Monday, July 19, 2010

Small Town Scene

Leicester, New York - 12, 2010

Now, these are scenes you probably wouldn’t see where I live. They’re from what looks to be the town park of Leicester, New York, a village I passed through only because my GPS device sent me south out of Batavia via Route 36 instead of the usual Route 63. (How about those route numbers for symmetry? They’re like complementary sine curves that wind around and even cross over each other for about thirty miles between Batavia and Dansville.)

I drove into Leicester just before 7:00 a.m. The sun was barely over the horizon. There was fog close to the ground in the rolling hills outside town and wafting through the village as I approached a stop sign across from this park. It was so quiet that you could hear the voices of people in the houses around the park getting ready for the day.

Leicester has a population of 436. To put that into perspective, I live in a city that has roughly a thousand people for every resident of Leicester and is part of a metropolitan area with nearly five times that many people. When I was a kid, there was a small town feel here. But those days are long past.

One of the things I enjoy about traveling in western New York State and across New England is the profusion of small towns and the small town-ness of them. You get the impression that many are still small enough to be self-determining by town hall meetings that stand a good chance to drawing a majority of the town’s citizens. A town hall meeting on an important issue in my city, by comparison, might draw a hundred people, or roughly 2/10,000 of the population. Not very intimate, eh?

When I drive through a village like Leicester, the difference between its pace and the pace of where I live is striking. I don’t know that life is any easier or better in either place. But places like Leicester do seem to have more palpable connection with a lot of things.

Leicester, New York - 9, 2010

Like patriotism. Many of those who fight and have fought in America’s wars have come from small towns. When someone from my city dies in war, your connection to that person is no more than a picture in the paper. When someone from a small town dies in war, the whole town feels the loss. People in small towns know, or at least know of each other. Patriotism in such places seems more tangible and less jingoistic than it is around here.

Which brings me back to this gazebo. I suspect the bunting was left up from the previous week’s Independence Day celebration. I can imagine there might have been a band playing in the gazebo or on the lawn nearby. Maybe townsfolk gathered on the lawn for a picnic and to restore community ties. Whatever happened in Leicester, I feel pretty confident that if such a gazebo were to be placed along the boardwalk of Virginia Beach or at one of our larger public parks, it’s likely the bunting would have been stolen or defaced and not left to remind us of the potential of a new day.


  1. I can really relate to this, Chris. After living in Virginia Beach for the best part of 50 years we to a small town in the Blue Ridge mountains 6 years ago. Patriotism runs high, our young men and women in uniform are looked upon as heroes and everyone knows them. We haven't lost any in the current wars, thank God, but the call to arms has always run strong in these parts and we've had a disproportionate number of casualties in every war our country has fought.

  2. These are wonderful photos. I'm excited, because I'll be heading to a lot of northeastern schools this year, and I'm definitely trying to build in some north-western NY schools into my itinerary. I love that whole region. There really is such a difference in a tiny town such as you describe. So much of NY state is gorgeous--We have friends up in Millbrook, NY, which is a beautiful area, and Owego (not to be confused with Oswego) and going to visit is like going back in time.