Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Real Hometowns Are Not Homogenized

The small towns in rural America are all suffering the same complaint: that of the newcomers, be they retired or developers, who come into a town saying: "What a 'cute' town this is. BUT let us 'improve it' for you by building gated subdivisions, fancy restaurants and malls for the new discerning retirees who demand a "higher standard".

One such incident inflamed an entire region of three mountain counties which is peopled by a hard-working population that survived the Depression, multiple wars, and still invited you over to supper if you were hurting. There are many PhDs in this region too who also go home after a full day's work and keep a garden or volunteer with their church to help others.

A group of residents from the new gated and exclusive golf course subdivision complained about the old man's saw mill located too close to their exclusive community. The old man had been in the same locale for more than 50 years and supplied high grade lumber for 1/3 the price of the local home improvement mall. But these residents felt that he brought down the tone of the neighborhood with his piles of saw dust and stacks of logs and lumber.

Never mind that this old man refused to accept government assistance though he was well into the poverty level. Never mind that this man would donate lumber to people who had damaged or devastated homes from the tornadoes that occasionally appear. The new residents all wanted him to tear down his livelihood because it offended their "neighborhood ambiance". This, in spite of the fact that this old man had owned his land and worked there 47 years before the exclusive community was built.

They did their best to oust him by supporting pro-developer candidates and mounting expensive campaigns to “standardize” the county zoning codes. Eventually the four families who tried to force this old man to shut down his mill had to move themselves as no one would wait on them in the stores anymore; no one would speak to them nor invite them to the local events. In short, their own behaviors excommunicated them.

Were there local senpectae who tried to warn these people that the old man was a solid, valued and welcome member of the community? Yes.

Did the exclusionary residents listen? No.

Eventually, like the stubborn monk of St. Benedict's rule who excommunicated himself, they made themselves unwelcome in three counties.

The new exclusive subdivisions have become the equivalent of the medieval European walled town. They want their "vision" of small town life to imitate the slick magazines and they throw money at any problem rather than giving a helping hand in person. Sadly, they lock themselves behind their standardized gatehouses and expensive doors rather than appreciating the diversity of culture and life in the area around them. They do not recognize Christ in the old mill operators, the small hand-built homes with the wee vegetable gardens or the deeply lined face of a hard-working local man or woman who has raised 10 children through the worst economic crises.

In the rural counties of small town America, it is the "BUT let us 'improve it' for you" mindset of newcomers and developers that has defined the new bourgeois attitudes. These attitudes envision a homogenized community that controls the colors of homes, the kinds of garbage cans permitted at the curb, and the latest fad food restaurants. Never mind that these fad restaurants take business from local eateries who serve food fresh from gardens. Never mind that the very essence of the "cute" hometown is the diversity of its homes and its residents.

What can we do? The local parishes and churches can do what was done in the old days: they can accept the help of parishioners who are willing to donate their time and talents to build new parish halls or renovate. Instead of depending on expensive budgets and treasure from parishioners, they can empower the parishioners who have little treasure but abundant talent by letting them help the parish whittle down budgetary outflows with their skills.

We can visit Jesus in the wee houses and gardens; we can support Jesus in the old man who runs his sawmill; we can spend our money to support local hardworking people rather than buying mass-produced foreign imports of planned obsolescence. We can patronize the local monasteries, businesses and their goods. We can offer a helping hand by volunteering often and in person to assist the less fortunate neighbor instead of walling ourselves up behind a gate with a guard and a security system.

Let us be bourgeois-minded no longer.
That's me away, then.


Michelle-ozark crafter said...

That was a very excellent post! I think it very sad that when people travel they try hard to find a "chain" restaurant to eat at! I would rather eat at a local owned restaurant to try the local flavors! Sadly, these chains often push out the mom and pop, small restaurants. I am happy our little town is still pretty much just old fashioned hometown style! We even still have a "picnic" with rides and food that shuts down downtown for 3 days!

John said...

I told my wife this story. We are both pleased that the old man and his mill continue to be part of the community. She then said with a chuckle, “This just goes to show you, ‘Where there’s a mill there’s a way.’” ::::::drum roll::::::

Anonymous said...

This is so true. I found your blog via "Oblate Blog", and I'll be bookmarking you. I live in an area with a lot of Amish and Mennonites; I had no idea there were "plain" Catholics as well. Very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Oh--and I love the mustard seed quote from Pope Benedict... I think I'll "steal" it for my blog!

Coffee Catholic said...

This post is soooo true! I've seen it everywhere that I've lived. Even in Alaska!! Only up there it was often the "Greenies" who would move in, buy up some land, build a cabin, and then say, "No one else can buy land and build a cabin ~ we have to save the land for Nature!!" (After *they* got what they wanted, of course.) And then they'd go about doing everything they could to outlaw anyone from doing just what they did...

In farm country the gripe is always about the smells and the dung on the road and things like that. People move to "the country" with this romantic, magazine picture in their heads and BEHOLD! They find themselves surrounded by dirty, hard-working, stinky farms. They fight hard to force the farmers to have to come out and sweep the roads clean and this and that... it's so stupid! Why move to the country if all you're going to do is complain about the smells and the sounds of tractors working late into the night during certain harvest times???

Another thing that infuriates me is the idea that any local development in "the country" is bad and will "ruin the scenery." So they do everything that they can to kill all local development. So here are all these wealthy retirees who don't have to work and they are preventing the local population from being able to work and support their families!! Or, the locals leave home and want to get married and build a house but the wealthy retirees that have moved in to "the country" do everything they can to keep them from building houses. Basically the idea is that the scenery is there exclusively for the Wealthy and the rest of us can go away and live in the very cities and towns they've escaped!! (Only we can't afford to live in the good parts of towns and cities...)

What you always end up with is a community that is totally over-burdened with the care of ageing retirees and not enough young people working to provide the taxes to pay for the care of these old folks as they begin to need help.

Also, the folk who moved in, they get into the old-folks-homes first and the locals end up having to be shipped hundreds of miles away from home and family when *they* get old. It's just.... a big mess all around! And all for what? The greed and selfishness of a secular world that has lost touch with the Christian values of, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."
**Sigh** I'm about to have my first baby "in the country" and I can't imagine a future here for this child. He/She won't be able to open up a small business because the big stores have moved up here in response to the rising population of retirees. My kid won't be able to afford a house because house prices have shot off the record because of the wealthy retirees coming to their "romantic" hideaway... I'd never advocate that people should be kept away from "the country" but by coming here they cause enough problems for locals... then some of them have to go and try and "improve" the communities and/or block *local* development (while bringing in the big chain stores etc.) and thus kill the local economy!! Talk about icing on the cake...

Note however, that I am not saying *all* wealthy retirees cause big issues. I know plenty that are wonderful and Christian and thoughtful of their neighbor. But as we all know, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease..."

Dawn said...

Very good post dear one!

So true as well!

I'll take the mom and pop owned stores and resturants and friendly neighbors and gardens any day over the choas of Wal-Mart and the neighbors who scowl at you as you walk out your front door each day. :-)

There are many of us who yearn for the days of yesteryear and what's left of it in our states in being torn down like you said for mega malls and huge glorious homes that no one can really afford...sigh...

Again, very good post.

God Bless You my friend!

~ Dawn

Kelly Joyce Neff said...


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