Finding big hearts in small towns

The more things change, they more they stay the same. That’s an oldie, isn’t it?

Fifty years ago in Ripley, three young men were suspended from high school for wearing their hair long and shaggy, in the new Beatles fashion. About 20 years later, in the early to mid-’80s, a group of hard core punk rock musicians stopped by the local eating establishment on their way to their next gig, and were looked upon with suspicion and disgust.

Today we have young men with their pants down around their knees, holding them up while they walk, lest they lose them altogether; and young ladies with their midriffs showing and tattoos covering exposed parts. And we, the older generation now, often look upon them with suspicion and disgust. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I try to keep an open mind regarding styles and grooming but I must admit I look askance at times at our young people and wonder what will become of them. And then I remember the granny dresses and miniskirts; the bouffant hair styles and ironing long straight tresses; and I realize that the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other.

Some things change so slowly we don’t see it until long after the change is made. Towns, for instance, change more slowly than people, but change they do. My hometown, Ripley, has changed although you might not notice. There are new houses that have been built in recent years, off the beaten track where a casual passer-by wouldn’t see. New businesses start and fail. But people keep trying. We’re still pretty bereft of businesses right now, but hopefully that will change someday. The one thing Ripley doesn’t lack is friendliness and that hasn’t changed in my lifetime.

Walk into Meeder’s or Papa’s restaurants any given day and listen to the chatter that goes on there. Strangers are often included in the good-natured ribbing, and if a stranger comes in more than once or twice, they become part of the fabric of the place.

Where else but in a small town can you go where people greet you even if they don’t know you? Where else can you go where the patrons get up from their seats to pour coffee or clean tables when the waitresses are swamped? Small towns are like that; at least this small town is.

Not everybody likes small town life. It’s too familiar. Everybody knows your business, or thinks they do. I’ve known some “city folk” who are afraid of small towns. They picture them as xenophobic and hostile.

I suppose we can be, to a point. We’re certainly wary of people who don’t look like us, but I like to think we accept them for who they are anyway. Today, if you walk into Meeder’s, and your hair is long or your clothes unkempt, we may still look at you with curiosity, but just smile and say hi and we’ll all say hi back.

Meeder’s is a bit like Cheers for the locals, we all know each other’s names; but we’re always happy to make new friends. That hasn’t changed. I hope it always stays the same.

Robyn Near is a Ripley resident. Send comments to