By Marty Hine
LYONS – “This is a small town.” How you utter that phrase tells me a lot about you. Most people I know are clearly divided between those who yearn to live here and those who think of small towns as mini-federal disaster areas that politicians should fly over in a great show of pity and sympathy.
Some big-city visitors once complained to me of “an intolerable absence of hysteria.” They took to drinking huge amounts of coffee to maintain their normal state of testiness. They were especially alarmed by the lack of shrieking sirens at 2 a.m. in the early morning, or any hour for that matter.
Those city visitors were interesting. For one thing, they knew which way to look when crossing a one-way street. That makes perfect sense, of course. But then, before they stepped out into the street, they glanced in the opposite direction. They just had no trust in the natural order of things. I guess they had learned that if you trust anything too much, something would go crazy and smite you down. So I watched as they looked one way, glanced the other way, and stepped out onto a dog that was lying in the road.
I was hard-pressed to make them comfortable so I’ve been thinking about the ways that small towns are “different.”
First of all, back in the really old days, families were much closer than they are today. There were no telephones, no postal service, no cars, and no e-mail. Plus, there were wolves so they really had to stick together. Those families grew into clans, villages and towns. That’s why you were not only likely to know your neighbor; you were likely to share genetic material.
Then there was crime or rather the lack thereof. You knew you were in a small town when the police department was closed evenings and weekends. Organized crime consisted of three teen-agers persuading an uncle to buy them beer. Law-abiding hard-working citizens predominated. Of course it was easy to be good when there were no temptations.
It was also easy to be in business. It was easy, you just didn’t make much money. Making a living was a problem. There was nothing that resembled industry; agriculture required a ridiculous amount of hard work; people provided their own services and retail sales tended to be less than enthusiastic.
Despite my sarcasm, I’m not the only one who misses the character of this town the way it used to be. This was always a community of construction workers, artists, healers, teachers, small business owners and the like. They were struggling and proud of their independence but hoping for opportunity. The town responded with a reasonable development plan and now the town is changing. Oh yes, we still have some front-yard junk collections, back-fence gossip, petty politics, bored-stiff youngsters and marginal businesses. To some degree we are preserving our “small-town character” against all odds.
In other words, it was always a nice little town but there was plenty of room for improvement.
Some of the new folks in town have a different view of things. They move here hoping for sanctuary from big-city life. We all do of course, but they think it comes with city services already in place. They expect paved streets and a certain “flow” in the supply of water, electricity, sewage, garbage, traffic, telephone, park maintenance, police and fire services, and recycling. They assume that the taxes they pay on their new homes will be returned with a city-type level of municipal services. The reality is that residential property taxes do not cover the cost of city services.
The State Tourism Office lures City people here with a blanket invitation for all to come and play in the sun. They advertise “wilderness” hoping that millions will come to cry in it. Some will come and leave and some will appreciate what a good thing we have going. Let’s keep it that way.
Marty Hine is a former Lyons Town Board Trustee and most recently he was the chairman of the Lyons Planning and Community Development Commission. He lives in Lyons with his wife Ellen.Back to Top