Small Towns and Strong Bonds

by Charlotte Purdy

In a recent video that surfaced on social media, the small town of Gillett was shown in what I call poor publicity due to one person’s views. Since watching it and just being in shock at how poorly the small town was shown in the video, it’s weighed on my mind.

I’m not a citizen of Gillett, nor have I ever been, but it’s a town that I can understand and have compassion for. Just like St. Charles, Crocketts Bluff, Almyra, Tichnor, Reydell, and the list could go on. They may all be small towns, with very low population numbers, but if you focus on the heart and love that the citizens have for the small towns, it strongly outweighs anyone’s opinions, especially those who never grew up or lived in such hidden gems.

Growing up in Crocketts Bluff I recall many days and evenings swimming in the canal, riding the track in the woods on the three-wheelers, swimming in the White River and relaxing on the sandbar, and the daily love shown by all the community members. We all watched out for one another and helped when needed. There was nothing like going to the post office that was there at Schwab’s Grocery and waiting to see if I received a letter from my pen pal! Oh, the excitement! During the Summer, we even had lemonade stands in front of the store and boy did we feel like we were rich when we made $1 for the day and we could go inside and buy a soda or candy bar!

During the day we would catch the bus and ride the backroads picking up other school aged children as we headed to St. Charles to school. I can still remember that amazing school pizza that we’d hurry down the breezeway to the cafeteria to get! You see people on social media sharing recipes for school pizza, but I promise none of those recipes come close to how good that pizza at school really was! Sure, not every meal was our favorite, as many of us carried our lunches, but man that pizza was delicious! At the end of the day, we’d all go through our lunch boxes on the way home and share what we had left with our friends. We bonded over such simple things.

Then, sadly they closed our school and we were forced to attend DeWitt Public Schools. I was going into the 7th grade when we consolidated with DeWitt and I was scared. It was much larger than any of us were accustomed to and how in the world would we ever fit in?! Well, we just did and we all made even more friends that carry on to this day. We traveled from our little towns to the “big city” of DeWitt, but it didn’t change how we enjoyed our time outside of school. We’d get on the party-line phone and talk for hours with the cord strung across the room or we’d make plans to spend the night in the other towns with our friends.

Moving to St. Charles after I graduated, that same small-town life was visible. Community members gathered every day at mail delivery time, caught up on the latest news, or some would say “gossip”, and made their way back home in time to enjoy lunch. In the early 90’s we had the wildlife festival that brought many “out of towners” into our small town who walked Broadway Street and stopped at the many vendor tents to purchase handmade items and those who came just to watch the bear fights. Yes, BEAR FIGHTS! Junior Fox was a champ at it wasn’t he?! Oh, how exciting it was back in that time period.

This same type of events occurred in every small town; Gillett included. Although I’ve never lived in Gillett, the love and support the community members have for one another is astonishing! Is every house the perfect house? Is every building in top-notch shape? Are the streets lined with traffic day in and day out creating an ongoing sound of engines? No. Please tell me what city or town has that!

I’ve traveled to many states in my days, and there isn’t one single place that I have been that doesn’t have abandoned buildings, quiet streets, or the perfect gathering area for community members that doesn’t have issues. Those are material things and aren’t what creates a loving community!

Buildings are just buildings and without constant upkeep they are bound to start looking less and less attractive or be able to withstand a lot of traffic. They are just buildings. It’s the memories that were created in them that creates a strong bond within a community. Not the buildings, although they are part of the history of these small towns.

Schwab’s Grocery, Crocketts Bluff, AR, was the main attraction in Crocketts Bluff for most of my childhood. Before that was Prange’s but I don’t remember it. The Gillett High School brought many friendships that continue on to this day. St. Charles Community Store fed many hunters throughout it’s time. Each small town had a place that holds near and dear to our hearts, some more than others. But, the main thing to keep in mind is that it isn’t the building but the strong bond created between citizens that makes a small town flourish.

With all that said...To the small towns of Gillett, St. Charles, Crocketts Bluff, Reydell, Tichnor, Ethel, and so on. Never, EVER let one person’s view get to you or try to tear your amazing bonds apart. There will always be a building that needs a serious overhaul and update and there will always be lawns that aren’t manicured, but most importantly there will ALWAYS be a bond that no one in a big city will truly ever know.

Enjoy the quietness that comes with your community. Enjoy knowing that when you pass someone on the street and wave, that you’re waving at a friend and not a stranger. Continue supporting one another because you are raising children who have true compassion for others and that compassion will carry throughout their years and into their new communities and towns when they move away. That, that compassion, is what we, as citizens of Arkansas County, can be overly proud of having!

And to the gentleman who feels as though Gillett isn’t up to par, I beg to differ and I would like to encourage you to become acquainted with your neighbors and see how you can help make a difference!