Tuesday, February 12, 2013
By Karen Shuler
Small towns and the stuff of dreams for some, barely touching the existence of others. This is meant for those who cherish either the reality of living in one or who wish for a time when they may.
Asked what a village is, people in McClellanville answer, "somewhere people care and share, where you matter, even to people you argue with," "a slower-paced way of life, with things within walking or biking distance," "a place where the natural environment is the decoration," "where families stay for generations and even “come-heres” can have a sense of belonging."
Morning dawns with a hum here, as the light filters through Spanish moss streamers on the oaks overhanging the streets. The birds begin their busy day chattering and feeding, those who work in the creek head for the landings and docks, the school buses make their rounds, and folks gather at the diner on the highway to share what’s happened in the last few days. Such is the fabric of a village — the daily cycle of work and rest, folks sharing news and views, and the steady turning of the seasons, punctuated by occasional upheavals in weather or politics or the economy.
Gathering spots are important in holding together this community, perhaps more than for many small towns because of its relative isolation — 20 miles to the nearest town. We have our squabbles (don't all communities?) but in tough times those are set aside to love one another. The aftermath of Hugo was a prime example, with the hardware store conducting business with a flashlight and metal cash box on a card table, people coming from 'up the beach' (Wilmington and points beyond) to set up tents and feed us, and gratitude that it wasn't any worse than it was. Although it was plenty bad enough.
There's been change since then. Not just with properties being bought and sold but more about the loss or erosion of some subtle threads that weave the fabric of a village:
n Businesses have come and gone and come again, although mostly on the decline. That hardware store closed its doors after more than a century. Where will the shrimpers get that odd bolt or fitting as they prepare for the season to open? The nearest place requires at least an hour's round trip. A couple of years ago when major wildfires were threatening to surround us, their store was one of the few information centers.
n There's more traffic. And it goes faster. Can you imagine that there are even some people who get upset if a dog is taking a nap in the middle of the street? What on earth could be so important that a driver can't go slow enough to see what's ahead and detour around our dog residents?
The village is a place where these things matter, where such changes alter patterns of interaction, the collective knowledge of the community, and the ability of its residents to care for one another. Plenty of professionals are available these days with degrees in urban planning and architecture, public administration and finance. Our ancestors didn't have access to formal knowledge of such things, they just knew how they wanted to live and that it was important to leave some empty chairs at a gathering spot in the store so people would feel welcome and could stay current on village news.
Conversations, sharing, building relationships and nourishing them — that will always happen in a community that has the desire - but think how much richer those exchanges will be and how far and deep the ripple effects will go when there are places that invite residents and visitors to get to know one another and to forge those bonds in ways that truly cannot be done on Facebook.
Karen Shuler is a resident of McClellanville.
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