“Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone.”

  • Susan Gibson for The Dixie Chicks


Perched at the top of a crest in the road, our house stood like an old-world relic, proudly greeting all who ventured up the small hill.  The wrap around front porch with white and red detailing mixed with the Williamsburg blue clapboard siding, gave our home a patriotic flair.  The house appeared very proud of itself since it was on a direct path to the town’s largest park and only three blocks from the town square. A parade of people walking past our house was a daily routine and regimen for much of the town’s population.  Dogs of all shapes and sizes streamed by in a trickle of barks, enough to cause Clyde, our yellow lab, to respond with deep barreled greetings of his own.  Eventually resigned to the scents of canine companions, he would then clump down in the sunshine streaming toward the front steps, resting his large block head on his front paws with a satisfied sigh.

Many city dwellers have a romantic notion about small towns.  The frenetic pace of city life is considered normal until sauntering through small town America, where life seems gentler, calmer, simpler. I was enchanted by our little country town enough to pick up and move, but settling in was harder for me than it was for my husband.  Andy would walk up to the town square with friends who had come to visit, and make broad sweeping gestures with his arms as he pointed to the Opera House, the old Stage Coach junction post, and the original site of the jail now turned restaurant, where enjoying a beer and a burger was possible while sitting in an actual old cell.  This square within a park within a downtown, is a miniature version of central park in New York City, copying the bronze statues and gorgeous varieties of trees from maples to majestic oaks punctuating the landscape.  Lining the park on all sides are fragrant lilacs framing cozy vignettes where a person can sit hidden from other festivities.  There is a large gazebo on which a brass quartet can play and it is here where the mayor makes speeches on important issues such as the renovation of the movie theatre or information on forth-coming Christmas decorations soon to grace the streets.   High school girls meet their boy-friends in the square, elderly gentlemen take pieces of hard candy out of a paper bag while sitting on a bench, and little girls can be seen licking an ice cream cone while dogs on leashes lead their owners around the perimeter. 

Tuesday and Saturday mornings are reserved for the farmer’s market, when little booths are sprinkled around the square from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Local produce, having become the necessary elements of a stable life to me now, has me looking forward to discussions about the variety of tomatoes.  Some of my most important conversations include when blueberry picking starts this year, which band will play for the annual lighting of the square, and whether the beauty shop will stay open through the holidays. Starting in the late spring, running through the summer and into the fall, there is always music being played in the square by a folk-singer waiting to be discovered. Whatever happens at the square can be heard from our house and we have scheduled our summer days around the festivities.  Lining the cobblestone streets are small shops that are darling and interesting to boot.  Hand-blown glass ornaments, gourmet chocolates and the ever-present varieties of fudge all are part of the small-town experience.  The few restaurants serving food ‘farm to table’ are always packed with dozens of patrons milling about on the sidewalk chatting and waiting with calm demeanor.  No shouting or shoving and I marvel at the pleasantness of it all.

Larger stores surround the outer streets of the square and within days of moving to Woodstock, Andy took me shopping at the local Farm and Fleet.  Here it is possible to purchase horse saddles, try on work clothes, have farm equipment fixed, pick out chickens, and never leave the store. On the first day of my Farm and Fleet experience, while still in the parking lot, I saw a woman with hip boots pushing a cart filled to overflowing with a dozen bags of horse feed. Her husband walked in large confident strides in front of her. Since the woman was pushing the heavy cart with help from no one, I commented on this to Andy to which he responded, “There goes a real pioneer woman.”

When Andy was eleven years old, his father took him to a Farm and Fleet in the southern outskirts of Chicago. While there Andy decided that he had found the only store he would ever need.  On this particular day I wasn’t so sure.  Andy was bent on forming a country life, and shopping for work clothes and shovels was first on his list along with a host of other items he said we needed such as a mud rake.  “Why do we need to rake mud?” I asked.   Andy took to rural life right away since breathing country air filled his lungs with purpose, room to dream perhaps, and the slowing down of constant reactions that are a necessary part of city life.  While I struggled to find my place in the world, my husband put his feet up and felt right at home.   I was envious of his ease and decided that discovering the nature of town would be a good beginning.

The magical nature of the square was something that I had to experience over time, allowing its gentile manner to seep into me. I didn’t understand this at first. I went “at it” with the ferocious nature I had adopted at the Farmer’s Market in Chicago on Dearborn Avenue, where wrestling over fresh cucumbers and radishes is considered the norm and gleeful procurement of more than four fresh peaches is a successful market day. On one of our first Saturday mornings, I marched my cart from booth to booth, filling it with vegetables, caramel corn, and wild flowers which I tied to the handle, hardly noticing the sweet lavender aroma wafting upward.  As I strode away the florist called out to me, “You still have a lot of Chicago in you.”  I smiled, pleased with myself.  Andy steered me away and whispered in my ear that this was not meant as a compliment.  A group of musicians were playing in the gazebo and so we walked over so I could nurse my hurting.  Sitting on an old stone bench, listening to lovely music, I stretched out my legs, closed my eyes and began to let a little bit of country into my urban soul.

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