You know you live in a small town when…

Living in a small town can have its advantages and boy, it can surely have its disadvantages. I moved from a sprawling metropolis of about 1 million people to a slower-paced, semi-rural small bedroom community. It was as if I’d moved into my very own Cheers sitcom; where everybody knows your name…literally. If you’ve never lived in a small town or maybe you grew up in one, here are few ways to recognize what sets small towns apart from the big cities.

Courtesy: jaybarrymore.com
  • “Where do you live?”

Small towns and cities often don’t have defined subdivisions and neighborhoods. So, when I moved into my new place, I knew that if anyone asked where I lived, then I could easily tell them the general vicinity. If only it was that easy. If anyone ever asks where do you live in a small town, what they’re really asking is for the satellite coordinates AKA the exact address. Imagine my perplexed look. No one would ever ask that in the big city.

[Improve the look of your home’s address]

  • The rumor mill

Before Facebook, rumors passed around by way of person to person or by phone. News travels fast but now that Internet technology is growing at such a swift pace, it’s no wonder fights, arguments and breakups occur so frequently. New social media platforms are springing up almost daily and you can find out more juicy gossip than you bargained for.

  • Six degrees of separation

Six degrees of separation is the idea that each person is connected or related to one another by six or less steps. I swear everybody in small towns is related one way or another. A friend of mine was a native to the area, but it seemed that everywhere we went, he ran into a new relative; third-generation-first-removed-distant-cousin-to-a sister’s-brother-uncle-who-moved-away-about 20 years ago. Whew! Dating must be challenging. I’m more than sure meeting the family is a doozy.

  • Love Connection

And, speaking of dating. That pool is pretty slim. Finding available bachelors and bachelorettes is challenging. The married couples are the “lucky” ones, because they likely met during junior high school and just never parted. As for the rest of the single folks, it’s a case of musical chairs. Who’s left standing? Either he/she is your relative, has left a trail of broken hearts, dated your best friend or comes with too much baggage.

e-vites by phone

  • You’re invited

I remember getting my first invitation to a wedding. No, not on pretty stationery or by a professional, online e-vite. It was a group text from a friend. I didn’t even know the couple, but according to the rumor mill, it was to be the wedding of the century and everybody was invited. If you were a friend of a friend who knew the bride or groom, then you were more than welcome to attend. I didn’t feel right, but I went anyway. And, to ease my conscience, I even bought a gift for the beautiful, unknown couple.

[Invite your wedding guests in style]

weekenders

  • Weekend watering hole

If you’re a homebody, then wrapped up in a blanket on a couch watching your favorite Netflix movie is probably what you look forward to every Saturday night. But, unlike many others who like a little adventure on the weekend, you might find the rest of the crowd at one or all of the few bars open in town. Want to do a bar crawl? Well, I can guarantee that it’ll take less than an hour to travel to all the bars in a ten-mile radius.

  • Rivalries

Schools are plentiful and rivals run deep. And, these rivals can break up families and can cause political conflicts among candidates. Pitting your allegiance to one school over another is cause for an influx in bumper stickers, yard signs and a barrage of bragging rights within the booster club population. Tread lightly when cheering for your favorite school. It’s like gang wars; southside soccer moms, west end sideline football dads and uptown band nerd parents. As the teens say, “they go hard in the paint.”

 

Although residing in a small community comes with a number of quirks, it also offer a uniqueness all its own and it has made my experience a memorable one. I can never get enough of the family-friendly environment a small town community offers, I still enjoy the friendly waves from passersby, my neighbors are more like family than strangers, knowing my area’s public officials by first name is a plus and where else can you shop, pay bills, drop-off kids, get pampered, go to work and pick up mail all in five miles or less. #ibedamned

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A Blessing in Sisco’s Scars

Around the Thanksgiving holiday, many of us are scrambling to grocery stores gathering our goods for a holiday meal or packing our bags to hit the highway for a family getaway. For me, both options were up for grabs and I was more than ready for my one-day hiatus from work. But, before the festivities could occur, I was to volunteer and donate a free Thanksgiving meal to a deserving family. The mission: ask online subscribers to submit a story of a family in need; a family who could use an extra hand financially this holiday season. The submissions poured in and the recipient was subsequently chosen. Easy enough and worth every minute. But, the lesson wasn’t in the gift giving. The lesson was in what I would learn from the family that so graciously shared their heartwarming story. Break out the tissues because this one is a tearjerker.

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Courtesy: Facebook

Meet Francisco, affectionately known as Sisco. I had heard about Francisco as I was one of many news reporters who had followed his story which later had gone viral. He was a promising high school student-athlete who was injured in a near-fatal crash. And, he was clinging to life after the vehicle he was an occupant in was t-boned on the passenger side. He was a straight ‘A’ student, a football player and a role model to his two brothers as well as to his peers.

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As a result of the crash, his skull was fractured, his spleen broken, his brain swollen and his lungs were filled with blood. From the pictures, it was a miracle that anyone walked away alive. His family was informed that he would have a long road to recovery. That was April 8th, 2016.

Eight months later, November 21st, 2016, on a surprise visit to share our Thanksgiving bundle, my friends and I walked into the home Sisco shared with his grandparents. We distributed a free turkey, ham, sides, pies and all the fixings befitting of a glorious meal.

