My small town takes a lot of guff for being backwoods or closed-minded or a little redneckish. I’ve even heard people say that, after moving away and returning for a visit, it feels claustrophobic. Maybe that’s because it’s in a valley, or maybe that’s because the landscape rarely seems to change. We’re getting an exit ramp onto the interstate on the north end of town, so there is construction going on, and an occasional gas station will close and leave its empty shell to make the place look like it's slowly dying, but that’s about it.
Or so one might think if one were not to dig a little deeper.
Our local branch of Kent State University is building a performing arts center, one the entire community can use, not just the students. Earlier this week I got to sit down with the general manager for a newspaper story, and he walked me through the floor plans. The man was as excited as he could be. He went on and on about how huge the rehearsal room was and how it was designed to mirror the stage so that an orchestra could simply move itself from one space to another without reconfiguring. The place will have a new Steinway piano kept in its own climate-control storage room. The flyspace above the stage will accommodate just about any road show. Dressing rooms are large. Women’s restrooms are bigger than men’s. People can rent the lobbies and use the catering kitchen for special events. Every seat in the house will be a good seat.
After I left the interview, I felt good about living here, not that I felt that bad about it before, but sometimes the place can wear on a person. And then I got a call from a woman who helped me with a story about the library.
Ohio is in a financial pinch, or more like a vice. To help ease the budget, the governor has cut funds to libraries; and now the places, already tight-reined, are firing employees, cutting hours, canceling services, closing satellite branches. This woman told me all about her little four-year-old daughter, a porcelain-skinned redhead with a passion for dinosaurs, and how much she likes trips to the library. She knows the names of the fish in the tank and has a favorite book, Dinosaur Days. She cries when she has to return the book and begs to check it out again and again. I told her story in last week’s newspaper as an example of how important local libraries are to their patrons, and now two people from this often-disparaged town have bought new copies of Dinosaur Days for the girl so she can have her own to keep. She is so excited, she gave one to the library and kept one for herself. And she takes it to preschool with her, tucked away in her little backpack.
It makes me a little proud to know that even though there are some pinheads around here, this is not such a bad place to live. And if you look closely, even the landscape is changing for the better.