Small Town

Written by Randy Patterson

Posted July 24, 2022

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“No, I cannot forget from where it is that I come from. I cannot forget the people who love me. Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town, And people let me be just what I want to be . . .”

From “Small Town” by John Mellencamp

I was born just a few miles from where I currently live. I’m told that my maternal ancestors settled about a quarter mile up the road from me. And while I live in a tourist town, it’s really a small town at its core. At least, that’s how I view it after I peel away the millions of tourists that pass through here every year and provide the economy that we locals enjoy.

Though I was born near here, I grew up elsewhere in the country. My dad’s work moved us around a lot until we settled in Phoenix Arizona, mid-way through my fourth-grade year. In my so-called adult years, I lived and worked most of the time in the Dallas area.

You can pretty much say that I’m a big city boy. I was raised in the city. Educated in the city. Married in the city. My daughter was born in the city. I divorced in the city. I must go into the city to get what I can’t find in my small town.

My entire life, I dreamed of living where I now live. As a kid, I would cry when we would leave our relatives behind after vacationing here. I felt the warmth of the love of my extended family. I breathed in the aromas of the small farms of my maternal and paternal grandparents. In my teens, I loved running around the countryside, flirting with girls, falling in love, falling out of love, falling in love again, and driving with the windows down, again breathing in the rejuvenating smell of the rural South.

I moved too much in my life to feel rooted anywhere. I honestly feel like a visitor no matter where I have lived. But there is that comforting familiarity of living here where my ancestors first settled over 100 years ago; driving by my birthplace; seeing my family’s small farms; visiting the cemeteries where my departed relatives are laid to rest.

There is an ancestral reassurance for me since I’ve settled here. Even in my darkest and loneliest times, there is something comforting about being here. I honestly think that it’s the love I feel from my family and friends – both alive and passed. Being here and with family and friends, I’m free to be what I want to be - what I feel that I’m called to be.

I can’t describe how edifying it is to eat in the same small diner every day and briefly chat with the locals here; being good-naturedly harassed by the good folks working there; catching up on the latest with the old timers – and all with my 86-year-old dad right beside me.

I love shopping in the small stores, gassing up at the small gas stations, and sitting in small theaters. During the day, I can hear the train whistle blow from the coal-powered train at Dollywood and hear their closing fireworks show at night.

When I need to think or clear my head, there’s nothing like a refreshing drive in these gorgeous Smoky Mountains. I sincerely believe that when God created the heavens and the earth, He used the best right here in East Tennessee and made the rest of the world with what was left over.

While I’m forever grateful for my upbringing – both in the big cities and the family vacations at the family farms, I’m abundantly blessed to now live where I do. At this stage of my life, I may have a lot less materially than I’ve ever had, but I have so much more to be thankful for emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. I can breathe deeply and freely in this amazing small town and because of all of that and more, I am amazingly and wonderfully blessed.