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Hoodstock Founder, Courtney ‘Schola’ Long pictured with Sisco

And in walked Francisco with bright eyes and a smile – a remarkable transformation from the images I had seen months earlier. He walked into the living room with a natural pace accompanied with a slight limp wearing a shirt adorned with Superman’s emblem.

He appeared to have a glowing silhouette that brightened the already well-lit room. He hugged each of us thus melting our hearts. It was our hope that we would bring cheer to the family (which I believe we accomplished), but we were on the receiving end overwhelmed with an abundance of joy and still in awe-struck by a person we believed was still bedridden from life-threatening injuries.

I think it’s safe to say that we all fought back tears as he told us that he held no malice for the driver responsible, he talked about his desire to seek employment or enroll in college and even joked about his scars.

 

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Courtesy: Shea Drake

Sisco hugged us once more and thanked us for our generosity. Before meeting him, my only concern was picking up last-minute groceries, sifting through my closet for my Thanksgiving outfit and reminding myself of how delicious Thanksgiving meal was going to taste. But, as I headed out of Francisco’s home, I was reminded of the truest spirit of Thanksgiving. Not even the donations could make me feel better than knowing that despite his previous health condition; he had lain in a coma and unable to walk, Sisco was truly a shining example of a higher power at work. He remained humble, uplifted and thankful. We were the financial donors, but #ibedamned, what he gave us, money can’t buy.

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What’s a Festival without Shrimp and Oil

Gravel pebbles under my soft-soled shoes are a quick indication that I’m ill-equipped for today’s walking tour at the 80th Annual Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. But, I can’t help but be excited to see, taste and hear this year’s selection of music and food. I’ve been visiting this fest for about 10 years. It’s the right amount of stir crazy for this quaint city on the mighty Atchafalaya River. It’s nestled in a historic, residential neighborhood of mixed architectural homes and manicured lawns in Morgan City. One could easily step outdoors right into the heart of one of the biggest and busiest parties St. Mary Parish has ever seen. It’s a major tourist draw but the hometown folk enjoy it just as much.

I started my rounds at the jam-packed arts and crafts Vendors Row; brimming with pedestrian traffic just as that of the vehicle traffic bustling above on the iconic US 90 Bridge. The five-block neighborhood festival is alive with thousands of tourists and residents sprawling like ants from a dirt colony into what is often considered a relatively quiet community.

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Still image credit: KWBJ TV 22

Swamp Pop tunes wafted into the air mixing with the addictive food smells from some of south Louisiana carnival foodie favorites; funnel cakes, gator bites, shrimp and crawfish platters and cotton candy. The combination signified that the state’s oldest chartered festival was in full swing. So many choices that my eyes and stomach were in constant disagreement making it difficult to settle on just one meal. My palate finally met its mate; a sausage link sandwich smothered in grilled onions and red peppers washed down with freshly- squeezed lemonade. The festival boasts itself as a family environment, but after-dark festivities in the park are better suited for adults.

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Photo credit: Schola Photography

Parents would be best to shuttle their kiddos away to the bridge area for amusement rides and games. By the time the sun was set, alcoholic beverage consumption was rampant including my favorite, the Hurricane. The “spirits” booth is sponsored by a philanthropy-driven organization of teachers, principals and other business persons, but their specialty drink is anything but mild-mannered and professional. The Hurricane packed a punch greater than a Category 5 storm. Trust me, it only takes one. Employing a taxi or designated driver to transport you to your next destination would be your best bet to make it home safely.

The Labor Day holiday weekend’s steam bath of blistering temperatures were a better backdrop to the festival’s milestone year compared to 2014’s incessant rainshowers. Although the sun beat my face and sweat dripped to creases and folds I didn’t know existed, I still managed to fully partake in the festivities. I weaved through the cluster of attendees and made my way to the blacktopped, wooden dance floor. During the hottest part of the day, festival goers thought it better to dance in their lawn chairs under the shade of the park’s magnificent oak trees than to venture into the intense heat. But, by night, the floor was hidden under the feet of Cajun two-steppers and dance-how-you-want enthusiasts.

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Still image credit: KWBJ TV 22

A favorite around these parts, Wayne Toups drew crowds that extended into almost all ends of the park. Toups’ salt-and-pepper beard, flat-brimmed hat, alligator-tooth necklace and rapid accordion playing made him a likely character from a TV  series set in the Louisiana swamps. His lighthearted Cajun tunes were well-received, and I more of a blues lover, was treated to a Toups’ remake of James Brown, “It’s a Man’s World.” His rendition, along with his smiling bearded face and the crowd’s reception, gave me a reason to tolerate my bath in South Louisiana’s unforgiving humidity and stay a little bit longer.

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Still image credit: KWBJ TV 22

From one artist to another…

Toups and his band were accompanied on stage by famed artist, Tony Bernard. Bernard arranged his own funky piece…on canvas, that is; presumably sold to the highest bidder. It was a crowned pelican. It seemed almost befitting to see Toups and Toulouse (my name for the pelican) side by side on the the same stage — like two kings on their respective thrones; Toups, a music monarch of Grammy-award winning proportions alongside the state’s majestic bird. And, when the last song was played, my soft-soled shoes had become a second layer of epidermis on my feet. But, it was well worth the five-block walk.

What’s a festival without oil and shrimp? Well, #ibedamned

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