A pear pie made me stop blogging.
Rather, the promise of a pear pie.
The day before we evacuated for Hurricane Gustav a handful of weeks ago, I dropped by our elderly neighbor's home to find out what their evacuation plans were and to share my family's. They are a wonderful couple that have lived in this home for over thirty years, friendly and both interesting and interested.
Needless to say, I rarely visit them. Yep, I'm that neighbor. I'm the one that smiles and waves, greets you through the fence, buys lemonade at your child's lemonade stand, but generally doesn't step into your yard.
The day I stopped by to discuss evacuation plans was not the first time I had knocked on their door, but it was the first time I accepted an invitation to come inside. I did not have our two toddler boys with me at the time, so was enjoying the rare moment in which I could make decisions independent of everyone else's immediate vicinity to impaling devices. As such, I happily stepped into what I expected to be a very similar floor plan as our own home, our houses being two of the oldest on the street.
The home I found myself standing in was, instead, the home our house wishes it could be. I did not hide my enthusiasm for their renovations, so the Mrs. welcomed me to tour the home with her so she could point out the changes.
After a walk-through that had my brain mapping out blueprints for the virtual mansion I wish our home could one day become (okay, more like bungalow with a larger family room), we returned to the kitchen to find the Mr. waiting for us with a plastic bag full of something heavy and plentiful.
Mr.: Do you like pears?
Megan: Sure, we love pears.
Megan: Oh my, thank you! I always wondered if those were edible.
Mr.: They aren't good for eating, but they're fine for baking. I thought you could bake a pie with them when you get back.
Megan: (trying to comprehend a couple foreign words he used in those sentences) Sure. Absolutely... I. will. bake. a. pie.
Mr.: smiling proudly, having helped a young mother provide a special treat for her young family...
Her young family who are actually completely oblivious as to what a pie is or how one would be made from scratch and then baked in that big white thing we make grilled cheese sandwiches on top of, if we're lucky.
I left with my bag of freshly picked pears, plopped them on my kitchen table, and then forgot about them. What did stick with me, though, was how casually he had said I could "bake a pie with them." As though of course I knew how to bake. A pie. With fresh ingredients.
I am a young mother, with a young family, on a tight budget, and I do not know how to bake a pie. I sure do have a cute apron, though. One I designed and had made from a vintage table cloth. One I had made by a friend I met online, from a table cloth I bought online, and which I intended to sell online in order to help support my family.
Rather, I Google pie images, digitally insert them into graphics programs and then virtually publish them from my digital desktop for my statistically relevant online audience to consume.
I suspect I'm missing something here. For all that my .com resourcefulness gets me, I suspect that a certain amount of real "calm" could be gained from that real pie.
And that is what stuck with me.
In the days to follow, long after the pears had to be thrown out, I was still thinking about that pie. That damn pie.
After a long day of wrangling editors and answering questions from PR emails, I turned off the computer, loaded the boys in the car, and headed over to my parents' house for a bit of a break. After satisfactorily distracting the boys, I plopped down on the couch and found a movie to watch. Waitress starring Keri Russell was on, a movie I had heard great independent-movie things about.
And I'll be damned if it wasn't about pies.
What followed was roughly two hours of watching pies being made. The filmmakers might suggest that there was a plot line and a romance and something about marriage and babies and career, but all I saw was pies. Pies, and a simplicity that my life has been missing lately.
I've written only one blog post since then, because I more or less turned off the computer and started reassessing the clutter in my life, both literally and figuratively. For those of you that have been reading me a long time, you know I do this every now and then. I don't make a big fuss about it, I just don't show up for a few weeks.
But this isn't about blogging. I'm not looking for comments that read "I'm glad you're back!" or "I missed reading you." The web is stuffed full of enough to keep you occupied, and I think that is precisely my point.
This reassessment of our priorities and taking inventory of our homes and goals is relevant to every single one of us. Or at least it should be.
When I wrote Gravel Paves the Road to The White House, my point was not a small towns vs. cities one. Rather, it was about taking the time to listen, to absorb, to process and integrate the mass amounts of stimuli we are faced with every single day. It was about taking the time to settle the white noise in our heads.
You didn't notice it happening, but then you step outside one evening, discover it quiet, and realize that you have cocooned yourself within a wall of static.
That pie. That damn pie that I never made, sliced through my static.
This is about simplicity. It is about appreciating what I already have at my fingertips. What I've struggled to build but then sometimes take for granted. It is about what I let slip by me every day and never notice. It is about that woman that I'm going to get around to being.
So... I've been cleaning. Decluttering. Stepping back and asking questions, making decisions, taking action. Slicing through the static I've let accumulate, static that I've allowed to drown out something important that I can't quite put my finger on but that I can sense is still there.
