It takes a village

The Main Street of our childhood. Photo courtesy of Vicksburg Historical Society.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

It takes a village: I know it’s an overused phrase, but it sure is true. And never is it more apparent than as our graduates receive their high school diplomas. Each senior represents the hopes and dreams—and sometimes desperate prayers—of family, friends, and teachers.

Some students are skilled navigators, easily sailing through their teenage years, but some of them lose direction, flounder and capsize. And sometimes, adults in their lives catch them, turn them upright, and steer them back on course.

All those efforts can be exhausting, and sometimes it’s an all-hands-on-deck community effort.

There is a sense of security in our small towns, something we too often dismiss.

When we were growing up, there was a collective of care, and my friends and I were oblivious to this safety net as we worked our way through school. Our village was thriving in the 1970s, and many of my classmates’ parents owned or worked in the many downtown businesses. There were numerous watchful eyes on us and our occasional risky adventures. None of us thought about it. These dear folks knew our names—most importantly, knew our parents and how to reach them—and they pulled and guided us through our most vulnerable years with invisible strings of care.

Mr. Batek surveyed Main Street from the hardware store; Mrs. Royal showed never-ending-patience at Hill’s Pharmacy; Mrs. Jensen styled our hair at the Beauty Fountain; Mr. and Mrs. Fleming commanded our attention at Lakeshore Lanes; Fred Hiemstra assisted us at his service station; and Otto and Nancy Decker kept a bird’s-eye-view of our comings and goings from their second-story-perch at the ambulance service. I’m sure I’ve forgotten others because there were so many of our parents around the village. This list doesn’t include teachers and support staff or medical personnel in offices around town, and these are parents from just our graduating class of 1977!

We took this familiarity for granted—we never thought about – but our small town’s attention was there, and it helped.

While there were many shuttered storefronts during our children’s teenage years, our kids still received the watchful eyes of their elders. There were parents who kept them in sight as they rode bikes and played back and forth at our neighbors’ homes. As in my childhood, these moms and dads helped steer some wayward attitudes and behaviors. They bandaged knees. They quietly monitored.

And the surveillance continued once they started driving. Our daughter tells of our sister-in-law simply pointing at her older sister who was driving too quickly through town. No call was necessary. Behavior corrected.

I sense a recommitment and recognition of the importance of this sense of community—an appreciation of familiarity and the importance of long-term relationships in our lives.

Special events are returning, stores and services are opening and re-opening, and there is a renewed interest in supporting local. We are taking more care and pride in the villages we call home.

And as in generations before, families and friends watch and applaud our graduates with our pride and love for them tied firmly to our hearts.

It’s a Fine Life.

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