I like to live in a little town

Where the trees meet over the street

You wave your hand and say “Hello!”

To every person you meet

I like to stop for a minute outside of a grocery store

And hear the kindly gossip of the folks moving in next door.

For life is interwoven with friends you learn to know,

And you feel their joys and sorrows as they daily come and go.

So I’m glad to live in a little town 

And care no more to roam

For every house in a little town

Is more than a house- it’s a home!

-Al White

Mayor of Three Rivers, 1836
So, I found this at this poem while I was doing research at the public library here in Three Rivers. I have been trying to imagine what life would have been like for the first citizens of this town. I imagine them hitching their buggies to posts along the storefronts of Main Streets, and part of me wishes I was living in the Three Rivers of the 1830’s. Back when industry was booming (with water power provided by the coursing St. Joseph River), people dreamed big. The “founding fathers” of this community did so many (inconvenient) things to help the town thrive. As we would say today, these characters “went out of their way” to make this “little town” a precious place.
Thinking about citizenship and responsibility to one’s community, and I am often discouraged by the singular manner in which I operate. For example, I am currently trying to discern what I should do for a living this coming year and it is so tempting to simply choose the most economically advantageous (safe) option. My “way” or “course” includes being responsible for one person: me.
I slump in my chair and think gloomily, “What could anyone ask of me? I am a kid (I graduated in June). Due to the education loans I acquired, Calvin College basically owns me. I have no experience, few practical skills, and little but my personality to recommend me (which doesn’t count for much).”
I talk a lot about the responsibility I bear with my privilege, but, right now it seems like I can choose to recognize or ignore that responsibility. It seems that so many of the major social problems in this country are the result of a singular culture – a society that rejects mutual dependency and prizes, above all else, independence.
“Was life really so grand back when Old Al White was Mayor?” the historian within me prompts. Sure, up in First Ward (where the bankers and business-owners resided) kids probably road their bikes to the swimming hole, while their mother’s sat on the porches worry-free. But, what was life like for the factory workers and their families? What was it like for the first farmers, overwhelmed by the unknown embodied by the vast forests that surrounded them? The men and women credited with founding this town were of a select sort. Although we can read of their generosity and resourcefulness, we can be sure that they also existed in the midst of poverty and social strife. While I may think nostalgically about the way this town once was, I must accept my current environment and choose to embrace my role in it. It is now that the habit of “going out of my way” can be developed.

Last modified: March 4, 2020