.
I have always loved this story; it keeps me grounded and humble. We are as important as the people before us or, maybe, less important.
Whether we want to realize it or not, our character and actions contain some of what our parents before us have done – good and bad. It has always seemed to me that we need to recognize both – and then, take the good and make it better; take the bad and commit to try hard to not repeat the mistakes.
My little town. God present. Patriotism evident. Big dreams always on our minds. Both feet solidly rooted in our family heritage. We need to take it all in and then make it better for the next generation.