I like to live in a little townâ€¨
Where the trees meet over the streetâ€¨
You wave your hand and say “Hello!”
â€¨To every person you meet
â€¨â€¨I like to stop for a minute outside of a grocery storeâ€¨
And hear the kindly gossip of the folks moving in next door.
â€¨For life is interwoven with friends you learn to know,â€¨
And you feel their joys and sorrows as they daily come and go.â€¨â€¨
So I’m glad to live in a little town â€¨
And care no more to roamâ€¨
For every house in a little townâ€¨
Is more than a house- it’s a home!â€¨â€¨
â€¨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.
I like to live in a little townâ€¨
About a month ago I moved my (not-so-few) possessions from Grand Rapids to Three Rivers. That night, as my fellow interns and I situated ourselves in our rooms, the house felt big, empty and foreign. Having just left a cocoon-like college community, I felt anxious giving up my warm coverlet of intimate friendships. Now that I am settled in Three Rivers (after being in Texas for a few weeks), I don’t feel nearly as nervous. This probably has a lot to do with this last 4th of July weekend.
“Watermelon, sunshine, and no shoes allowed!” Johnny, (another intern) exclaimed when, over a month ago, we first discussed inviting our friends down for the 4th to show them Three Rivers. “It will be a porch-swinging, root beer*-slurping, grand old time.” The prospect of sharing the simple pleasures of this place with my friends excited me. Mixing these worlds intentionally would be a momentous occasion.
We were fairly open with our invitations and told people to bring friends. We expected most of the pals we invited to already have plans. As the weekend quickly approached, we were still uncertain of how many would arrive. We never expected to see all of the nineteen familiar faces, which passed through our doors over the weekend. Thursday, our first guests came for with our weekly CINO house dinner. Folks just kept coming. People dropped their family get-togethers, and they delayed their vacations. There seemed to be a general acknowledgement of the significance of our gathering. And so, Rebecca, Stephanie, Greg, Ryan, Heidi, Heather, Kevin, Jen, Ben, Mitchell, Karie, Nathaniel, Kristen, Mag, Kirsten, Matt, Tiffany, Lydia, and Megan came in packs of four or five to celebrate the many connections which have developed amongst us over the last four years.
Despite our numbers our time together was rich, and even tranquil. On the porch, Kevin broke the soft silence of a circle of avid readers with humorously grotesque excerpts from Arabian Nights (his audience grumbled and chuckled concurrently). Kirsten and Kristen, dusted in pastel, drew eclectic designs on the sidewalk with chalk. At the dining room table a group of (short-term) soccer-enthusiasts watched the World-Cup, munched melon and chattered loudly about the game. In the kitchen, Jen matched their ruckus storming around the kitchen, commanding people to peel this or chop. Greg on the other hand, exuding calm, cleaned the cutting boards before the knives were put down. So, basically we didn’t do anything. People were content just being together.
Then on Sunday we went to Pleasant Lake. Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma’s Grandparents graciously invited us interns to bring our friends out to their cottage to swim. When we (with apprehension) showed up with a small army, they didn’t even flinch. They were so welcoming and it was a beautiful day! As dusk approached, I sat out on the raft in the water and gazed at the sky over the water. Sunlight and water. I realized then that friendship is not so much like a protective shell, or a warm cocoon. Water, the substance that I can dive into in the summer and which covers me like a blanket in the fall, is constantly taking new forms. So also will my friendships take on new forms.