In the late 1980’s Willard, MO boasted a population of around 2000 people. At the time it had no traffic lights, no chain eateries, and more churches than gas stations.
Arthur was Deputy Barney Fife without the single bullet. He patroled the few square miles of town in a run-down cruiser, busting kids for rolling through stop signs and generating one of the town’s main sources of revenue.
It was the type of town where teenagers actually kissed behind the bleachers at high school football games. It was the type of town where teenagers went to a place called Big Rock to party…and Big Rock was actually just a big rock. It was the type of place where you would hear a low groan working its way through the school hallways about a fight at Snyder’s Farm after school. The type of place where two hundred kids would race to the farm after school and surround two corn-fed farm boys and watch them slug it out. The fight usually ended when one of the farm boys faced the ultimate humiliation…getting thrown in the creek.
It was a white town. Two black men graduated with the class of 1992.
It was a place where the boys drove muscle cars, girls played sports…or played boys, and it was not uncommon to see football stars playing a brass instrument in the marching band.
That was my world. Most all of my friends called Willard or its surrounding towns home. Nate and Xan lived in Nixa about 30 miles away. We didn’t see them very often. At the time, Nixa might as well have been St. Louis.
Now I live in Upstate South Carolina and I wouldn’t have thought of Willard if my e-mail box hadn’t been overflowing today. I had e-mails from Boston and Kansas City. In just the short decade I’ve been gone from Willard, I’ve made friends who live all over the country…California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennesee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Massaschusetts, New York, West Virginia. If I needed to, I bet I could call any of them and have a place to crash for the night.
I went for a drive through Willard, MO over the holidays. It now has a few traffic lights, a few chain eateries, and ten officers on the police force. I still have friends there and could count on a warm bed if I needed one.
I figure…maybe this is what it all about. Maybe sometimes we give up a sense of home for a sense of…for lack of a better term…emotional expansion.
What was once the entire world in my eyes…is…just a part of it now. A different skin color is no longer an anomoly. Places like Portland, Boston, and Denver don’t seem very far away at all.
The neat part about it, though, is this: In the course of uncomfortable change, you experiece what I’ll loosely call life.
Ten years ago at this time…my world consisted of 2000 people, a few dozen churches, and an old crank named Officer Arthur. Now, my world is spread out like jelly on toast.
And it is sweet.