I met a number of people during my years as an undergraduate student that grew up in rural West Texas communities. Some of those individuals were raised on farms and ranches in places where the closest town with a grocery store was over 60 miles away. I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of those individuals were completing their degrees in anticipation of never, ever returning to country life. Their mentality was: get me out of here! I am never coming back! I would say most of them are living in the Dallas/Fort Worth or Austin area now.
Life on a West Texas farm is pretty isolated. As the natives say: you have a lot of windshield time. I am empathetic to my friends that have no desire to return to that life. My sweet wife is one of them. She grew up on a farm 18 miles from civilization and 80 miles from a city of any size. But there is a dimension of life in the country that large city dwellers have to work very hard to replicate.
Rural citizens take care of each other. When a farmer becomes ill during harvest, everyone pulls out of their field and cuts that person’s corn or strips his cotton. I have seen it happen. You witness a sea of combines or cotton strippers on one farm. No one returns to their own field until their sick neighbor’s crop is in. Dinner (served at noon) is brought to the field and the tailgates of pickups become the dining room table.
I have been removed from that way of life for so long that I have nearly forgotten what it is like. Funerals have become my sole reminder of rural hospitality. Today Jan attended a graveside service in a tiny West Texas ranching community that has not had a store or café for many years. But the good folks in tiny Truscott, Texas opened their community center for the family and friends of the lady being buried. They served up standard West Texas cuisine that includes deviled eggs, garden fresh melons, and homemade pies. As Jan described the scene, it brought back a flood of memories. And I was grateful for good and decent people, who really love their neighbors.
In large cities, I hear constant rhetoric about community. I desire “community.” I want to “live in community.” I fully understand that desire. There is not a thing wrong with it. I just find it intriguing that the thing we long for the most is something that comes naturally to people in parts of the country that we most definitely don’t want to live in! I doubt that any of the good folks in Truscott, Texas are talking about “living in community.” It just comes naturally to them.
As Jan described the hospitality of the wonderful people in Truscott today, I thought to myself: I hope we can replicate their love and concern for their neighbors in the areas where we live. It is going to take creativity and commitment. We tend live lives that are isolated in a different sort of way. But in times of loss we really do need to experience community and not just talk about it.