In Russell County, Main Street used to be the place that the people of the town gathered in the evening and on weekends. As a community, Main Street was the place that we lived, and moved, and had our being. Spread down the street were small shops, a drug store, the theater, grocery stores, barber shops and other places where the business and the life of the town took place.
On any given weekend night, cars started parking along the strip as early as 1 or 2 o’clock. By sundown, it was filled to the brim with people sitting and talking. The young and the old alike would gather in the town and truly know each other. This was part of the practice of neighborliness.
Time and circumstance has changed and altered the way and the place that the community gathers together. As a whole, we have replaced tangible community with a figurative virtual one. Oddly enough, it’s the younger generation, who know nothing of the times on Main Street, that carry on the tradition. They have moved to the newer version of the central life of the community, what used to be Kmart parking lot. In the evening, whether they realize it or not, they carry on a tradition of the community gathering in person amongst itself.
You may have passed small groups of cars sitting in a circle in the empty parking lot and taken it for granted, but they are the remnants of a town gathering together in the membership of the town. As Wendell Berry says in his short story, The Wild Birds, “The way we are, we are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference ain’t in who is a member and who is not, but in who knows it and who don’t.”
No matter where you live, we are all in the membership of this small group of people that we call a county. The difference is not a matter of who’s in and who’s out; it’s a matter of whether you know that you are a continuation of something bigger than yourself. We are all a part of the life and history of the place. The kids in the cars that take up the parking lot are, in their way, calling roll to find out who’s present in the weekly meeting.
As time and location shifts in the future, where will the town gather each weekend to carry on this legacy? When you see the kids gathered, know that they are living out an inheritance left to them by their grandparents. Like a kid in a classroom, know that they are calling out that they are present in the roll of their community.
Eric Overby lives in Russell County. You can find his poetry on Amazon and more of his writings on Instagram @mindful_stoic_poet.