Maybe it's the stress from all of this screeching panic on the news each day. The economy. The bailout. The election. The noise the noise the noise.
You don't notice it sneaking up on you. You don't think you even care. But then there it is. Regardless of how much you think it affects you, you find yourself needing to make a decision, put your foot down, stake your claim.
Close your eyes, take a breath, exhale. Open your eyes. Step back. Sit down. Stand up. Move forward. Slow down.
I'm going to make that damn pie.
The sound of gravel crunching under slow-moving tires is the sound of the small town to me. The sound of cicadas on a warm summer evening, while you wave at your neighbors honking as they drive past your home. That is small town life.
I grew up in a small town of 5,000 in Southern Illinois. Our town was the metropolis of our county, or so it seemed to me. We were surrounded by towns whose populations made them more like villages, whose residents came to our town to shop at the Wal-Mart or go out to eat at the fancy new smorgasbord.
Separating those towns from ours were two-lane roads bordered by cornfields, soybean fields, cows, and hay bales. The only traffic lights were the blinking kind. You often had to pass tractors on the road or hold your tongue as you followed behind the Amish in their wagons. It was that kind of small town.
The phrase "small town values" is being thrown around a lot lately. On one side of the aisle, you hear the declaration "We believe in small town values." On the other side, you hear the question "But what are small town values?"
Defining "small town values" is as easy as defining what "love" is to a toddler. You know it when you feel it, but it is difficult to put into words, particularly when you find yourself on the spot facing a raised eyebrow and a smug smirk awaiting your sure-to-be fumbling explanation.
(feed readers, click through for video above)
The question of small town values and whether or not they are relevant or important is intriguing, regardless of your political leanings. The majority of our country, if not our world, is small towns. Much of the populations of our cities migrated from small towns. Small-town-America is the root of this country, so what does that mean to us?
There is no one definition of what "small town values" is, but to me it means a greater ability to see the people around you. Really see them.
Have you ever spent so much time online for weeks at a time that you find your head utterly filled with noise? You didn't notice it happening, but then you step outside one evening, discover it quiet, and realize that you had cocooned yourself within a wall of static?
Picture yourself working on your computer, appliances running in the kitchen, laundry running in the next room, kids watching TV, husband listening to his iPod... and suddenly the power goes out. After much rummaging around for flashlights and grumbling about how you have so much to get done, you finally submit to the fact that you'll probably be in the dark for at least a few more hours, which no amount of huffing and puffing will change.
And then it happens. You realize that you've just had an eye-to-eye conversation with your kids that lasted longer than the time it takes to say, "In a minute..." or "As soon as I finish..." or "Tell me about that while I'm..."
Notice how they cut their eyes the way your grandmother used to when they say, "I have a good idea..." and then that idea is revealed to revolve around candy. The way they touch their hair when they are thinking of what to say next or tap their fingers together while anticipating your answer on that candy question still on the table.
It's easy to miss those details when you aren't even looking at them.
There is nothing to distract you from them and you find yourself able to see them. See them clearly. Hear them without the background hum of your modern life keeping you consistently 20% distracted.
That feeling is what small town life is to me. It is a simplification, to be sure, but when compared to life in a large city, I think it is accurate. For me, at least.
Now take it a step further and imagine turning off the TV news and radio talk programs and Internet for two weeks. No newspapers, no magazines, nothing other than your personal world filling your attention. You still listen to music and watch movies, go out to dinner and take your kids to the park. But you aren't necessarily aware of what is going on a world away. You don't know about every tropical depression forming in the ocean and cease fire being negotiated over some sandy terrain.
I have done that. I can tell you first-hand how amazing it is to watch your priorities crystallize. To feel the stress drain away that you never knew was there, held in the base of your neck, stemming from problems that may or may not ever have anything to do with you.
You find yourself living your life, not a million other people's.
That firmly planted grounding of self and family and immediate community is small town values to me.
I am not advocating ignorance. I'm not even advocating small town life. Rather, I am trying to put my finger on what small town values are by submerging myself in the feeling of a small town and reaching down to the core of me, asking "What do you see? How do you feel?"
I feel compassion on a personal level. I see community at its root. I am digging my hands into a foundation that is rich and firm, but that must be maintained in order to remain strong and fertile.
Without that strong foundation, we can not build our tall towers that allow us to see those that were previously beyond our horizon and beyond our reach. Beyond our help.
Ask yourself, "What are small town values?" Tell me why they are important. Tell me how we can ever help globally if we can not first live a fully realized life locally.
Gravel paves the road to The White House. I struggle to articulate why that is important to remember, but my gut tells me that it is.
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