Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Andrews - Small Town America

When we lived in Houston, we rented a house in a subdivision on the western edge of town. The management company that handled our rental gave us a copy of the subdivision rules - there were lots of rules. If you didn't mow soon enough, they came and measured the height of your grass. If it was too long, they cut it and sent you a bill. You were not allowed to park any vehicle with writing on it (such as a company truck) in your driveway. Ditto, boats and motorhomes. Every roof had to be the same color and composition. Only certain colors were approved for painting houses. Above-ground pools were forbidden. You could be cited and fined if your dog barked. There were several subdivisions in our area. All of them were upscale to one degree or another. All had the same stringent rules. If there was anything they hated, it was non-conformity.

When we moved back to Indiana, we rented a house in Andrews - population about 1,500 hardcore non-conformists. Try to tell an Andrewvian that he couldn't park his boat in his driveway and prepare to get an earful of four-letter words. Try to dictate to him when he needed to mow his grass and watch him let his lawn become a meadow. Tell him what color his new roof had to be and watch him move heaven and earth to find passion purple shingles.

In Andrews, the more affluent people lived next door to the welfare Mom (and were probably her most helpful supporters). In Andrews, old Frank, who owned the grocery store, would let you run a bill while you were laid off. If you wanted to make a donation to charity, you gave money to Frank because he knew who in town was having it tough and he'd pass it on by way of groceries, or maybe a baseball mitt for a kid who needed one, a baseball mitt he just happened to have in the back of the store.

Andrews, small as it was, supported three bars. They were restaurants too but mostly they were bars. You could watch sports there or play cards or just hang out with your neighbors. There was a grain elevator too, right in the middle of town. The huge stack of corn fines in the back was the best place in the world to dig for fishing worms.

The social center was the Lion's Club baseball field. Just about everyone in town supported the Little League and Pony League teams, whether they had kids themselves or not. If you were looking for an Andrewvian, just show up at the baseball game and you'd be bound to find them. Grab yourself a hotdog and a pop from the concession stand (staffed by Moms and Dads) and sit in the grandstand to enjoy a long summer evening of neighborliness and  baseball.

We had baseball in Houston too. I was even on the Board of Directors. Our facility was spectacular with fields for T-Ball and Little League and Pony League and softball and soccer. The concession stand was as large as many restaurants. Parents were supposed to volunteer to staff this one too (two hours, twice a season) but mostly, they hired high school kids to do their stint. At the end of the night, we always had kids no one picked up and it was our job to deliver them home to the various subdivisions where they lived. I guess Houston parents were too busy making money to make sure their kids got home from baseball.

Our kids in Andrews were a wild bunch and we mostly just let them go. They didn't steal or vandalize but they did sneak beer and drink it at the park. They disappeared down to the river to fish or go canoeing. They jumped off bridges and swung from vines and took beater cars back to the old gravel pit to go "mudding". If the town marshals caught them drunk, they brought them home instead of charging them with Minor Consuming. In Andrews, law enforcement had a tolerant "kids will be kids" mentality....and so did parents. In spite of all that, there was an element of wholesomeness in Andrews, a Tom Sawyerish kind of innocence.

Kids in Houston were wild in their own way too. It was a badge of honor to have stolen an Izod shirt of every color from the mall. Egging houses was a fad. They too snitched booze but rarely got arrested....if their parents were rich enough. Parents here too often had no clue where their kids were but the possibilities were endless and dangerous compared to Andrews. Girls were sometimes raped and boys beaten up by strangers. Rivers can be deadly but malls are a different kind of deadly.

So we went from one culture to one completely different. It all depends on your priorities which is best. You're certainly more likely to find financial success in Houston but for raising children, give me small town America every time.