You know you live in a small town when people drop by without calling first.
Tuesday morning a smiling lady appeared at our door presenting a mardi gras King Cake. She explained it was thanks for speaking up at our town hall meeting.
A couple days before that we found a handwritten note in our mailbox from a gentleman a couple blocks away wishing for good luck.
This morning another note came the same way, saying thanks.
The cause of these overt gestures is the disturbing proposal to plop 148 homes on 15 acres of a 40-acre parcel of recently cleared land at the edge of our pretty little town.
We call it a Village, which is kind of habit in these parts, but it’s a real town, not a little collection of thatched roof cottages with small people running around in leggings and buckled shoes. Over 20,000 people live here.
Anyway, because of the collective rejection of the idea, we formed a group of residents in the Village to make our case for stopping the development.
I won’t bore you with the politics.
What I do want you to appreciate though is the essential goodwill of the people who live here, and who love our little town.
We moved here 27 years ago. It was a corporate move, and we had the benefit of shopping around the far north suburbs of Chicagoland. Our first obligation was interviewing three school principals, each who presented their school’s achievements. One school had computers in every room, which was pretty special in 1990. Carpeted hallways. Another school was brand new, and shiny.
The third, was older, but in the center of our little town, bordered by a ball field, festooned with flags, and shaded by ancient maples and oaks. As the vice principal marched me around the classrooms, the students all smiled and helloed. It was a very warm May morning, and as we marched through the heat of the second floor, I offered, “Guess there’s no air conditioning?” He bounced back, “Nope. Isn’t it great?” Rugged, smiling enthusiasm.
I have for years thereafter said that moving here was the best decision we ever made. On the July 4th weekend when the moving trucks pulled away from our new home, two of the neighbors’ kids brought over a plate of cookies to welcome us.
A couple of years ago, after a car demolished half of our house, a lady from blocks away appeared at our door one day with a gift card from Panera’s. She said, “I just wanted you to have this, and hope that you are okay.” A complete stranger, but not really, in the greater sense.
For sure, the schools are great. Top-tier nationwide, the high school is launch pad for our next generation of leaders. The junior schools are our pride and joy.
But beyond that, our little town is a hive of busy optimism, set on a picturesque palette of heritage buildings, generous parks, a network of lakes, streams and wetlands, and threaded with neat roads and lanes through open, treed neighborhoods.
In the summer the town square is thronged with picnickers and market vendors. In the days leading up to Christmas, Santa is taking last minute orders, and come the end of school, there’s a pretty spectacular fairground set up with horrendously noisy and garish rides. A great venue for kids to escape for a while as summer approaches.
Even though there are 5-lane roads quartering the Village, its geography exudes community: a oneness of safety, children, exceptional schools, careful planning, well-being and promise.
I mentioned the goodwill of the folks who live here. Many came to the town hall meeting last week and in front of a couple hundred neighbors, gave passionate testimony in defense of their small town.
One lady made a simple statement, but with profound meaning. Before her, the discussion had recalled the past, and how developers had walked away from our village to build their shopping mall in a neighboring community. Another developer took its plans for a millionaire’s subdivision complete with golf course to another neighboring village.
Clutching the mike with both hands, she said, “We chose this village to live in because of its character. We didn’t lose the shopping mall. We didn’t lose the golf community. We simply chose not to develop, and not to have them. They aren’t what our Village is about.”
The debate on whether the 148 dwellings will materialize will continue. They are described as low maintenance, “lock and leave” buildings for the travel and retirement set.
In the mean time, we’ll still be here, and the front door is open.
Thanks for reading! I hope you will share this with your friends who also treasure the small town.