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Letter No. 5: Dear Small Town USA

52 Letters

Dear Pandora, Ohio,

Well I was born in a small town [not really]
And I live in a small town
[I did]
Probably die in a small town
[wouldn’t mind it, but hopefully not anytime soon]

“Small Town” by John Cougar Mellencamp

[This letter is part of my 52 Letters in 52 Weeks series (read the original post).]

Why does that song resonate with so many people?

I think if someone is from a town like you or has lived in one, then they know.

And I firmly believe that if they’ve never lived in a small town, there will always be a part of them that yearns for it as they watch movies like HoosiersThe Truman Show, or Field of Dreams. Or TV shows like last summer’s Netflix hit Stranger Things.

The kindness, the simplicity, the lost idyllic America. (Okay, well maybe Stranger Things wasn’t idyllic….)

But even more than that, there’s a reason why Cheers’ theme song “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” strikes a chord.

(Millennials, just google Hoosiers, Truman Show, Field of Dreams, or Cheers. Or better yet, pull them up on Netflix or Amazon and you’ll understand this post a whole lot better.)

On some level, we all want to be surrounded by people and places that know us, accept us, and inspire us.

My person, my solace, and my dreams, were all shaped by a small town in Ohio.

You aren’t much bigger than when I left over 30 years ago, about 1,000 people – farmers and small businesses, families and good people, salt of the earth as they say.

We didn’t lock our doors. At 10, I regularly rode my bike alone out into your countryside, unchallenged by adults or convention.

We played Pac Man in your local market with our bikes leaning outside and a few quarters in our pocket. We ate chewy sweet tarts as we pedaled south toward the sewer pipe under Washington Street that just fit the height of your adventurous children.

Ditching our bikes on the roadside, childhood wars were won and lost walking on your rocks and under your single stoplight road. Dreams were whispered to a tunnel’s echo as the sun played shadow puppets on a stream that in reflection, might have been sewage runoff.

But we didn’t care.

This was freedom.

This was 1984.

I left you with little more than the sorrow of a fifth grader whose childhood felt stolen in a move to the suburbs. But you left me with something more.

Thank you for the taste of freedom.

I would never again be confined by danger lurking around the corner, by the limits of fences, fears, or expectations. I’ve passed that on to my free range kids. Be home by dark, my child. And even then, a little flashlight tag might be in order.

Thank you for peace.

The sound of a tractor and the smell of fresh cut hay followed me from you to my dad’s farm in Indiana to my house in Bethesda where I now live surrounded by farmers. When caught behind a tractor on the road, I take it as God’s sign to slow down.

Thank you for friendship.

Your people have woven in and out of my entire life. From my childhood, to my wedding, to my son’s clinical trial, to my Facebook. We’ve watched each other grow up, and now we’ll watch each other grow old.

Thank you for the memories.

My old house was on the street behind the football field

The Lunch Box. Harlan’s barbecue. Spring Lake. Fruit and vegetable stands on empty country roads that somehow still sell out. St. John Mennonite Church where I first saw Pilgrim’s Progress live. High school football where the town turned out.

I might be romanticizing, but what is nostalgia if not our memories wrapped in a blanket of warm hugs?

If I’d never known you, I’d never have known the peace of empty one lane roads as far as the eye could see, mom and pop restaurants, pond swimming, unlocked doors, and dinner picked from the field a few minutes prior.

I’d have never known that the grain elevator can be the center of town. That America is no more New York City than it is all the Pandoras littered across its landscape.

In many ways, I’ve never left you. And for that, I’m grateful.

Just a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world,







Last modified: December 31, 2017

5 Responses to " Letter No. 5: Dear Small Town USA "

  1. Terry Diller says:

    I left Pandora in 1981, carrying the DNA of solid Swiss farmers out into the adventure of life. Until my Father’s death a year ago, I could call him at a number I had learned in childhood, and it would ring at the house on Basinger Road that I had lived in since I was six months old. One of those farm stands was run by my sixth grade teacher. I cooled off in Spring Lake between the grueling two-a-day football practices of August. A classmate was the son of the Lunchbox owners. Another’s family owned a grocery downtown. That place and time, and those people, helped to shape who I am, and through all the ups and downs of existence, that foundation has reassured and sustained me. I know where I am from, and what I’m made of.

    Another classmate shared this, and I wanted to let you know that your remembrances were appreciated, and that I’m happy that you were able to share in that magic as well. I’m certain that you also know where you are from. Thank you, from a slightly gruff old Pandora native.

    • It’s so good to hear other treasured memories of Pandora and I remember your family’s name well. I’m so glad this post was shared with you with love and please feel free to share it with more wonderful Pandora families.

  2. Jim Leightner says:

    Eloquently written, Melissa. Other than the first year and a half, my whole life has been spent in that same small town, which still moves to the same rhythm. There is a richness here, an appreciation of life and especially of other people, and the role they play in shaping your life, that you have so aptly described.

    As I read your letter, I struggled to place you, as we moved to that same street behind the football field in the late ’80’s with our 2 young children. But I’m not sure we ever met, as we were in different stages in life. You were in your exuberant youth, while we in the hectic world of work, combined with raising young children.

    But we both caught similar values in Pandora. You took yours with you and I’m still enjoying them here, like many other people scattered across America in other countless small towns like ours. Thanks for sharing the memories and spreading the love of life in a small town.

    • Hi Jim. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well; I totally agree. We were the Hancocks back then, but we moved away in 1984. We still stay in touch with the Halls and spent time with the Michael, Kuschel, and Lee families on our street at the time.

    • Donald L Warren says:

      I just wanted to say how beautiful and true that was. Your memories brought me back to a time of innocence or maybe just the inexperience of youth.Pandora was where I went to school and that’s where my relatives attended. I moved away in 1979 but the memories are still there and the celebration of small town America

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