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Our Town

Beaverdam, Virginia is a small town. It’s a small town like “Mayberry” or “Petticoat Junction” are small towns, only Beaverdam actually exists. At least it did when I was a young girl. Back then, my brother and cousins and I used to walk along Beaverdam’s twisting country roads down to the Tuttle family’s general store, where you could still run a tab. We would buy our Bazooka gum for serious, albeit unofficial, bubble blowing contests and tell them “Barb-J will pay!” so they could write the amount owed down in their book under Aunt Barb’s name. The late afternoon would find us “on top of the world”, swinging from the ancient oak tree that spread its majestic limbs across the grassy hill overlooking the old gristmill. The mill’s waterwheel still spun in the river despite having already given more than a hundred years of tireless service to the town. In the evenings the sky would blaze orange and pink and we would catch fireflies before being called inside for supper by our folks. Every car that passed would honk and wave at you “like you was kinfolk”, and every 4th of July parade we’d honk and wave at them from high atop our homemade hay-wagon float.

Last night, my husband said, “Everyone has a Beaverdam,” and he shared his stories of growing up in Kāneʻohe when there were still cows lining Kamehameha Highway and the St. Annʻs carnival was the biggest event of the year.  This was back when any of the neighbors could spank any of the kids if they were misbehaving, and he could stroll into any house on his street (usually trailing at least a half-dozen other hungry urchins) and expect a cheese sandwich between innings of afterschool baseball games played right on the road.  “And none of us would be caught dead wearing footwear of any kind - which is probably why we all have to shop for shoes in the ʻEEEʻ range all these years later.”

We don’t feel a strong sense of community in Kāneʻohe today even though we live there.  And we wondered out loud if the feeling of community and caring about the place we live in were just great memories today.  We rarely talk to our neighbors, we hardly even know who they are.  We don’t wave at each other from our cars or our yards or our porches.

No, Kane‘ohe is not a small town anymore, and hasn’t been for years, really.  But that’s not what community is all about, is it?  Community isn’t tied to population stats, the ability to run a tab or attendance numbers for the carnival.  Community exists wherever we find it these days.  It could be our church or hālau or a business, doesn’t matter- it’s wherever we feel a responsibility to the members and where the members feel some responsibility for us.  It’s the group or groups we care about, that we are willing to make sacrifices for, that we worry about when we can’t be with them, the folks we identify ourselves with.  That’s community- the entities and institutions that allow us to be a part of something more than ourselves, like an extended family.  And it can be found in small towns, big cities and everywhere in between.  They may not make us cheese sandwiches all the time or let us walk out their doors with free Bazooka but they are still there if we want them.

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