Having grown up mostly in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, it was with some shock and disbelief that I heard the news that my dad was being assigned to a church in Houma. At the time, the main shopping drag consisted of a Walmart and a books-a-million. (There was a mall but it was... limited.) There was a movie theater but it was old and nasty. Fortunately while we were there the strip grew to include more shopping venues and the movie theater was replaced with a multiplex with stadium seating.
Four years later, we get the news that Dad has been reassigned to Winnfield. Winnfield!? I'd never even heard of it. As it happens, it's the home of three former Louisiana governors, two notorious and one semi-famous, Huey P. Long, Earl K. Long and Jimmie Davis. Old Huey was assassinated and was most famous for his "every man a king" shtick. Earl K. was loonier than a toon and is still refered to as "Crazy Uncle Earl." Jimmie Davis wrote the tune "You are my sunshine."
At the intersection of two highways in the heart of the Kisatchie National Forest, Winnfield is literally in the middle of nowhere. It has a Walmart, a couple of local grocery stores, some boutiques and eight private pharmacies. I thought I was going to hate it. No bookstores, no movie theater, no Chili's. What the heck is a girl to do in a town like that?
Know what? I loved it even though it was like going back in time 30 or 40 years. I'd move back in a heartbeat if there was some way for me to earn a decent income there. Between working at a nursing home and running the after school care program at my church, it felt like I knew everyone in town. (Not really, but I couldn't go anywhere without running into someone I knew.) I could sign for my groceries, prescriptions and gas on account and pay at the end of the month. You could be anywhere in town in five minutes - I'd find myself sitting at a red light behind three cars and wondering where all the traffic had come from.
Around the time we moved there, the internet came into its own. It was easy to order books online and have them delivered. Netflix started service so I could order movies when they came out on dvd. There were things that I missed like the shoe department at Dillard's or being able to find specialty grocery items, but in the grand scheme of things it turned out to be no big deal.
That's not to say that Winnfield is perfect -far from it. Race is a huge issue and drug use is rampant. Would you believe that the area of town where most of the black community lives is still refered to as the quarters? As in slave quarters. That's right. What is this, 1910?
I know people are abandoning small towns across America everyday in favor of big city anonymity. I guess I'm an odd duck because I felt more plugged in to the community there than I have anywhere in a long time. I've been back in Baton Rouge for four years now and still wish I could find my way back.
Do you have a small town/big city preference?