**This column, originally posted on Facebook, began a weekly column for me in my small, hometown newspaper. Each week, I talk about good things taking place in the area. This column is titled "What's Right About Jefferson County"... thus, "What's Right" lives here, as well.**
This tiny town, nestled low between muddy creeks and covered from above by the shade of decade-old native trees, has been the only place I will ever call “home.” Admittedly, I haven’t lived many other places, and not at all outside of Texoma. And admittedly, my mailing address is in Ryan now, thanks to country-living. Still, Jefferson County is all I need to know as home, and Waurika will forever be my place.
Being from a small-school taught me to be well-rounded, and it taught me to refrain from living life in a manner that I wouldn’t want others to know about. I learned that one the hard way at times... but it was still a lesson learned. I’ve never been able to name a “favorite teacher” because I was lucky enough to have so many wonderful influences throughout my education, many of whom are still there today. One of those teachers recently brought me letters and poems that I had written over 20 years ago. Because she KEPT them. Because she loved me and saw something in me and treasured my attempts to communicate my feelings in any way I could. I know she did this for others, too. When another one of those amazing teachers learned that I was getting into some things I didn’t need to be in to, she contacted my mother personally, outside of school hours. I still believe this woman saved my life, not to gossip (which she didn’t do at all) or to get me in trouble (which did kind of happen, and rightfully so), but because she loved me. More than any bad school days, these are the memories I hold.
Perhaps most importantly, being a student in a small-school taught me how to hold on to people who matter to me despite our differences, because as we grew up we still all had to deal with each other. We couldn’t just stop being around people who challenged us. We had to get along and learned to do so through the hardest of times, amidst all of the crazy junior high/high school hormones. It wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always fair. But it enabled me to have some of the strongest relationships ever, and I’m forever grateful for that kind of experience.
There is something so magical about graduating from high school with the same faces you saw on your very first day of kindergarten (or even daycare). It’s even more beautiful when those same faces still get together after high school has come and gone- to celebrate life’s amazing moments; weddings, baby showers, birthdays- and often to mourn and support each other during life’s inevitable hard moments; the funerals of classmates and family, sickness, divorce, tragedy… there is always good, and there is always bad. Knowing that when either happens I will be able to count on these familiar faces to show up is a feeling I wouldn’t trade for the world.
As far as I can remember, this town has banned together in times of tragedy. We mourn together. We help each other. We pitch in. Sure, we could always use more involvement. What community couldn’t? But when it truly comes down to it, we take care of each other. For anyone who doesn’t get this sense of community out of Waurika, I urge you to get involved in some way. In life, you get out what you put in. Show this tiny town a little love in any way you can, and I promise it will love you back. If you aren’t sure how to get involved or what kinds of opportunities are out there, please contact me. For a small town, we’ve got LOTS to be proud of and numerous ways to help make our town even better.
And oh, the history here! I’ve always been enamored by the stories, the architecture, the old photos. How amazing is it to drive along the very same (bumpy!) streets that have been there since the early 1900s? To work in buildings that have served so many purposes over the years? To climb the same trees that shaded the cowboys and the cattle as they passed along the Chisholm Trail, and to swim and fish in stock ponds and creeks that once served as lifelines for both Native Americans and pioneer families? I grew up “arrowhead hunting” in pastures on the outskirts of town, and rarely came home empty-handed. Maybe this is just the romantic in me, but being able to actually place my hands on the history that our tiny town holds is a beautiful, beautiful thing. You don’t get that everywhere.
So sure, there are negatives to small-town living. Unfair judgements happen. Bullying happens. Gossip happens. Political disagreements happen. “Stuff” happens. Bad things happen everywhere. But everyone knowing your name doesn’t happen everywhere. Knowing that if you are in need someone is willing to help doesn’t happen everywhere. Feeling safe doesn’t happen everywhere. Seeing volunteer firemen work endlessly for months to give our town a HUGE economic boost once a year doesn’t happen everywhere. Watching a community get together to feed children during the summer doesn’t happen everywhere. Free community meals, school-supply drives, benevolent houses, weekly jam-sessions and ministerial alliances don’t happen everywhere. But they happen here, in my hometown. Every day, every week and every year. THIS is my Waurika.