When I was in High School I was in the National FFA Organization. You probably had it in your school and you probably made fun of its members. Blue corduroy jackets have never been in style, but they have always been the trademark look for the future farmers of America.
Those blue coats are kind of emblematic of the bias against rural America. Urbanization is happening, cities are the power centers, glitz and glamour seem to take center stage while plain folks just keep on keeping on. One year at our school FFA banquet, we all walked in to a country song called “I’m From the Country (And I Like it That Way).” You’ve probably never heard the song, unless you’re from the country, but it celebrates rural life in a way not meant to be understood by city people.
“Well we know how to work and we know how to play — we’re from the country and we like it that way!” That’s the end of the chorus. In the verses there are references to the “holler,” “sticks,” and sleeping in hay. I’m from the country and I’ve never slept in hay. I’ve hauled a lot of hay, and it’s scratchy. I don’t think I’d get much sleep. But I digress.
At that same banquet, me and another girl sang a duet. It was a cheesy love song, but I’m not going to lie — we nailed it. I’m surprised no record deals surfaced afterward. I mean, it was pretty good. I’m just saying. It prompted the president of our chapter (now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives) to get up following and exclaim, “That just goes to show we’re not only a bunch of pig farmers!”
It’s all got me to thinking…
Where would we be without small town people? For one thing, we wouldn’t have very many presidents. Since FDR was president, only JFK was from a big city. All the others were from small towns. There are lots of famous people from small towns, too — Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Pink, Matthew Perry, Johnny Depp, Miranda Kerr, and even George Clooney are all from small towns. That’s not to mention pretty much every country music superstar. Apple CEO Tim Cook is from a small town in Alabama. Billy Graham grew up on a dairy farm. Neil Armstrong (the dude that walked on the moon) is from a small town in Ohio.
I’m sure some of those high profile people are glad they aren’t in small towns any more, but I’m not. I miss the rural life. I was thinking about this recently when I heard a country song on the radio. It’s called Meanwhile Back at Mama’s and it has a real pretty melody and paints a picture of idyllic country living. Living in the country isn’t necessarily idyllic all the time, but the emotions got me. I almost started crying like a big baby right there in my car.
You see, despite the sort of arrogant attitude taken by a lot of folks in our society against rural America, our nation is run by people from small towns. My lead pastor is from a small town. So are a lot of folks I go to church with, who are now leading law firms and oil companies and doing big stuff for the economy. Plenty of stars and politicians are from small towns, as are artists and athletes. And all those small towns are still populated with folks growing food and families. Some kids will stay in small towns, some won’t. But the influence on our society is vast over the long term.
I’m proud to be where I’m from. Any time something good happens in my life I think of the people who raised me — my dad was from a small town, my mom was a city girl. I think of those small town coaches and teachers. Some were among the smartest people I’d ever met. The lessons they taught me go with me today. There are too many teachers and coaches to name. Kind families who helped pay for things and gave me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. This country is full of towns like mine, and they’re busy preparing a generation of future leaders.
I can’t take my upbringing back; it’s stuck in my head and heart to stay. I can’t undo the teaching, the love, the friendship, and the community. It wasn’t perfect — no collection of people is — but God used it as a central force in my life to make me who I am. and I’m thankful. I’ve been a lot of places, and I’ve met a lot of people from different walks of life. But the town that raised me remains the most influential. Occasionally, thinking of them even brings me to the brink of tears.
To my classmates, teachers, family. friends, coaches, and community leaders, I heard you. I still hear you. And to the other small town people who wonder if you’re making a difference, keep on keeping on. You most assuredly are. Those of us who left our small towns didn’t all do so because we didn’t like it there. We miss it terribly. Indeed, we took you with us. We couldn’t do life — wherever life has taken us — without you.
I know I couldn’t.
It reminds me of another country song popular on the radio a few years back. It was a guy being twangily introspective (bet you that’s the first time you’ve read that word pair) about all the great advice he received over the years. It may not have been polished, it may not have been educated, but the singer insists it was valuable. In fact, it stuck with him so powerfully, it was like voices ringing around in his head half the time.
I can relate. I’m glad I heard all my voices. I hear them still.